Last Friday night, Australian rock band Jet played at the Nippon Budokan, one of Japan’s most historic and revered event venues. The first foreign rock band ever to play there was the Beatles back in 1966 in a performance memorable for all the wrong reasons, and Stippy.com was there last Friday to find out whether or not Jet cut the proverbial mustard.
One of the biggest cheers of the night from the 10,000-strong, but rather subdued, crowd was saved for the appearance of two local Japanese heroes – one a rotund gentleman and one a younger thinner man. Jet, a rock band from Australia which has sold over 3.5 million albums worldwide, was in full swing and had just been joined on-stage by the newly-crowned Japanese national air-guitar champions. Wearing glow-in-the-dark white t-shirts, the two men windmill and power-chord in accompaniment to a suitably muscular Jet performance of Last Chance before leaving the stage covered in glory. It seems that moments like this are all part of the often surreal experience of attending a music concert in Japan.
On this particular evening, Japanese-style “meat pockets” or nikuman were the choice of pre-gig nourishment for the overwhelmingly young Japanese crowd, while only small groups of gaijins seem to be bothering with the time-honored pre-show ritual of getting hammered on beer. (Stippy Disclaimer: We were of course not involved in this). The band merchandise stalls were buzzing with customers as people waited patiently for an opportunity to buy an over-priced t-shirt or three. As a result, great throngs of people were walking round in black t-shirts which display the faces of their heroes for the evening. Japan is clearly a lucrative stop on the world concert circuit, and this is evidenced by the fact that it holds sway over the second largest music market in the world.
Japan accounts for around 20% of world wide music sales and covers more than 80% of the total amount of sales in Asian region. Concert venues can range from tiny live houses through to the mega arenas such as Tokyo Dome and Saitama Super Arena. Jet, however, was lucky enough to play at the historical Nippon Budokan – a hall originally built for the judo competition in the 1964 Tokyo Summer Olympics. Its name, rendered into English is “martial arts hall”. It contains three halls, the largest of which holds 14,000 people and is modeled after a hall in Horyuji Temple in Nara. It is located in Kitanomaru Park in the center of Tokyo, two minutes’ walking distance from Kudanshita Subway Station, and near Yasukuni Shrine, famous for being a spiritual home for Tokyo’s right-wing nationalists. The 42 m (140 ft) high octagonal structure holds 14,201 people.
The national championships of the different branches of the martial arts (Judo, Kendo, Karate, Aikido, Shorinji Kempo, Kyudo, etc.) are held annually at the Budokan. Professional wrestling is also a tenant as the Budokan is frequently used by the Pro Wrestling NOAH association, who often hold major events there. These kinds of event show just what a cultural venue is to the Japanese, a far cry from the rock-band cries of Jet.
An intriguing part of the evening was crossing the moat and walking through the huge stone entrance which is akin to a great traditional temple, then entering the arena and seeing a huge Japanese flag hung in the middle of the arena, with Beatles music playing in the background to stir an excitement cocktail inside the stomachs of the beer drinking fans. Although many may not have been aware of the significance of this scene.
In the West, the Nippon Budokan is most famous for being the venue in which the Beatles made their Japanese debut. The band played at the venue five times between June 30 and July 2, 1966. The 10,000 tickets available for each concert sold out almost immediately, and the ticket stubs and pamphlets are now collector’s items and fetch premium prices. The Beatles soon found out that Tokyo was not all “free-love” and “peace beads”, however, as the group incurred the wrath of militant students who objected to their performance at traditional Budokan. Several death threats followed and the group left Japan in poor spirits after its four days in Tokyo.
A classic picture from one of the Beatles 1966 performances. Also, the group’s Budokan concerts rank as some of the worst performances the Beatles ever gave. The Japanese audience was instructed not to stand up during the show, and an overwhelming police presence meant that the audience was happy to listen intently to the music and give polite applause at the end of each song. This was the first time the Beatles could hear themselves during a show since they were used to a wall of screams confronting them at every concert and performance, and it was apparent that they sounded awful. Ringo Starr talked about this in the Beatles Anthology video, and even specifically cited the first Budokan concert as being the performance that really opened up their eyes as to how bad their on-stage playing and singing had become. Soon after the Beatles gave up touring and became a strictly studio-based band.
Jet’s Nic Cester could possibly sympathize with the Beatles on that point. The lack of crowd involvement on this night prompted the lead singer to chastise the audience on several occasions for their muted reaction. Hit songs such as Look What You’ve Done and Are You Gonna Be My Girl were greeted with hearty cheers, but predictably the songs taken from most recent album Shine On were tolerated rather than enjoyed. The guitars were huge and the band’s energy levels high, but the performance was blighted by muddy vocals – a surprise since the Budokan is such an acoustically-sound venue. The star of the night, however, is Jet’s drummer Chris Cester who looks like Dennis Wilson from a-far and drums in a style reminiscent of Animal from the Muppets. The band encore with Shine On and Rollover D.J. and the show finished exactly two hours after it began.
The crowd shuffled out in a controlled fashion and then headed off into the night. The black t-shirts mean that only heads and bare arms can be seen bobbing off into the distance. No fights, no drunks, no drugs, lots of spending, a little cheering and an almost full martial arts hall – the unique experience of attending a concert in Japan.