If you mention the name “Cheap Trick” to music fans, the first thing that many would think of is “Budokan”. The live album recorded at the April 1978 shows at that legendary Japanese venue is still what many connect most with the band, despite later chart success. A return to the Budokan to celebrate the 30th anniversary had long been rumoured, and early 2008 finally saw the promoters announce a special show back where literally “it all began”. With the live version of “I Want You to Want Me” and the LP “Live at Budokan” being my introduction to the band back in early 1979, of course I wanted to finally fulfil the dream to see the band play there.
As usual, there were a lot of details to research, plan and book. The two most important were getting tickets to the show and affordable flights. Thanks to long-time Japanese friends Junko and Hiromi, the show ticket issue was solved. They very kindly agreed to buy me a ticket when they went on sale, and ended up buying for several fans from overseas. It’s almost impossible for those not in Japan to buy concert tickets from outside the country, and once again, Japanese friends come to the rescue. Flights were less of a problem, it was just a case of what I was prepared to spend. Unfortunately I couldn’t find anything affordable with my first choice airline KLM, but luckily their partner Air France has 2-3 daily flights to Tokyo and the fare I found with them wouldn’t kill my credit card… badly maim, sure, but not quite kill!
Following on from flights came hotel hunting, and I was lucky enough to find a promotional price for a 4* hotel at about half the price quoted on every other website I looked at. So that was booked, and I passed on the info to several other friends looking to travel to Tokyo. In the end, we had up to a dozen Japanese and overseas fans staying there.
The lead-up time was also busy in that I was involved in a small project related the “show”, but more of that later.
Monday 21 April - Travelling to Tokyo
My fifth visit to Japan started early, as all my travels usually do. I was out of my house before 6am and at Manchester Airport and checked-in by 7.30am. Interesting to see a plane arrive with an Iron Maiden livery on it, I wonder how a plane advertising CT would look…hmm. I had plenty of time before my 9.40am flight to Paris. I can’t say that I was wild about travelling Air France, for some unexplainable reason I just don’t feel as comfortable on their flights as I do with the Dutch airline KLM. One major downside with AF is having to transit via Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport, an experience I find as pleasant as having teeth pulled without anaesthetic whilst listening to Styx. And Paris CDG didn’t disappoint. Despite having been security checked at Manchester, and arriving in Paris at Terminal 2F and catching my Tokyo flight from the very same Terminal 2F…<sigh>… shortly after leaving my plane from Manchester I had to line up at a crowded, barely moving and badly signed security checkpoint. My connection time was only about 75 minutes anyway, and I spent the better part of 25 minutes seething and barely moving in this security bottleneck. I did occasionally see the odd person pass by the crowd in an empty outside lane. In exasperation, I left the line and went over to that line entrance. It said nothing about who could use it. But I showed my boarding pass and frequent flier card to the bored looking guard and he waved me into the line. I honestly felt very guilty at passing others still stuck in the bottleneck, but there was nothing I could do about their situation. It still took 5 minutes for me to walk through the x-ray and be pulled out for backpack search <sigh> but finally I made it to my gate which was already boarding.
What can I say about the flight? It was nearly 12 hours long. The audio/video on demand wasn’t fully available, so there was loads listed in the magazine that couldn’t be found on the system. I had the seat in front of me in my face for much of the flight, whilst the young Spanish couple next to me tried to get to know each other a little better in the dark overnight hours. I was glad when we finally landed at Tokyo Narita at 8am on Tuesday morning.
Tuesday 22 April
Immigration was surprisingly empty when I got to the desks, a first in my experience of arriving in Japan. Good timing. So I was quickly through, and with Japanese efficiency, luggage marked with “priority” tags did actually arrive on the luggage conveyor belt first. So it didn’t take long to get my case and be through customs. By now it was 8.45am, and friends Lars and Rosie (Nilsson and Pettersson) from Sweden were due to arrive at 9.30am. As they were staying at the same hotel, I decided to wait for them to arrive. They finally did, and they were easy to spot as they were both wearing CT shirts! I think they liked the improvised name sign that I held up for them in Arrivals! We caught an airport bus that would drop us right at our hotel in Akasaka. The traffic wasn’t too heavy for Tokyo, and we saw a few cherry trees in flower, though sadly the best of the blossoms were over. The bus dropped us off at the Grand Prince Akasaka at noon. Unlike hotels elsewhere which can be a little more flexible about early check-in if rooms are available, the Grand Prince strictly adhere to their 2pm check-in policy. So we left our bags/cases in storage at the hotel and went to Shibuya to shop. It was bright and mild, perfect weather for being out and about.
