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Famed Nippon Budokan arena unveils Olympic overhaul

Modernisation work on Japan’s Nippon Budokan arena – famously the venue for the Beatles’ only Japanese concerts – has concluded, just under a year before the Tokyo 2020 Olympic games.

Known as the spiritual home of Japanese martial arts, the 14,471-capacity indoor arena, located in Tokyo’s Chiyoda ward, is also one of Japan’s best-known large concert venues. In addition to hosting the Fab Four in 1966, the Budokan was the site of Abba’s last-ever show in 1980, and is also a popular venue for live recordings: celebrated albums Made in Japan (Deep Purple), Cheap Trick at Budokan (Cheap Trick), Live in Japan (the Carpenters), Bob Dylan at Budokan (Bob Dylan) and Live at the Budokan (Blur) were all recorded at the arena.

At the 2020 Olympics, which have been postponed to 23 July–8 August 2021 because of Covid-19, the Budokan will host judo and karate events, according to the Yomiuri Shimbun. Its Olympic capacity will be 11,000.

The Budokan is one of seven central-Tokyo venues being used for the 2020 games

Among the new-for-2020 additions are an earthquake-proof roof, permanent accessible seating with space for wheelchairs, new LED lighting inside and out, and a training hall for athletes.

Images captured by the Asahi Shimbun (via Getty) show the arena’s new roof and decor, as well as a socially distanced completion ceremony held on Wednesday 29 July.

The Budokan is one of seven central-Tokyo venues, many of which (like the Budokan) were built for the 1964 Olympics, being used for the 2020 games, while another 13 – including the new Ariake Arena – are located in the Tokyo Bay area.

The Ariake Arena is one of several large venues being created especially for the Olympics, along with the now-completed 80,000-capacity New National Stadium, 15,000-capacity Oi Hockey Stadium and the 10,000-capacity Musashino Forest Sport Plaza. The 2020 Olympics will take place across 41 venues in total.


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Record attendance marks Summer Sonic’s 20th year

Creativeman’s Summer Sonic overtook Smash Corp-promoted Fuji Rock to become Japan’s biggest outdoor music festival this year, welcoming 135,000 visitors over three days to its twin sites in Osaka and Tokyo.

Taking place from 16 to 18 August, Creativeman debuted a new three-day format, in celebration of the festival’s 20th anniversary. The pop- and rock- focused line-up featured the Red Hit Chili Peppers, Babymetal, the Chainsmokers, Fall Out Boy, the 1975, Blackpink and Japanese rock bands Sakanaction and B’z.

All tickets sold out for the Tokyo-based side of the event, held at the adjoining Zozo Marine Stadium and Makuhari Messe exhibition hall. The Osaka leg of the festival, which took place at the Maishima Sonic Park, shifted all Friday tickets and weekend passes.

Speaking to IQ ahead of the event, Creativeman director Sebastian Mair said one festival day sold out three months before the festival started. “I don’t think we have ever had a day that has sold out that early,” Mair told IQ.

“[Japanese festivals] are safe and peaceful, and people are there for the music as opposed to anything else”

Just like fellow Japanese rock festival Fuji Rock, Summer Sonic suffered from adverse weather, with Typhoon Krosa causing the cancellation of performances on Tokyo’s beach stage on Friday.

Summer Sonic will take a one-year break in 2020 to accommodate the Tokyo Olympics.

The Japanese festival scene has become fairly saturated in recent years, with international brands such as Ultra, Electric Daisy Carnival, Download and Ozzfest setting up shop in the country.

Mair comments that the festival market remains “stable”, saying that international managers and agents are “always astounded by how well they [Japanese festivals] work”.

“They are safe and peaceful, and people are there for the music as opposed to anything else,” Mair told IQ.

Read more about the “booming” Japanese live scene in IQ’s country feature below.

