Four young Englishmen conquered Japan 50 years ago — with music. They were, of course, the Beatles — the biggest pop act in the world at the time.
"I have the honour to report that the Beatles, M.B.E., were in Tokyo from the 29th of June to the 3rd of July," wrote Dudley Cheke, charge d'affaires at the British Embassy, to his superiors in London.
Noting that Tokyo had been hit by an exceptionally heavy tropical rainstorm just before the band arrived, Cheke said "the 'Beatles typhoon' ... swept the youth of Japan off their feet."
One of those swept off her feet was Mieko Iwabuchi, who saw all five of the Beatles' shows. The group's visit to Japan coincided with her university exams.
"My grandfather was a doctor," says Iwabuchi, whose photo appeared in a Japanese fashion magazine's feature on Beatles fans. "My mother lied to him (to get a note saying Mieko was sick). I was very grateful to my mother."
Another young Beatles fan with an understanding parent was future Sony Music Japan executive Aki Tanaka.
"I saw the Beatles' show on Saturday, July 2 — the evening show," Tanaka says. "After high school had finished, my father took me and my younger brother from Nagoya to Tokyo by bullet train."
The Beatles flew from London to Tokyo (via Anchorage in Alaska) on Japan Airlines — first-class, naturally. A stewardess persuaded John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr to wear happi coats emblazoned with the JAL logo just before they got off the plane at Tokyo's Haneda airport. The photo of the group waving to their screaming fans upon arrival is an iconic image of the Beatles' visit.
Their shows in Japan came at a pivotal point in the group's career. The novelty of "Beatlemania" had worn off. Cannabis and LSD were taking the four Liverpudlians into new realms of consciousness, and their increasingly complex music was becoming harder to perform live.
The Beatles played at the Nippon Budokan arena in Tokyo on June 30, July 1 (2 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.) and July 2 (2 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.) as part of a world tour. About 43,000 people saw the band perform in Japan.
Their visit can be seen as part of Japan's postwar re-emergence on the world stage, starting with the 1964 Tokyo Olympics and culminating with Expo '70 in Osaka.
The Fab Four inspired a generation of Japanese rock 'n' rollers.
"The Beatles' shows in Japan were a social phenomenon," Tanaka says. "They led to the birth of a real Japanese rock music scene, where the musicians not only performed songs by somebody else, but also wrote their own material."
Beatles expert Atsushi Noguchi says British musician Vic Lewis suggested the idea of a Japan tour to the band's manager, Brian Epstein. Lewis had gone to school in London with Tatsuji Nagashima, who later became president of concert promoter Kyodo Agency (which produced the Beatles' shows in Tokyo).
Noguchi says Epstein wanted a guarantee of $100,000 (worth around $750,000 in 2016, or ¥78 million) per show and a hall with a capacity of 10,000. Back in 1966, there was only one indoor venue in Tokyo that could accommodate that many people: the Budokan. It had been built for martial arts competitions, not pop music. Ultranationalists were outraged by the prospect of its desecration by "an electric-guitar concert," as Cheke put it in his missive to the mandarins of Whitehall.