We found the re-released, re-packaged “Complete Budokan” CD set on sale two days early, with a couple of small displays in both HMV and Tower Records. So of course we each bought one, together with 3 music magazines with CT features. These had more text than photographs, but still nice to buy. It was funny, I spotted the first magazine that mentioned “Cheap Trick” on the cover. Lars found the second, and whilst we were excitedly showing Rosie, she spotted a third that we’d both missed! We got back to the hotel at 2.45pm to check-in, with Lars and Rosie getting a room upgrade to a suite with DVD player and two bathrooms! Good fortune was smiling, and “Little Sweden” became the gathering/party room!
Patricia and Mary both arrived from Chicago around 6pm, and a little later the five of us walked the local side streets of Akasaka before finally agreeing on a small restaurant to eat. We all got back to the hotel around 10pm and headed to our respective rooms to sleep. It had been a long travelling day for all, and sleep was definitely top of the agenda.
Wednesday 23 April – CHEAP TRICK Press Conference
The morning was another beautiful one, though sadly too hazy to spot Mt Fuji in the distance. Patricia, Mary and I had a wander around Akasaka during the morning, visiting a couple of local shrines/temples. Later in the morning I left the girls to go to Shibuya to shop, whilst I took a cab to Sony Records for CT’s early afternoon press conference. Unfortunately the taxi driver wasn’t quite sure where to go, despite my having an address, but he finally got me to the right place.
The conference was held in a ground floor meeting room at a Sony office at Rokubancho. Cool to see a prominent “Cheap Trick at Budokan again” display in the lobby. The room was rectangular and would hold about 100 people or so. It was set up with rows of chairs in front of a small stage set up at one end. The stage backdrop was a checkerboard design, using large “white 6x logo on black” and “white, Budokan show” posters. An area to the left of the stage which was selling the re-issued “Complete Budokan” CD was also similarly decorated.
Up to 100 fans had been lucky enough to get tickets for the event via the promoter, so it was nice to see several familiar faces.
The event kicked off at 1.07pm with announcements by a Sony MC. He introduced a lady from Music Life magazine (who heavily featured CT before and after the first tour in 78 and thus contributed to their profile and success in Japan), and then a Sony executive who I believe was their A&R man around the first and second tours in 78/79. The last guest was a Japanese musician, one of the “Yellow Monkeys” who had been most popular in the 80’s. I believe he spoke at length at how CT had influenced him, but of course the proceedings were all in Japanese so I have no clue what was said!
Cheap Trick were brought out at 1.33pm
RN – Black
Varvatos suit, white shirt, Colonel Sanders style bow tie
The conference started with a photo opportunity for the media (fans weren’t allowed to take photos). The band then stood off to the right hand side of the stage whilst it was set up for them to perform a couple of songs. The band came back on at 1.39pm, to perform acoustically. Robin kicked things off, saying “This is the first song from our new…well, not so new, album!” – the band went on to perform “I Want You to Want Me” and “Surrender”. The latter saw Rick throw out a Destiny’s Child flat, as well as numerous, new “Budokan show” picks! There then followed a short Q&A, with a couple of questions from the Sony MC’s, followed by a few fan questions. The main thing that came out of those was that the band have apparently recorded 17 songs for their next CD, though no indication when that would be ready for release. A couple of fans were then called out to say a short piece, they’d written fan reviews of the Budokan shows 30 years ago. One was dressed similarly to Rick in Varvatos type suit and bow tie. After the man said his bit in Japanese, Rick beckoned him over and gave him a hug – the man was very visibly moved. The press conference concluded with each band member being given a bouquet of flowers by young Japanese teenagers, fun to see Tom keep giving his girl picks to share with her three friends! The press conference ended at 2.10pm, though many fans stayed on a little longer, to try to get one of the wall posters or to take photo’s in the Sony building lobby.
I soon said my goodbyes, and took the 20 minute walk back to the hotel. I was back by 3pm, and needed to eat. The nearby MacDonalds saw the first of several visits during my stay. Of course I could have got noodles or sushi or fugu or whatever… but sometimes, familiar fast food is just easier. Whilst on the subject of food (and drink) I must also mention that convenience stores (7-11, Lawson or similar) are an important and staple part of Japanese city life. They’re everywhere and seem to stay open around the clock. Those nearby certainly got frequent visits from the CT fans at our hotel, particularly for beer runs!
A little later that afternoon, Lisa J (from Texas) and Cathi (from New York) both arrived from the airport, and longtime friend Mariko from Nagoya also got to the hotel. The evening was spent in Little Sweden, watching Cheap Trick DVD’s, chatting, catching up, drinking beer and eating takeout pizza! Yeah, when in…errr… Tokyo… eat Italian! More good Japanese friends, Junko, Hiromi and Mina came to visit. Finally, Aussie Steve and Lisa arrived late in the evening from Atlanta, and so our group of overseas fans in the hotel was complete. I had an “early” night, going to bed around 12.30am. However, I’m sure the party in 2650 continued well beyond that!
