The Beatles in Japan, a new book by Professor of Japanese studies

The Beatles in Japan, a new book by Professor of Japanese studies

Professor of Japanese studies and Director of the Japanese Studies Centre, Carolyn Stevens has written a new monograph, The Beatles in Japan, taking readers through the controversies, exclusives and musical masterpieces of arguably the world's most famous British rock band, The Beatles.

The book, published by Routledge, follows The Beatles through their first tour to Japan in 1966 which became an important part of Japan's postwar cultural development and its deepening relationship with the West.

By the 1960s Japan’s dramatic rise in prosperity and the self-confidence of the country’s ‘economic miracle’ period were yet to come; it was not, at this stage, considered a fully-fledged partner of the West. All these potential developments were consolidating around the time of the 1966 tour. 

The Beatles' concerts in Tokyo contributed to the construction of a new Japanese national identity and introduced Japan as a new potential market to UK and US music producers, broadening the country’s transnational cultural links. This book explores the Beatles’ engagement with Japan within the larger context of the country’s increased global connection and large-scale economic, social and cultural change.

It describes the great impact of the Beatles’ contentious 1966 tour, which took place amid public displays of both euphoric ‘Beatlemania’ and angry protests, and discusses the lasting impression of this tour on Japanese culture and identity to the present day. The Beatles’ relationship with Japan did not end after their departure; this book also examines the Beatles’ subsequent contacts with Japan, including John Lennon’s marriage and artistic partnership with Yoko Ono, and Paul McCartney’s later Japanese tours and the warm reception the ex Beatles and their musical legacy have received over the years.

“About half of the book is about the Beatles' tour of Japan in 1966 as it was a controversial and path-breaking tour of the Beatles,” Professor Stevens said.

“A lot happened during that tour, including many controversies and protests. Half of the book is explaining the background leading up to it, describing what happened, and the other half of the book traces what happened after they left.”

John Lennon’s relationship with Yoko Ono, for example, was a contributing factor to how the band was perceived, as well as a lot of people perhaps glossing over the fact Paul McCartney was arrested in Japan in 1980. Such examples are interesting to compare the very different treatment that Paul McCartney received in 1980 compared to 1966.

For instance, explains Professor Stevens, when the Beatles landed in 1966 they didn’t go through any official immigration processes – meaning they weren't required to show their passports, and didn't proceed through immigration or customs. That was very different in 1980, when Paul McCartney had to go through such procedures and he was found to be carrying a substantial amount of marijuana on him which led to his arrest.

Professor Carolyn Stevens had an academic and music launch for her book, The Beatles in Japan.

“The interesting thing is it’s very likely that the Beatles were also carrying illicit substances with them in 1966 but because of their status in the world at that time, nobody would look at their bags, and so in 1980, things had changed,” Professor Stevens said.

To conduct her research, Professor Stevens used a mixed approach, including archival research where the Matheson Library's Asian Collection librarian, Ms. Ayako Hatta, was helpful in sourcing microfiche reproductions of a variety of newspaper and magazine articles from the 1960s. Stephen Herrin, from the Rare Books Collection, assisted Professor Stevens with locating original materials for illustrations; the book has over twenty illustrations, some of which are reproductions from the Matheson's collection.

Professor Stevens also travelled back to Japan as the final chapter of the book is about the 50th anniversary of the Beatles tour in Japan, and retraced their footsteps from June 29 to July 4.

“I went to all the places that they went to, including a number of anniversary events that were held to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Beatles at the Budokan. I also interviewed two people who attended the concert including a 68 year old man who was 19 at the time, and an 80 year old woman who was 30 at the time.”

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