When the Beatles did Japan (3)
The man who brought the Beatles to Japan
Hi there, as promised last time, today I’m going to talk about Nagashima Tatsuji (the above-pictured necktied guy on the right), the music promoter who played a vital role in bringing the Beatles to Japan in 1966. Nagashima has almost become a mythical figure in this country because, starting with the Fab Four, he organized tours by the likes of the Carpenters, Elton John, Michael Jackson and other global music stars.
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In the mid-1960s, Nagashima Tatsuji was the kind of guy who stood out in the crowd: he was tall, spoke English flawlessly and had refined Western manners. He was the face of a country that was modernizing and slowly opening up to the world. However, under his sophisticated manners, Nagashima was very much a Japanese man - at least the kind of idealized samurai-type that the Japanese like to show as an example of human integrity: he was humble, talked only the minimum necessary, and always kept his promises.
Many touring musicians fell in love with him: Nat King Cole was a close friend, and Karen Carpenter presented him with a wall hanging embroidered with the word daisuki (I love you).
Karen Carpenter presented Nagashima with a wall hanging embroidered with the word daisuki (I love you).
Nagashima was born in Yokohama in 1926. As his father Tadao, who worked for Mitsubishi Bank, was often posted abroad, he moved to New York at the age of 2 then London two years later. After spending six years in Britain, his family returned to Japan only to move to New York again when he was 12.
The Nagashimas lived in a high-class residential area in Westchester, New York. By then, Tatsuji was in junior high school and became obsessed with jazz and popular music: Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman, and Tommy Dorsey.
In August 1941, 15-year-old Nagashima returned to Japan four months before the start of the Pacific War. After the war, his English ability made him popular among American soldiers. According to an article in St. Petersburgh’s Evening Independent (19 June 1963), one day in 1945 a truck full of thirsty GIs “pulled over to the curb and a captain yelled out to the startled Japanese boy [Nagashima]: ‘Hey you, my men are thirsty. Do you speak English? Do you know where we can buy some beer?’ Nagashima replied, "Let me take you to a brewery, sir.”
Eventually he became the floor manager of an American base club.
After that he began to manage Japanese jazz singers, much to the disgust of his father who wanted him to follow in his steps and become a banker. One of the artists he launched, Nancy Umeki, later went to the United States and under her real name, Umeki Miyoshi, built a solid career in Hollywood, eventually becoming the first Asian woman to win the Academy Award (for Best Supporting Actress in Sayonara).
Nagashima’s next step was to invite foreign big names to Japan, eventually establishing himself as a leading figure in the music industry. He was particularly famous among the musicians for his hospitality and the discreet way he handled things, always putting the artists first while he kept to the side. He later told a writer, "Whenever I meet people from overseas, I feel like I represent Japanese people."
Nagashima was at first hesitant about arranging the Beatles’ tour. Only a few months earlier, in January 1966, he had brought the Beach Boys to Japan only to be confronted by angry people who hated Western pop music and culture and were hellbent on boycotting their performances. Their 18 January concert in Sendai was particularly infamous because only two or three fans showed up, the others scared off by the moral police.
However, the chance to bring the Beatles to Japan was too big to be missed, and Nagashima began to work closely with Vic Lewis and Brian Epstein. His masterpiece was arguably succeeding in convincing the Nippon Budokan to host the Beatles’ five concerts. In the next chapter, we will see what happened.
Nagashima died in 1999 of pneumonia. He was 73 years old.
At the time of his death, Paul McCartney sent the following letter to Nagashima's wife:
In my opinion, Tatsu Nagashima was the most important person in the Japanese music industry. He introduced Western music and musicians to the Japanese people. I don't know anyone else who excelled in that. In the world of music, he was one of Japan's leading diplomats. Also, as an individual, he was the best gentleman, and he was a great friend of my family. I and my children are saddened to hear that our precious Tatsu has died. But we still have those happy memories. Thank you, Tatsu.
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