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Arena Market: Japan

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As the third-largest economy in the world, Japan was relatively swift in closing its borders in the wake of the global pandemic, initially imposing quarantine restrictions on visitors from China and South Korea in early March. By mid-March, this was expanded to visitors from certain regions of Spain, Italy, and Switzerland as well as all of Iceland. By early April, this was expanded further to include 73 more countries and regions.

The impact on international touring was immediate, and Japan is still operating with tighter border restrictions, especially for tourists, than most major global markets.

International acts, however, have been allowed into the country to perform since the spring, and the Fuji Rock Festival in late July 2022 had major acts performing such as Vampire Weekend, Jack White, Halsey, Mogwai, and Bonobo.

The Nippon Budokan in Tokyo is unquestionably the most famous music venue in Japan, certainly for international acts, helped in a large part by acts like Bob Dylan and Cheap Trick releasing live albums recorded there.

International acts, however, have been allowed into the country to perform since the spring…

It was originally built to host the judo competitions in the 1964 Summer Olympics, with The Beatles in 1966 becoming the first international act to play there.

With a capacity of 14,471, it hosted international acts such as Eric Clapton, John Mayer, Pet Shop Boys, Nickelback, and Janet Jackson in 2019, but the impact of the pandemic has meant that limited international shows have taken place there since, although Norah Jones is scheduled to play the venue in October this year.

The Tokyo Dome opened in 1988 as a baseball stadium, although it also hosts music concerts and is known locally and colloquially as The Big Egg. It has a 400-tonne fiberglass membrane roof that is supported by pressurised ventilation fans.

At its maximum, it can accommodate 55,000 people but has only put on a handful of concerts in the years since the pandemic. In 2019, however, acts including Kiss, Ed Sheeran, Maroon 5, and Blackpink performed there. Justin Bieber is due to play two nights at the Tokyo Dome in November, and Maroon 5 will return in December.

The Tokyo Dome opened in 1988 as a baseball stadium, although it also hosts music concerts and is known locally and colloquially as The Big Egg.

The Yoyogi National Gymnasium opened in October 1964, mere months after the opening of the Budokan, with a capacity of 13,291. It has a curved and suspended roof design that makes it one of the most striking venues in the country. It is primarily used for sporting events, but Britney Spears performed there over two nights in June 2017 as part of her world tour. While international acts do play there, it is J-pop acts who are its most frequent musical visitors.

A new 15,000-seat venue opened in Tokyo in February 2020, helping to address a perceived dearth of major outlets for live music in the capital.

The Ariake Arena, which cost $350m (€350m) to construct, was used extensively in the Tokyo Olympics (postponed to summer 2021). It is made up of a main arena and a “sub arena.”

A new 15,000-seat venue opened in Tokyo in February 2020, helping to address a perceived dearth of major outlets for live music in the capital.

Live Nation Japan president John Boyle told IQ in 2019 that the city, in relative terms, has insufficient large venues compared to other capitals. “Tokyo has a population of 37m people, and for a market that big, there’s five or six venues that are bigger than 10,000 capacity,” he said. “In LA, there’s probably 15 or 20 for a market that is a fraction of the size.”

Yokohama is Japan’s second city and is located south of Tokyo. Despite its proximity to the capital, it boasts a number of major venues.

The Yokohama Arena opened in 1989 and has a capacity of 17,000. It will host Disney On Ice this August. Over the years, major international acts like Frank Sinatra, Whitney Houston, and Mariah Carey have performed there.

Construction began in 2020 on the 20,000-capacity K Arena Yokohama, and it is due to open in autumn 2023. It will be part of the wider Music Terrace complex, and Ken Corporation, the luxury real-estate company behind it, claims it will be the biggest purpose-built indoor music venue anywhere in the world when it opens next year.

“In LA, there’s probably 15 or 20 for a market that is a fraction of the size.”

Saitama is north of Tokyo and is the most populous city in the Saitama Prefecture, amalgamating four former individual cities (Urawa, Ōmiya, Yono, and Iwatsuki).

The Saitama Super Arena opened in 2000 and can hold 37,000 people when in stadium mode and 22,500 people in arena mode. It was a key location in the 2020 Olympic Games where it could have held 20,000, although no spectators were allowed into any venues during the games.

While used for basketball, volleyball, boxing, figure skating, and martial arts throughout the year, an estimated 70-80% of its bookings are music-related. International acts who have played there before the pandemic restrictions include Bruno Mars, Madonna, BTS, U2, and Queen & Adam Lambert.

Naoki Hayashi, general manager of Saitama Super Arena, says, “Covid-19 restrictions were relaxed this spring, allowing international artists to come to Japan, and Saitama Super Arena has hosted acts including Guns N ‘Roses and others, while other venues have had shows by Lady Gaga and Billie Eilish. During Covid, Saitama Super Arena also hosted many performances by domestic artists, making up for the loss of international acts.”

Osaka might be a quarter of the size of Tokyo but has a number of major arenas with which to draw both domestic stars and touring international acts.

Hayashi adds that enhanced rigging, the installation of 5G and high-speed networks, and digital signage have all helped to modernise the venue in recent years.

As the third-largest city in Japan, Osaka might be a quarter of the size of Tokyo but has a number of major arenas with which to draw both domestic stars and touring international acts.

The Aichi Prefectural Gymnasium in Nagoya opened in 1964 – a major year for arenas opening in the country (see above) – and has a capacity of 7,515. Acts such as Sarah Brightman, Boston, and KISS have played there in the past decade, while Il Divo played there in March this year, making them one of the first international acts to play in Japan as the country slowly started to open up in the wake of the pandemic.

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