Thursday 24th April – CHEAP TRICK at Budokan… again!
Finally the big day had arrived, and in just a few hours we’d finally see Cheap Trick perform at the place which had literally made their career. But first, there was time for more sightseeing! On a cloudy, damp but mild morning, Lisa J, Cathi, Patricia, Mary and myself took the metro to Asakusa to visit the unmissable Senso-ji shrine/temple. The narrow shopping street of small craft and souvenir shops leading up to the shrine was crowded as always, and there was plenty to catch the eye. The temple and pagoda were as spectacular as ever, and amongst the tourists, many local people were actually there to pay their respects and pray.
At noon we caught the metro to nearby Ueno station and had lunch at the small Hard Rock Café there, no CT items on display. After eating we walked a little in nearby Ueno Park, which includes several museums if you have time to spare. Unfortunately we didn’t, so our walk was fairly brief. The windy, wet weather had something to do with our short stay too. We got back to the hotel mid-afternoon, to all get ready for what we hoped would be a memorable night ahead! Not only Cheap Trick at Budokan, but also Cheap Track later too!
The same five of us took the subway to Kudanshita metro station, the one nearest the Budokan. As we walked to the legendary venue, I could see that the cherry trees were sadly bare of blossoms. When I came here in March a few years back, the cherries were in full bloom and the whole area was a magnificent riot of pink.
We were at the Budokan around 4.45pm, with doors due to open at 6pm. However, merchandise was already on sale from a large tent in front of the venue, so we all took advantage of the short lines to do our shopping. Nice to see an event-specific t-shirt, as well as a nice metal keychain and nice glossy programme. I was particularly keen to see the latter as I’d had a small role in its production.
Oh, I heard that the band had soundchecked a little earlier, playing “Downed”.
One amazing surprise for me was when a Japanese fan, Kenzo, came up and asked me if I was Kim. When I confirmed that I was, he opened his bag and gave me two wonderful pieces of CT memorabilia as a gift – a Japanese video, and a fantastic, vintage box of sheet music of the entire “At Budokan” album. A wonderfully generous and unexpected gift for which I am indebted. (see picture in the "Collectables" area - Other Collectables )
There was a really nice Cheap Trick banner on the front balcony of the venue, and around 5.15pm the band came out for a photoshoot with the banner. Although pro-shots were being taken by Mike Graham, lots of fans also took the opportunity to take pictures. Rick flicked picks down at the crowd from the balcony, and a mini disaster almost occurred as a crush of fans surged forward towards a security man who’d picked up a few and came forward to give them out. Luckily the barrier didn’t give way and no injuries occurred.
Doors opened at 6pm, and it was somewhat odd to have to follow the crowd downstairs and through a couple of long corridors (ala “Spinal Tap”) before entering the hallowed arena that is the Budokan. The venue is octagonal in shape, the large stage was set up facing where we came in. There were blocks of seating on the main (green covered) floor, and then levels of banked seating to the sides and rear. High above the centre was a huge Japanese flag, framed by the intricate octagonal ceiling pattern. It was cool to see a home made banner on the rear wall stating “Welcome Back to Budokan, Cheap Trick. It’s Your Home! Still & Always”. The stage looked large, but we couldn’t see much as a large curtain/sheet was draped in front.
The show was due to start at 7pm, but at 6.55pm the lights went down and we heard the familiar “Stop This Game” drone. But the band didn’t appear - the large sheet remained in front of the stage with “Cheap Trick” projected onto it. We were then treated to a video montage of the band projected onto the sheet, starting with “Oh Candy” from 1976, then a “Heaven Tonight” LP TV promo spot. That was followed by “Speak Now” from the original Budokan broadcast in 1978. Then a clip from the “Dream Police” video, of the band members beneath the spotlights, each saying their short piece. That was followed by “I Can’t Take IT” from the “Thicke of the Night” show, the short Simpsons clip of Homer saying “I prefer to listen to Cheap Trick” and the complete “You’re All I Wanna Do” video. The montage continued with a clip from the movie “Fast Times at Ridgment High”, then “Carnival Game” performed live. The montage ended with the switch-off from the end of the “70’s Song” video. It was now 7.15pm, the CT logo was again projected, the drone returned and then the famous intro from the original “Live at Budokan” boomed out…
… “AL-RIGHT TO-KYO! ARE YOU… READY?? PLEASE WELCOME, EPIC RECORDING ARTISTS… CHEAP TRICK!!!”
The curtain suddenly dropped and the checkerboard themed stage was revealed. Both the backdrop and floor were checkerboard patterned. The band were already on stage, with Robin stood with arms outstretched.
