U2 in Concert in Japan

I wouldn’t classify U2 as one of my favourite groups. I didn’t include any of their albums in my post of favourite/influential albums. But there are a lot of their singles that I love and the concert of theirs that I saw in Japan in 2006 was was one of the best and most memorable concerts that I have ever been to.

As I mentioned in another recent post, I used to do a lot more media work and consultancy thanks to my position at Chatham House. Back in 2006, I was approached by someone working with Bono/U2 and some their charity work, wanting to get advice about what U2 could do and who they should see during an upcoming trip to Japan. Apparently their tour had been put on hold and the Japanese dates had had to be rescheduled, so these were extra dates being put on especially. Normally I wouldn’t be out in Japan at that time, but I had been invited to speak at a conference (another time when I saw Nakasone) and would be in Tokyo at the same time as U2. I jokingly asked whether there would be any chance of getting tickets for the concert in return for my help – and my request was granted.

So it was that on 4 December 2006 that I got to see U2 at the Saitama Super Arena just north of Tokyo. I actually went by the stadium at the start of the day, as I was passing, to try to pick up my tickets, but there was nobody there. A bit worried (as a friend was also coming with me), I went off to do some research about the impact of the shinkansen on rural areas in Annaka and Haruna (now part of Takasaki) – see my post about the Hokuriku Shinkansen for a picture I got that day.

Having returned to Saitama, I managed to both meet up with my friend and get the tickets… which included access to the hospitality area (which I hadn’t expected). I cannot remember all of the people I met – but know that many of them were from charities which got a mention during the concert itself. I didn’t get to meet the band, but, it was clear that the concert itself didn’t start until we had all been escorted from the hospitality room and taken to our specially designated area next to the sound desk.

My main memories of the concert itself was just how loud not only the music was, but also the crowd. Having heard for years about the quiet, polite Japanese audience, I had wondered what it would be like. But people were dancing and singing through the whole night (and it should be noted that based on what I saw at the venue and after, the majority of the audience appeared to be Japanese) – I particularly remember people joining in on “Sunday, Bloody Sunday”. I did try to record some of the concert on my Japanese mobile phone, but it was so loud in there that the sound was completely distorted. That night, and I am told quite unusually, the band played “Angel of Harlem” – one of my favourites. I remember Bono trying to speak some Japanese and quite a bit of operatic Italian singing. But more than the other classic hits from the 1980s, the song that stood out for me was “Beautiful Day” – particularly as Bono changed some of the lyrics to localise it. I think this is what he sang…

See the world in red and white
See Saitama in front of you tonight
See the cairns and the temples of Kyoto
From Nagasaki to Sapporo
See Japan in its Christmas hour
See us waiting for the Sakura to flower
See the bird with the leaf in her mouth
After the flood all the colours came out….

U2, ‘Beautiful Day’ live in concert 4 December 2006

You can see the full set list at Setlist.fm

While it was disappointing that none of my recordings worked, I didn’t need to be too disappointed. Some years after the concert I found a CD quality recording of the concert – seemingly recorded at the very sound desk that I had spent most of the evening next to. This allows me to relive that great concert whenever I like to (which helps with maintaining memories of the night) – shame there’s no DVD of it!

When I wrote my first novel, Hijacking Japan, I managed to include discussion of the concert in it, making out that one of the main characters (who is not based on me, I hasten to add) went to the concert and reminisces about it as their shinkansen passes the stadium. I had wanted to include the lyrics from “Beautiful Day” quoted above, but was worried about copyright rules, so left them out, just referring loosely the localisation.

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