Land of the rise in fun: Why booming Japan is such a tough market to crack


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Land of the rise in fun: Why booming Japan is such a tough market to crack

Big in Japan’ was a term, in the 80s and 90s, for modestly successful American and European acts that found slightly unlikely mega-stardom in the Land of the Rising Sun.

It wasn’t an insult, exactly – who wouldn’t want to be big in Japan? – but it was often used sneeringly, whether directed at Mr Big, the early-90s rock supergroup who still hop up into the big leagues every time they touch down at Narita International Airport, or Scatman John, whose 1994 record Scatman’s World is, remarkably, Japan’s 17th biggest-selling international album of all time.

But the days when Japan might have been seen as an easily impressed bonus market for Western acts are long gone. Over the past 20 years or so, the balance has shifted dramatically, as Japanese domestic music output – as well as that of nearby frenemy South Korea – has surged in both quantity and quality. Today, international music takes, at most, a 10% share of the live market, with domestic on a commanding 85% and South Korea’s K-pop juggernaut accounting for about 5%.

Today, the Japanese music market is the second biggest in the world, behind the US and ahead of Germany. Its live sector has set new records in both of the past two years, hitting ¥332 billion in 2017 (around €2.7bn) and then rising again to ¥345bn (€2.8bn) in 2018 – a 3.7% uplift that came in spite of a small decline in the number of shows – according to the All-Japan Concert and Live Entertainment Promoters Conference (ACPC).

“The Japanese market in live entertainment has been on the upward trend since the middle of 2010,” says ACPC director Takao Kito. “That’s not only because of the increase in live shows caused by a drop-off in CD sales, but because of a change in users’ minds from consuming products to experiences.”

Clearly, Japan remains a highly appealing market for international promoters and artists, and the big ones are certainly chipping away at it. Live Nation has a Japanese office and, with local partners, has co-promoted plenty of recent arena shows. AEG, meanwhile, worked in partnership with Japanese giant Avex on its recent Ed Sheeran and Celine Dion concerts. But both global promoters know they face a stiff challenge to get much deeper into the Japanese business.

Korean stars record Japanese versions of their songs. In a country where little English is spoken, and even less Korean, such things make a difference

“It is a very mature, competitive market that Live Nation has had a hard time getting traction in,” concedes Live Nation Japan president John Boyle, who has headed the giant’s Japanese push since early 2018. He says Live Nation has big hopes for Japan but fully appreciates the challenge of bringing them to fruition. “I think it is more challenging than anywhere else in the world,” he says.

The fact is, for all its surging fortunes, Japan has numerous characteristics that fly in the face of Western music business orthodoxies and, in many cases, restrict access from outside. CDs remain dominant, claiming 80% of music sales, but though the physical market has certainly declined, streaming has not yet caught on, removing a vitally important channel for artists seeking to find exposure in a new market.

Record companies remain powerful but heavily domestically focused, with local majors – of which there are many, including titans such as Avex, Universal, Sony Music Entertainment Japan and JVC Kenwood – unlikely to take a punt on an unknown foreign act, however successful they may be elsewhere. Tour support, once commonplace, has fallen out of fashion.

Meanwhile, large venues, remarkably scarce in the immense sprawl of Tokyo, book up years in advance, with weekends often block-booked by domestic promoters working in groups. For international operators attempting to route world tours and finding only assorted weekday evenings available, locking down an appropriate venue at the right time becomes profoundly difficult.

Where smaller international bands are concerned, the situation is not much easier. There are no booking agents in Japan, and mixed festival bills are limited and hard to crack. While promoters are heavily engaged in scouting new talent, few are tempted by foreign artists with little following. So new indie artists looking to build an audience typically need to deal direct with Japan’s rai-bu houses – small, private venues that usually don’t pay – and organise their own promotion.