RN – Black
Varvatos suit, white shirt, Col Sanders style tie
Hello There, Come On Come On, Big Eyes, California Man, If You Want My Love, Best Friend, Downed, I Want You to Want Me, I Know What I Want, Voices, High Roller, The Flame, 70’s Song, Surrender // (encore) Dream Police, Auf Wiedersehen, Clock Strikes Ten, Goodnight Now
The band had a nice big stage to work with a used it well. Right from the start the crowd were on their feet, both on the main floor and up in the balcony’s, and I spent nearly as much time turned around and watching the crowd as I did watching the actual show on stage. My seat was about halfway back on Rick’s side on the main floor, and the sound was really good. Nice, clear and balanced. And I noticed at the start that there were three strings of paper cranes on Tom’s Hiwatt amps… similar to the string on his guitar as seen in pictures from the 78 Budokan shows.
The band opened up with “Hello There”, followed by “Come On Come On” and “Big Eyes”. I should add that the lighting was very nice too, with rear stage spotlights on metal towers. After “Big Eyes”, Rick said “Yeah, Yeah… Arigato”. It was noticeable as the evening went on that Rick talked a lot less than usual, not sure why. And early on I also noticed longtime CT friend Tod Howarth back behind Tom, playing keyboards and providing backing vocals.
“California Man” was another popular choice as it had been played at the original Budokan shows. Afterwards Rick said “Yaaaay! Arigato… It’s great to be back in Tokyo… Thank You, Thank You, Thank You, Arigato, Arigato, Arigato. Beautiful crowd, live at the Budokan. Just in case you don’t know, we’re called Cheap Trick”, to which the crowd cheered. Rick then invited the crowd to sing along with the next track, “which was featured in one of the greatest movies of all time…” and the band went into “If You Want My Love”. The Japanese crowd was very into the show, and there were less of the polite silences between songs that are often evident at shows in Japan.
After “IYWML” Rick announced “Yeah! Thirty years ago, Oh my Lord… unbelievable”. He then asked how many in the crowd were here 30 years ago, to which many hands went up and many voices shouted. “You’re THAT old?” quipped Rick! He then introduced the next song as having three chords, and the band went into a sizzling “Best Friend”, followed by a very nice performance of “Downed”, for which Rick played an oddly shaped new red guitar.
Robin introduced the next song… “I Want YOU… to Want ME!” and of course the crowd went nuts. Cool to watch them everyone bopping along, both on the main floor and the balcony levels, with pretty much everyone joining in with the “crying, crying, crying” parts. Afterwards Rick again thanked Tokyo, then introduced “… Mr Tokyo Japan himself… on the 12 string bass… Mr Tom Petersson!” Tom played a 90 second solo of Jimi’s “Burning the Midnight Lamp”, which is always cool to hear, before the band went into “I Know What I Want”. There was lots of crowd clapping along during it, and afterwards Tom stood bowed over on stage for about 15 seconds.
The crowd were certainly enthusiastic, though a bit less so than 30 years ago. The screams for “Robeeen!” and “Tommee!” were far less… I guess both the band and the crowd have matured in the intervening years!
The band went into “Voices”, and unlike at many American shows, it was cool to hear some singing along with the “warm voices, cool voices” parts.
“The Flame” saw a gorgeous rainbow coloured backlight on Robin at the start, I really hope Mike Graham got a shot of that. The start of the song brought a big cheer from the crowd, and afterwards Rick asked “ How about that Robin Zander?” He then introduced “That 70’s Song”, though I’m not sure if really “…used-to-be-on-just-Tuesdays-but-is-now-on-every-night-of-the-week” in Japan.
The crowd again went pretty crazy during “Surrender”, which saw some cool multicoloured lights projected into the crowd. Rick played his “new” Korina 5 neck guitar, and towards the end his lines went “Robins alright, Tommy’s alright, Bun E’s alright… the Budokan’s al-right!” As usual Robin addressed the crowd before the band left the stage, with a "Domo Arigato… Thank You Thank You Thank You for having us here at Budokan. Hope to see you later this year, if not next. Thank you for coming out to see Cheap Trick tonight, we love you so much, drive home carefully”. A heartfelt note to a very appreciative crowd.
Rick came back on to the stage a couple of minutes later, to ask “Does that mean you want to hear some more? Are you SURE you want to hear some more?” Of course the two huge cheers answered his questions!
As always it was a buzz to hear Rick’s line “They persecute me right here in… TOKYO JAPAN!” during “Dream Police”. Next came “Auf Wiedersehen”, always a crowd pleaser and always good to hear. Afterwards, the band had a short meeting on stage, before going into “Clock Strikes Ten” which drove the crowd wild once more. The start was greeted with a big cheer, and people danced throughout. “Goodnight Now” saw only one ending, and it looked like Rick was playing a new orange guitar for this, a twin of the new red one earlier. Towards the end of the song, Bun pulled out a set of giant drumsticks to finish off with! The show ended at 8.37pm with Rick exclaiming “Yeah! Yeah!... Arigoto… Thank You Very Much”.
