Four Decades of Rock in Japan Featured

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Four Decades of Rock in Japan

Legendary Rock Photographer Bob Gruen in Japan

I first arrived in Japan with Yoko Ono in August 1974. I stood behind her as the plane door opened, and I followed her as she walked down the stairs into a crowd of photographers. She was on tour in Japan with a band of top musicians.

The first show was at the One Step Festival in Koriyama. The band performing ahead of Yoko was Carol; it would be their final show before breaking up. The lead singer, Eikichi Yazawa, finished the set and then his chest exploded! We all thought he had died, but it was actually a theatrical stunt to symbolize the end of the band.

On this first trip, I met Yuya Uchida, a promoter of the One Step Festival in Koriyama. We quickly became friends as we traveled around Japan by bullet train. When he visited the United States later that year, I introduced him to the New York Dolls. Then, in 1975, he brought the New York Dolls and me on his World Rock Festival tour.

The following year, I traveled to Japan with the Bay City Rollers. It was a very exciting trip. The band was constantly surrounded by screaming fans. Having had so much experience in Japan, KISS also invited me to travel to Japan with them for their tours in 1977 and 1978.

By then, I began to wonder about Japan beyond the music scene. On tour, I had a very tight schedule and very little time off, but everything I saw amazed me. I wanted to come back to stay for longer, with more flexibility in my schedule. In the summer of 1979, friends I had made during my visits helped me find an apartment in Harajuku. Throughout the year, I had a great time meeting Japanese musicians like the Plastics and Sheena & The Rokkets and going to clubs like Shinjuku Loft and Crocodile.

In 1987, I worked for two months as a crew photographer on the film Tokyo Pop starring Carrie Hamilton and Diamond Yukai. During the trip, my friend Keith Haring came to Tokyo to open his Pop Shop. He even made paintings for an event at the PARCO department store.

I was also introduced to Masa Hidaka, the head of Smash Productions, which produces rock and roll shows in Japan, including the Fuji Rock Festival. In 2001, he invited me to give the opening remarks at the Fuji Rock Festival in dedication to Joey Ramone. That year, Patti Smith was a headliner. Sheena & The Rokkets were on the bill as well, and they featured their friend Wilko. Masa brought me back again in 2003 to open the festival with a dedication to Joe Strummer. That year, Elvis Costello was one of the headliners.

In 2017, Smash published my monograph book Rock Seen. I traveled to Japan for an exhibition of my photos at PARCO and to give a talk at the Fuji Rock Festival. I’ve been there over 15 times and have always had so many wonderful experiences. I’m always willing to go back.


The complete article can be found in Issue #280 of the Tokyo Journal.

Written By:

Bob Gruen

Tokyo Journal columnist Bob Gruen is one of the most well known and respected photographers in Rock and Roll. By the mid 1970s he was already regarded as one of the foremost documenters of the music scene working with major artists such as John Lennon & Yoko Ono, Tina Turner, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, The Who, Elton John, Kiss, Aerosmith, David Bowie, Alice Cooper, etc., and also covering the emerging New Wave and Punk bands including The New York Dolls, Patti Smith, Clash, Sex Pistols, Ramones & Blondie.


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