But of course, that 10% doesn’t come from nowhere. Sheeran, needless to say, does good business, selling out the Tokyo Dome and Osaka’s Kyocera Dome in April, supported – as he was across all of Asia – by Japanese rock heroes One OK Rock. Live Nation, too, has its own pipeline: recent arena shows include Bruno Mars, Taylor Swift and Maroon Five, with U2, Queen and Adam Lambert and the Backstreet Boys coming soon.

“The market for international artists – not counting K-pop – is now around a third of what it was 45 years ago”

Paul McCartney, who spent a memorable nine nights in a Tokyo jail in 1980, once again has the run of the place: he has played 19 shows and a dozen VIP soundchecks in Japan since 2013 – at the Tokyo Dome, the Ryōgoku Sumo Hall and the Nippon Budokan in the capital, plus trips out to arenas in Nagoya, Osaka and Fukuoka.

What is very clear though, is that, Western rock and pop sensations aside, Japan’s growth is very much coming from within. “I have been in this business for nearly 45 years,” says Yoshito Yamazaki of long-serving music, sport and musical theatre promoter Kyodo Tokyo, which promotes Korean sensations BTS in Japan, “and I’d say the market for international artists – not counting K-pop – is now around one third of what it was 45 years ago.”

Japan’s own J-pop is a broad and varied thing, nominally encompassing everything from singer-songwriters such as Kenshi Yonezu and Gen Hoshino, to multiplatinum pop-rockers Mr Children, to J-pop/metal fusion Babymetal, although its most prominent category is idol groups – manufactured pop bands assembled by all-powerful, notoriously controlling management agencies. Many of Japan’s major pop stars are made this way, including boy bands Arashi, KAT-TUN, Exile, Suchmos and others, and girl bands such as AKB48, Morning Musume, Momoiro Clover Z, Keyakizaka46 and Nogizaka46, who inspire obsessive cults and make most of their income through live work and, more to the point, relentless merchandising.

Homegrown rock is booming in Japan, too, led by Babymetal but also One OK Rock, Band-Maid, Scandal and Man With a Mission. And, of course, the nation has long supplied intriguing cult artists to the rest of the world, from the Yellow Magic Orchestra and its lynchpins Haruomi Hosono and Ryuichi Sakamoto to Shonen Knife, Cornelius, the Boredoms and Boris.

K-pop, meanwhile, has made a big impression in Japan, even as diplomatic relations between the two countries have soured in recent years. But unlike Western artists, Korean stars such as BTS, Blackpink and Twice record Japanese versions of their songs. In a country where little English is spoken – and even less Korean – such things make a difference.


Continue reading this feature in the digital edition of IQ 84, or subscribe to the magazine here


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Fuji Rock to move dates after successful 2019

Smash Corp.’s Fuji Rock, Japan’s largest outdoor music festival, will next year move to August from its traditional last-weekend-of-July dates, to accomodate the Tokyo 2020 summer Olympic games (24 July–9 August 2020).

The 2019 edition of Fuji Rock – with Creativeman’s Summer Sonic one of Japan’s two marquee rock festivals – took place from Thursday 25 to Sunday 28 July, welcoming a total of 130,000 people (5,000 more than last year) for its 23rd event, held at the Naeba ski resort in Yuzawa, in central Japan.

Despite more challenging conditions – for the second year in a row, programming was disrupted by a tropical storm (dubbed, with typical Japanese understatement, ‘Typhoon #6’) – Fuji Rock “finished all three days with cooperation and understanding from the audience”, according to organisers.

Some 15,000 people attended Thursday night’s free opening party, with capacity crowds of 40,000 on Friday and Saturday, and 35,000 on Sunday. Headliners were the Cure, the Chemical Brothers and Sia, with other performers including Thom Yorke, James Blake, Janelle Monáe and Martin Garrix.

Fuji Rock 2020 will be held on Friday 21, Saturday 22 and Sunday 23 August, after the Olympics. Summer Sonic 2020, which would have taken place in Tokyo and Osaka, has been cancelled altogether.


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