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Promoters from Creativeman Productions and Live Nation Japan chart the recovery of the world's second-biggest music market
By Lisa Henderson on 20 Apr 2023
Japan, the second-biggest music market in the world, was at a peak when the pandemic struck, with 31,889 concerts in 2019 and sales of ¥366.5bn, according to the All Japan Concert and Live Entertainment Promoters Conference (ACPC).
That year, Japan notched up 49.5m spectators, before the line on the graph plummeted in familiar fashion, and the industry has been building back since.
Domestic talent accounts for by far the larger part of the Japanese business, which has greatly scaled back its 1980s and ‘90s obsession with international artists and now stands at about 80:20. Consequently, international artists coming to Japan are frequently struck by the difference in the scale of their popularity compared to elsewhere.
“Some stadium-class acts are still arena level in Japan,” says Layli Odamura of prominent international promoter Creativeman Productions. “This makes it difficult for some acts to even consider coming to Japan, but for Japanese fans, it is just so important to have presence locally.
“We encourage artists to consider coming to Japan as part of their world tour even if the fee or the venue size may not match what they get in the rest of the world.”
“We encourage artists to consider coming to Japan as part of their world tour even if the fee or the venue size may not match what they get in the rest of the world”
The lack of a full lockdown meant that domestic shows were able to continue at a smaller scale. The international business, meanwhile, stopped dead but has come back as strong as it can in opened-up 2022, despite logistical challenges.
Japan has large numbers of domestically focused promoters – the ACPC has 68 members and 101 associate members – but relatively few specialise in international artists. Key international promoters in Japan include Hayashi International Promotions (H.I.P.), Creativeman, UDO Artists, and Fuji Rock promoter Smash Corporation, while Live Nation Japan also operates a heavy flow of shows.
H.I.P., which has been promoting overseas and domestic artists since 1981, remains one of the go-to promoters for international acts, having promoted stars including AC/DC, The Weeknd, Taylor Swift, and Bruno Mars, as well as Japanese artists and the international Ozzfest and Knotfest festival brands.
Creativeman promotes the Summer Sonic Festival in Tokyo and Osaka, which returned in August with around 40% international acts, including The 1975, Post Malone, Megan Thee Stallion, and Carly Rae Jepsen. Despite reduced capacity due to Covid precautions, 110,000 tickets were sold for Tokyo and 60,000 for Osaka.
“We had a very successful two-stadium show tour with Lady Gaga”
“Japan is still very much affected by [the] Covid situation, especially with the coming of winter,” says Odamura. “We have a large older demographic, so this is part of the reason why.”
UDO Artists retains a strong line in western legends – It has brought Deep Purple, Kiss, Jackson Browne, and Cheap Trick to Japan this year, though like many international promoters, UDO takes on plenty of domestic artists, too.
Smash’s Fuji Rock Festival took place at the Naeba Ski Resort in Yuzawa in July and was attended by 69,000 people, with a heavily mixed western-eastern line-up featuring Jack White, Vampire Weekend, YOASOBI, Halsey, Foals, and others.
Of the international corporates, Live Nation has also been working hard to strengthen its hand in Japan in recent years and has enjoyed a strong restart.
“We had a very successful two-stadium show tour with Lady Gaga,” says Live Nation Japan president Kei Ikuta, an experienced former UDO executive appointed in 2020. “The performance was incredible, and tickets sold out soon after the shows were announced. We also promoted Billie Eilish, which was another show that sold out very quickly, and it kicked off the new Ariake Arena – a premier venue made for the Tokyo Olympics.”
The 60-year-old talent agency Johnny & Associates has historically been perhaps Japan’s biggest promoter
The value of the Japanese yen against the US dollar stands at a 25-year low, notes Ikuta, resulting in heavy increases in ticket prices and heightening the challenge for incoming international acts.
“Conversely, this is an opportunity for Japanese acts to tour abroad and earn in foreign currency,” he says. “We have promoted an incredibly successful sold-out 13-date US tour with our colleagues in the US for the Japanese rock act Band-Maid and hope to replicate that success with other acts going forward.”
Of the domestic giants, the 60-year-old talent agency Johnny & Associates has historically been perhaps Japan’s biggest promoter. It specialises in boy bands, including many of the all-time biggest idol groups, such as ’90s and ’00s stars SMAP, Arashi, KAT-TUN, and KinKi Kids.
The company remains a behemoth – its current stable includes mega-selling acrobatic nine-piece Snow Man and seven-man international prospects Travis Japan – though the death of founder Johnny Kitagawa in 2019 has left the company in a transitional moment.
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