Bob Dylan is the latest in a list of legends to visit these shores

by James Hadfield

Special To The Japan Times

Clad in a T-shirt for U.K. punk pioneers The Clash, 16-year-old Kyo Asada probably doesn’t fit most people’s image of a typical Bob Dylan fan. But judging from the crowd lined up outside Tokyo’s Zepp DiverCity on the opening night of his latest Japan tour, Dylan draws a diverse bunch — not just the middle-aged music nerds you might expect, but also plenty of 20-somethings and teenagers.

“It’s my first time seeing him,” Asada says — hardly surprising, given that he would have been 12 the last time Dylan rolled through town. “I listened to some of his CDs and I liked what I heard.”

So why not go see him in the flesh? This has been a good few months for music fans in Japan looking to get better acquainted with the icons of rock history. Dylan is just the latest in an extraordinary run of veteran — dare I say legendary — artists who’ve descended on the country in the past half-year.

Last November, Paul McCartney returned for the first time in 11 years to do a six-date tour of Osaka, Fukuoka and Tokyo, playing to more than 260,000 fans in the process. In February, classic rock aficionados had a chance to catch two of their idols within the space of a single week in Tokyo, as Eric Clapton wrapped up his 20th Japan tour at the Nippon Budokan on Feb. 28, just days after the Rolling Stones kicked off their own three-night run at Tokyo Dome.

Dylan’s own tour overlaps with trips by fellow 1960s survivor Jeff Beck (10 dates in total) and hard-rock veterans Deep Purple (three, including the Budokan), though all of them have been overshadowed by the recent announcement of yet more McCartney shows in May. Apparently the former Beatle had so much fun last time around that he was eager to return at the earliest opportunity, which means that another 150,000 people will get a chance to see what all the fuss was about, this time at outdoor stadium gigs in Tokyo and Osaka.

There’s more, too. Robert Plant is penciled in for the Summer Sonic festival in August — albeit fronting a new band, the Sensational Space Shifters, rather than the Led Zeppelin reunion that local audiences so obviously crave. And when you remember that it has been less than a year since Black Sabbath came here (and only a bit longer since we had Santana), it’s tempting to hail this as a golden age for rock lovers whose wristwatches stopped around 1973.

Of course, serious fans of any of the artists mentioned above will argue — quite rightly — that it’s churlish to lump them all into the same category, purely by virtue of age. Audiences on Dylan’s latest Japan jaunt are also in for a completely different ride from the stadium-sized thrills of Macca and the Stones. The 50,000-capacity Tokyo Dome is not Dylan’s style — as with his 2010 tour, he’s playing at venues that only hold around 2,000 people.

Even so, all of the fans The Japan Times spoke to at Dylan’s opening night on Monday said that they had also gone to the recent McCartney and Rolling Stones gigs.

“I’ve pretty much stopped going to shows,” admits Manabu Sakai, who didn’t give his age, but looked like he might be closer in years to Dylan than young Asada. “There just aren’t many good artists coming to Japan.” He says he has lost count of the number of times he has seen Dylan now — maybe 15, maybe 20 — but he’ll be adding plenty more to that tally this month: He’s also planning to catch the musician in Nagoya and Osaka.

“Sure, I went to see Paul and the Stones too,” he says. “I’m going to see Paul again later this year. Beyond that, it really depends on who comes.”

That’s a question that a lot of people must be asking right now. It’s hard to predict which artist from the pantheon of rock gods might descend on these shores next, but there are some obvious candidates. It has been 11 years since Neil Young last played in Japan. Bruce Springsteen hasn’t been here since 1997, which led to the bizarre spectacle of his Japanese record label launching a social media campaign earlier this year to bring him back (search for “We Want Boss” if you want to take part).

Given such prolonged absences, local music lovers are probably feeling a greater sense of urgency these days. Much as it was gratifying to see a 70-year-old Mick Jagger looking spry as ever during the Rolling Stones’ recent Tokyo Dome gigs, there were probably few in the audience who didn’t wonder if it would be another eight years before the band returned — assuming they were still up to the task by that point.

And what of Mr. Dylan, who turns 73 next month? Kouki Aruchi, for one, doesn’t seem too concerned.

“He’s got a European tour lined up after Japan — I think he’s in good shape,” says the 25-year-old fan, who was watching Dylan for the 13th time on Monday night. “He doesn’t have to work his body as hard as Mick Jagger does. I reckon he’s going to be just fine.”

Additional reporting by Daisuke Kikuchi

Bob Dylan plays Zepp DiverCity in Tokyo on April 4, 5, 7, 8, 9 and 10 (03-3402-5999); Zepp Sapporo on April 13 and 14 (011-241-3871); Zepp Nagoya on April 17 and 18 (03-3402-5999); Zepp Fukuoka on April 19 (092-771-9009); and Zepp Namba Osaka on April 21-23 (06-6341-4506). All shows cost ¥13,000 for standing, ¥22,000 for seats. Weekday shows start at 7 p.m., weekend shows start at 5 p.m. (except for April 19, which starts at 6 p.m.). For details, visit www.zepp.co.jp or www.bobdylan.com.