We hadn’t been allowed to take photo’s during the show, but I quickly snapped off a few shots of the stage. Whilst the large crowd (a sellout 8-9,000 I believe) slowly made their way out, I followed the Cheap Track guys to where the band were doing their short aftershow. That was crowded with Japanese record label people and local friends of the band, but I got to briefly say thank you to the guys for the show. I felt very honoured when Bun E gave me the drumming gloves that he’d used during the show, which will be framed in the near future.
I then got a ride with Sushi Man and Tokyo Zander to an underground club in the Ginza district, where Cheap Track would be playing. We arrived and parked, just as many friends/fans were arriving there.
The Cheap Track show was due to start at 10:30pm, but was running late. They were still changing I believe when, at 10.50pm, a buzz went through the crowd, and we turned to see Rick and some of CT’s entourage come into the intimate venue. Cheap Track was hurriedly called down, and Rick played with them for the first three songs of their set – “You’re All Talk”, “Hot Love” and “Auf Wiedersehen”. The stage was tiny, so Rick was crowded in between Sushi Man and Tokyo Zander. The crowd were unsurprisingly enthusiastic, and it looked like Rick was having fun too. During Auffie, a friend of Cheap Track’s (and who had apparently played bass in the Yellow Monkeys) squeezed on between Rick and Sushi Man and joined in vocals. That was unscripted, Rick was very tolerant though the guys ebullient, heavy-metal-esque enthusiasm somewhat perplexed him a bit I think! Rick got a warm reception as he left the stage, that had been a nice bonus for everyone! Look out for a clip or two on YouTube!
Things settled down as Cheap Track continued with their set, and they were, as ever, terrific. Nice to see a couple of Cheap Trick’s techs stayed on the watch much of the show. Cheap Track are wonderful musicians, and they really do capture the CT sound. Like Bun E, Shige on the drums is largely hidden and unnoticed, but he consistently drives a mean beat. Kinko plays a Hamer 12 string bass and is hugely impressive in the Tom role. Sushi Man is Cheap Track’s answer to Rick Nielsen, complete with checkerboard and 5 necked guitars. An entertainer and great guitarist. And the difficult part of Robin Zander is carried off extremely well by Tokyo Zander. Despite having little English, he sings phoenetically and has a great range. A fine, and fun band, and everyone had a great time! Towards the end of the first set, Lisa J was invited onto the stage and she gave an impressive performance, vocalling “I Can’t Take It”.
(set 1) You’re All Talk, Hot Love, Auf Wiedersehen (all with Rick Nielsen), House is Rockin’, Oh Candy, He’s a Whore, Taxman Mr Thief, Borderline, Never Had a Lot to Lose, Ballad of TV Violence, So Good to See You, I Want You to Want Me, I Can’t Take It (guest vox, Lisa J), Give It Away.
(set 2) California Man (guest vox… some guy from England), Big Eyes (guest vox, ditto), Clock Strikes Ten, Surrender, Goodnight Now, Dream Police
I forgot to say that Cheap Trick video’s were played on the big screen behind the stage throughout. Before the start of the shorter second set, the head of the Japanese fan club took to the stage, and several games of the Japanese version of “Paper, Scissors, Rock” were played by the fan club members, to win various CT prizes. The second set opened with another “special” guest vocalist… yours truly performed “California Man”. The crowd were gluttons for punishment as they wanted more… I believe they regretted asking me to do “Big Eyes”! Tokyo Zander got things back on track with “Clock Strikes Ten” before Lisa, myself, the Yellow Monkey guy and others squeezed onto the stage to vocal “Surrender”and “Goodnight Now”. Cheap Track closed their show with a rousing “Dream Police”, and so the music ended for the night.
Many of us milled around for quite a while before saying our goodbyes to many Japanese friends and leaving the club well after 2am.
But the night wasn’t over for four of us. We’d wanted to visit the amazing Tsukiji Fish Market, and so being still awake, Lisa J, Cathi, Patricia and I took a cab there, arriving around 3.45am. Whilst a “must see” for many tourists, the fish and adjoining produce markets are busy, working markets, so we took our lives in our hands a little as we found a way in, dodging lorries and speedy little trucks driving through the narrow and congested walkways delivering boxes and bags to the thousands of stalls. The markets are HUGE, you can’t imagine. The fish market in particular seems to just go on into infinity. It supplies seafood to all of Tokyo, so of course the volume passing though daily is immense. In truth we were a little early, as most stalls were still laying out their wares for the Tokyo restauranteurs to peruse. But what we saw was amazing, with every kind of imaginable seafood to be found. We saw live fish being prepared, I didn’t spend much time watching that. We saw fish and shellfish in small and large tanks, and large (and expensive) sides of fresh tuna being cut into smaller portions for sale. I’d been lucky enough to come here with Sushi Man in 1999, but it was no less impressive today, leading our small party down narrow and busy alleyways.
