The Beatles in Japan, Fifty Years On

As part of another research project on popular music in Japan, I have been looking at the Beatles fandom in Japan. I happened to be attending a conference in Kyoto in late June, so I decided to extend my visit for a few days and take the Shinkansen to Tokyo. There, I would re trace the steps of the Fab Four in Tokyo exactly fifty years later. This would not be hard to do, as their visit was short and their movements restricted given the tight security surrounding them. By visiting the main sites of their trip, and speaking to people about their memories of the visit, I hoped to get a grounded view of the nostalgia that surrounds contemporary views of the Beatles in Japan today.

The Beatles arrived very early in the morning on 29 June 1966, after a delay due to inclement weather over the Pacific. When I arrived in Tokyo Station at about noon on 29 June 2016, the weather felt a bit dense thankfully but not too hot; I wondered if the Beatles, their entourage and the fans who lined up to see them also experienced the dense summer humidity as well, and did these sensory experiences trigger their memories of the historic events?

I went to a Japanese Beatles Club sponsored photographic exhibition in Nakano, near the Shinjuku district of central Tokyo, entitled: ‘Bītoruzu Rainichi 50shūnen kinen Robaato Uitekaa Shashinten: Rekishi o kizanda Bītoruzu Nihon Kōen no Kiroku’ (‘In commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Beatles’ trip to Japan, An Exhibit of Robert Whittaker’s photographs: A record of the Beatles’ Japanese Tour that records passing moments of history’).

The exhibition was held in an office building approximately 12 minutes’ walk from Nakano Station, and was spread over three floors: the ground floor had a desk to purchase entrance tickets (¥500 each) and souvenir sales; the second floor was deemed an ‘event space’ and had large photographic murals where attendees could take ‘selfies’ against shots of the Beatles in Japan as well as an Abbey Road crossing reconstruction; the photographic exhibit itself took up the second floor.

I found the exhibit stimulated many senses: the temperature fluctuations from the warm weather outdoors cut by the indoor air conditioning; the jostling of visitors positioning their bodies against the the large visuals in the selfie space; and the background music (The Beatles, of course!). I would also add that the gathering of like-minded individuals at the gallery created a further sensory experience: the feeling of being with other fans who knew more and cared more about this event than most others, added much to the physical atmosphere.

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