The Beatles in Japan

Project: Research

Project Details

Project Description

The Beatles in Japan explores a little-studied yet important period of the musical career of one of the most famous bands in history. This project, however, will not be just another book in musical studies on the Beatles. It charts a history of the Beatles’ engagement with Japan to argue that the various representations of the Beatles in Japan illustrate disjunctive moments in Japan’s post-war cultural history and the Anglo-centric Western view of its progress since its defeat. These moments capture the contrast between the positivist atmosphere of Japan’s reconstruction era, and what Igarashi has called the competing ‘cultural desires and anxieties’ that lingered after the Second World War.

The Beatles’ Japanese tour is important for the way it consolidated pan-Asian transnational audiences, indexed a particular moment of crisis as Japan gained increased influence on the world stage and contributed to the construction and contestation of new representations of Japanese national identity.

The ‘Asian leg’ of the Beatles’ 1966 tour, which comprised concerts in Tokyo and Manila, signalled the start of the UK music industry’s turn toward new Asian markets in emerging consumer societies, beyond previous pushes into North American and continental Europe.

Japan in the mid-sixties was especially symbolic of the kind of new markets US and UK producers were interested in; it was on the verge of fulfilling the economic miracle that was to come. Japan was not yet considered a fully fledged partner in the US-dominated West, but it was not typically seen as ‘Oriental’, either, in that it did not conform to popular Orientalist perceptions of the day; it was not ‘chaotic’ and ‘backward’, in comparison to the Beatles’ Manila experience directly after the Japanese tour. Japanese society was somewhere ‘in-between’ the stereotypical Western view of Asia in the 1960s and the Eurocentric developed world.

In many ways, the Japan tour would forge transnational cultural links. Japanese promoters claimed that the Tokyo trip instigated the Beatles’ interest in all things Asia, including Indian culture, which would go on to have a strong influence on global culture from 1967 on, suggesting a kind of pan-Asian cultural identity vis-a-vis the West.

However, the political and cultural unrest regarding the Beatles’ Japanese concerts demonstrates early forms of backlash against Anglo-centric global pop culture. This is often glossed over in post-war cultural history, given that the increasing violence that occurred during that last leg of the 1966 tour caused the Tokyo tour to be remembered as safe, pleasant and interesting.

The book also explores the intersection of the political and the personal in the ‘Japanisation’ of John Lennon through his marriage and artistic partnership with Yoko Ono. It examines the operations of race and gender in fan responses to their relationship and the subsequent dissolution of the band. I suggest that the shift over time in views of Yoko Ono’s influence over Lennon, from disparaging to respectful, mirrors the Western view of Japanese culture from the 1980s to present.
Effective start/end date20/07/1520/07/17