We were ready to call it a night after half an hour of wandering and getting in the way, the long day was catching up with us all. We flagged down a cab at 4.15am, I ended up in front and showed the older lady driver my hotel leaflet, in the hope that she’d know where to take us. She got quite cross, and kept asking me questions in Japanese. All I could do was try to apologise and keep pointing to the address (in Japanese) on the hotel leaflet. Eventually, and clearly very unhappy, she put something into her GPS unit and we were away. As we drove past places we’d seen only 45 minutes ago, we knew we were heading in the right direction. As the others dozed in the back, the lady driver and I witnessed a near miss between two vehicles in front of us (somewhat surprising given the quiet streets). The driver sucked in a big gulp of breath and I had done the same… and that seemed to break the ice between us! She was smiling as she dropped us off at our hotel. Maybe we’d finally made contact despite the impenetrable language barrier… or more likely, she was just happy to see the back of us gaijin! Anyway, we quickly walked over to the 24hr MacDonalds to get food, and saw the pleasant zodiac light display in the subway tunnel on our way back to the hotel. It was nice to fall into bed at 5.15am, though the sky was already getting light outside <sigh>
Friday 25th April
This was the morning after the night before. Or more accurately, given that some of us didn’t get to bed until after 5am… the afternoon after the morning before!
Patricia, Mary, Lisa, Cathi and I met in reception around noon and went out to at least make something of the day. Actually, Lisa J had woken even earlier than me, and so had already been out and back. She’d successfully braved the Tokyo subway on her own to go find the Pokemon Centre to shop for her son Zach.
It was a nice, mild, bright but hazy day. We all took the subway to Shinjuku and walked to the Metropolitan Government Buildings. As an ex-civil servant, I felt an odd but mildly comfortable feeling at being in Govt buildings! The nice thing about this twin towered building is that it has two viewing levels (one in each tower) that are free to go up to. Sure, the bright orange and white Tokyo Tower may gear itself more to tourists, but you pay heavily for the privilege of visiting it. So, we had good, free views of the whole of greater Tokyo. However, the haze meant that we had absolutely no chance of seeing Mt Fuji in the distance. In fact, this was the first time in 5 visits to Japan that I’ve not seen that magnificent and spiritual mountain :-(
After Shinjuku, we went onto Shibuya, to give Lisa and Cathi a view of Hachiko Square and the amazing and iconic Shibuya Crossing near the station. This is the very famous place, similar to Times Square in New York, with several large video screens and neon looking down upon the convergence of about 5 roads. But what makes the crossing special is that it has black and white zebra crossings diagonally as well as straight. So when the traffic lights turn red, you have this sea of humanity crossing the streets in all directions. And like some intricate, carefully choreographed ballet, none of these thousands bump into each other as they quickly cross before the lights change. It’s really an amazing sight.
We popped into a Department store basement food hall (another sightseeing “must”), followed by more shops and then Tower Records for various people to shop. We had to rush back to the hotel though, to try to organise the evening plans. Got back at 5.40pm, and Mari very kindly phoned the venue and managed to book us a table at Abbey Road for later this evening, to see a Japanese Beatles tribute band. By now it was after 6pm and at the end of the call Mari found out that we needed to be there by 7.30pm. So it was a hasty phone around to everyone, quick showers etc, meet up and then off to the metro. We got to Roppongi at just after 7.25pm… but then despite our best efforts of keeping all ten of us in view at all times on the crowded train and metro stations, we suddenly lost a couple of our party at Roppongi station. Luckily they appeared again a few minutes later! We got to nearby Abbey Road about 7.35pm and were ushered to our long table.
The venue was a dark, downstairs room with a smallish stage in one corner, and as many tables as they could fit in. The Parrots were playing when we got in but we hadn’t missed much. The venue served both drinks and food, with a minimum cover charge per person as well as a charge for the band. The format of the evening was that the band played 30 minute sets, at 7.30pm, 8.40pm, 9.50pm, 11pm and after midnight, with 40 minutes between sets for customers to eat, drink and smoke.
The Parrots were great, very talented and had that Beatles sound pretty much nailed. Unlike some Beatles cover bands they didn’t try to look exactly like the Beatles, though did all wear suits from around the 64-65 era. “John” looked like he was from about 1969 with long hair, though he was somewhat heavier than the real John. Meanwhile “George” looked to be around 15 years old, and should have been at home doing his schoolwork! There was also a keyboard player off to one side of the stage. We stayed for the first 4 sets, to around 11.40pm. I didn’t write down the setlists, but they played songs from the complete Beatles career, from Mr Moonlight to Day Tripper to Let It Be, with a lot of well known but less common songs too and a few obscure tracks. It wasn’t just all the Beatles hits by any means. They also had forms on the table to take requests, so they must have the entire Beatles repertoire memorised, which is pretty amazing. Each of the musicians was impressive both musically and vocally, and a good time was had by all!
We managed to get the subway back to the hotel before it closed down after midnight, and the party in Little Sweden went on until at least 4am!
Saturday 26th April
Today was much more leisurely, at least for some. Lisa J and Cathy had little time for sleep before catching the 7am bus to the airport, so they’d said their goodbyes in Little Sweden a few hours before. Mari had also said her goodbyes as she was returning home to Nagoya mid-morning. The weather was mild but overcast, and Patricia, Mary and I ended up having a leisurely lunch at the Hard Rock Café at Roppongi. I’d been here several times before for CT events and press conferences, and it was nice to see a CT picture behind the cash register by the door. It was of the band when they were here in 2006. In addition, there’s a signed guitar of Rick’s high up behind the cash register in the nearby merchandise store. It was one of his Japan flag guitars from the 2003 visit. (see my "Hard Rock Cafe" page for pictures - Hard Rock Cafe )
It was raining by the time we finished lunch and got back to the hotel. Luckily Junko came by soon after we got back, and very helpfully phoned Cheap Track’s Sushi Man about our visiting. Several of the overseas fans had expressed a desire to eat at Sushi Man’s small but fine establishment in the suburbs. Once Junko had phoned and arranged things, it was a quick phone around to get people together, and then out we went again. We didn’t lose anyone by the time we reached Kameido and I vaguely remembered the walk through the narrow backstreets to the restaurant from years past. But luckily Junko had a map and put me right a couple of times. Very cool to walk past small back street bars, tiny restaurants and small but noisy Pachinko parlours along the way.
Sushi Man had very kindly reserved the counter for us, so we could watch him and his father prepare the excellent and wonderfully fresh sushi. A few of our group were vegetarian or not into sushi, but several of us had the full deal – succulent raw strips of tuna, shrimp and several other things that I can’t remember the proper name for. But it was all wonderful, and Sushi Man’s wife, Masako had kindly made each of us a tasty green tea dessert too!
We had a drink at a small bar/glassware showroom a few doors away, and Sushi Man kindly sent along a plate of freshly cooked tempura for us! He also popped down to see us a little later but barely stayed minutes before being called back to work. By the time we left it was raining heavily, and very kindly, Sushi Man provided umbrella’s for our walk back to the station. Junko had to get off at Akihabara to get a train home to Yokohama, so goodbyes were said to her on the train. We made it back to the hotel at 10pm, and had a quick (last) drink in Little Sweden before bed. Lars and Rosie were on an early bus to the airport next morning so no late night partying tonight!
Sunday 27th April
Sunday morning was bright and mild for our last full day in Tokyo. As well as Lars and Rosie, Aussie Steve and Lisa were also out to the airport in the morning, so only Mary, Patricia and I were left. However, we had plans for the last day… hopefully.
I got some information from the concierge and so we headed out mid-morning to the nearby TBS centre area to try to find a ticket agency. The new, upmarket centre was busy and featured several restaurants and stores (and a cool video display set into stairs!), but no sign of a ticket booth. Luckily the concierge had written down the name in Japanese as well as English, so with the help of a security guard (and lots of hand gestures, smiles and “domo arigato’s!) we were led to the little ticket place. Luckily (again) the young women there spoke some English, and we managed to secure tickets for an evening baseball game. I’d read that attending a match in Japan was both entertaining and very Japanese, and we were all happy to go and experience that. We’d be seeing the home team, the Tokyo Yakult Swallows play the Chunichi Dragons from Nagoya. The Swallows are very much the second team in Tokyo to the Giants, arguably like the Mets are to the Yankees in New York.
With tickets purchased, we headed back to the hotel. Mary had the great idea of trying to find one of Tokyo Zanders clothing stores, so with the help of the concierge, she both established the store was open and got maps/directions. We took the train out to Nakameguro, and after a mile walk down the road, we came to “Great Full Nelson”, the newest of Tokyo Zanders 3 stores. The place had just opened so there were many plants and good luck gifts outside. TZ happened to look out as we reached the front of the store and his surprised look was a picture! He made us very welcome, and we explored his cool range of imported clothing. We even bought nice “Full Nelson” t-shirts! As well as being a fine musician, he’s a really nice guy, as all of the members of Cheap Track are.
We later headed to the Ginza for a brief walk around there, including seeing the front of the Kabuki-za Theatre. Sadly (for the girls!) we didn’t have much time to wander and window shop in the expensive stores and boutiques, as we had a ball game to go to!
After a brief stop back at the hotel, we headed out once more. We got to the outdoor Jingu Stadium around 6pm, with 20-25 minutes to spare before the first pitch. It was very crowded outside, and underneath the main stand, the walkway was full of food and drink stands. But rather than hot dogs and burgers, they were mostly offering sushi boxes and dishes of noodles and rice!
We sat some 20 rows up behind home plate, so had a fine view of the floodlit stadium. The outfield seating was pretty full, with the area to the left of the electronic scoreboard/screen packed with Chunichi fans, whilst the right outfield was full of Swallows fans. Oddly, it seemed like there were more Dragons than Swallows fans in the 19,000 crowd. The game started at 6.20pm with a ceremonial first pitch by a young Japanese boy. After that, things started in earnest, and our amazing Japanese baseball experience began. The first Chunichi batter stepped up to the plate, causing the thousands in the Dragons outfield seating (and elsewhere) to very loudly start singing, chanting, clapping, banging drums and playing trumpets! It was more like an English football atmosphere than a baseball game. The cacophony of noise continued for the entire time that batter was at the plate. When the next batter stepped up, it started again but it was a different chant! As time went on we learned that each player of both teams had their own special chant. One Canadian player of the Swallows even had parts of “O Canada!” sung whilst at the plate, with several Canadian flags waved out in the crowd!
As at American baseball games, there were young men and women constantly walking through the crowd, selling various kinds of beer, also coffee, ice cream, even donuts! And most of the pretty, young girls walking around selling beer looked too young to legally drink it themselves!
The Dragons hit a 2 run home run in the second inning, sending their fans into raptures. The home side responded with the “charge” rally call played, followed by the scoreboard urging us to shout along - “Go! Go! Swallows!” The wild experience wasn’t over, as the home team hit a home run themselves in the 4th inning. The crowd erupted and as the batter rounded the bases, a tune was loudly played on the PA and suddenly we saw literally thousands of small green umbrella’s being bobbed up and down amongst the home fans! Bizarre doesn’t even begin to describe it, though I guess it’s no more weird than the rally monkey at Anaheim! Strange it may have been, but it was very cool too. The Japanese seem to be a very polite and reserved race, but it was wild to see how they let themselves go at the ball game.
It was a really nice, fun evening, and the Dragons eventually ran out winners by 4-2. We walked back to the hotel by about 10pm. I needed to pack as I was on an early morning bus back to the airport.
Monday 28th April
The end of a wonderful week in Tokyo. I was 8am bus to Narita Airport, and the journey was quicker than usual as today was a national holiday. Hence the roads were much quieter than on a normal, working Monday morning.
I was at Narita by 9.15am, quickly checked-in and through security, and into the Air France lounge. Whilst checking in there were also a large group of French people noisily checking in bags of tennis racquets etc, and in the lounge I read in an English language paper that the French women’s Federation Cup team had won in Tokyo against Japan over the weekend. That group came into the lounge soon after me, and one of the women sitting near me got asked a few times for an autograph. She turned out to be Amelie Mauresmo, one of the top women players in the world. And no… I wasn’t one of the autograph hunters!
The flight back to Paris was long, long, long… almost 12 hours. I was pleased to find the entertainment system fully working, but better still, I had all 3 seats in my row to myself. So after lunch I laid out to try to sleep. OK, so I never sleep well on planes and today was no exception, but I did try for a good 8 hours.
Transferring at Paris CDG airport was the usual frustration, though happily the extra security checkpoint was fairly quiet. But again I got picked out to have my hand luggage searched, do I look that suspicious? Had to get onto a bus which took a magical mystery tour all around the airport before reaching my Manchester bound plane, sitting on a remote piece of tarmac. Did I tell you that I hate this airport? The hour flight to Manchester was uneventful, my suitcase arrived safely (though the round CT logo sticker on it was all scratched up), got my car and drove home. I got back to Leeds around 8.45pm. I was tired and aching, glad to be home but missing Tokyo too. It had been a great week, and though language-wise I was still (and always will be) “lost in translation”, I had felt very comfortable getting around and sharing places I knew with new visitors.
Domo arigato gozaimas!
As always, many thanks are due!
Thanks to Cheap Trick, Carla, Jon and the crew for the show and everything around it!
Many thanks to Junko, Hiromi and Mariko for all their help, in getting tickets and for helping arrange several things whilst we were in Tokyo!
Thanks to the many friends who were there and made it such a wonderful visit. Not only those friends who came from outside Japan, but those many Japanese friends too. It was great to see you and spend time with you all! :-)
Thank you to Cheap Track for their wonderful show and inviting me to sing with them!
Thank you to Kenzo for his generous gift outside the Budokan!
It’s always a total pleasure to visit Japan, to see so many friends, to see Cheap Trick and to experience an amazing culture. I truly hope that I’ll be back in Japan very soon!
Tokyo… Kim Gisborne says… GOODNIGHT!!
Kim Gisborne, Leeds, England. 3 May 2008.
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