Asia News: Japanese Cancellation Fallout, Taiwan Arena Gigs & More

– Supersonic
A poster for Supersonic, which at press time was still scheduled to take place Sept. 19-21

Newspaper Profiles Effects Of Concert Industry Shutdown

The Asahi Shimbun newspaper published a series of articles starting July 14 outlining the financial repercussions of cancelled concerts in Japan due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Though most of the attention has been focused on the adverse effects on artists and promoters, Asahi looked at ancillary businesses that depend on concerts and other music events to make a living.

The newspaper profiled a sound equipment supplier called Public Address that said it had invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in new mixers and speakers last year and just before the pandemic hired four new full-time employees. Public Address’s revenue in March was only 11 percent of what it was in February, and has decreased steadily ever since. In order to keep his company afloat, the president said he has had to sell much of his older equipment at a loss.

Another company profiled was Estacion, which supplies security personnel and ushers for concerts and stage events. The company’s sales have decreased by as much as 98 percent since the beginning of the year.

Another installment of the series discussed the new Pia Arena MM, which was slated to open on April 25 in Yokohama. The 12,000-capacity music venue is the lifelong dream of Hiroshi Yanai, the founder of Pia Co., which started out in 1972 as a city guide for young Tokyo-ites and eventually evolved into a nationwide ticketing agency and events promoter.

Yanai saw Japan’s concert business grow from 163 billion yen ($1.5 billion) in 2011 to 424 billion yen in 2019, with sales outstripping that of recorded music in 2013. Having conquered every other facet of live music production years ago, he decided to build a concert venue with the Pia name several years ago when he realized that there was actually a shortage of good mid-sized halls in the Tokyo metropolitan area. Unfortunately, the pandemic forced him to postpone the grand opening to July 10, when Pia presented the popular acoustic pop group Yuzu, but without an audience and via a streaming service. The plan now is to have a bona fide opening with an audience sometime in August.

According to Asahi, music venues’ revenues in 2020 will decline by 77 percent compared to 2019. In related news, operator Music Ventures announced last week that the Blue Note jazz club in Nagoya, the biggest city in central Japan, was “discontinuing business” as of Aug. 15. Nagoya Blue Note has been closed since Feb. 29.

In order to make back their overhead, venues need to operate at 70-80 percent capacity, says Asahi, but even as Japan has reopened since the beginning of July, music venues are only allowed to operate at 50 percent of capacity in line with government directives. The only solution is to increase ticket prices or cut production costs. And now with Tokyo seeing a spike in COVID-19 infections due to what many believe was a push to reopen too soon, the future is as uncertain as it was two months ago.

Nevertheless, on July 20, Creativeman Productions announced a fourth list of artists who are set to perform at the promoter’s Supersonic festival in Tokyo and Osaka September 19 to 21. The added names are all domestic artists, but the fact that Creativeman is still going ahead with the event, which is being headlined by a number of high profile foreign acts, including Black Eyed Peas, Liam Gallagher and The 1975, shows that the company is confident the virus will be under control by early fall.

In order to reinforce that confidence in ticket buyers, the company already announced strict social distancing and other measures. Unlike Creativeman’s usual summer festival, Summer Sonic, Supersonic will be staged almost completely outdoors. The real question is whether the foreign acts will be able to fulfill their pledge to appear, especially given the Japanese government’s restrictions on overseas visitors from certain countries.

Taiwan Greenlights August Arena Shows

Taiwan will officially get back into the concert swing in August with arena shows by local pop singer-songwriter Eric Chou.

Taiwan has been successful in keeping the virus at bay by enforcing border entries at a very early date following acknowledgement of the epidemic in China late last year. Consequently, the island has had very few related deaths.

Chou’s “How Have You Been Tour” will play the Taipei Arena on Aug. 8-9, and the Kaushiung Arena on Aug. 24 and 25. All four concerts reportedly sold out in 15 minutes.

South Korea’s Pentaport Cancels

To no one’s surprise, South Korea’s Pentaport Rock Festival, which was slated to celebrate its 15th edition in August, was “postponed” on July 21 by the local government of Incheon, where it takes place.

Officially, the event has been moved to Oct. 16-17, but given the fact that no acts have yet been announced, it’s obvious the organizers are hedging their bets as to whether the South Korean government will lift its compulsory 14-day quarantine measures for foreign arrivals by that time.

In any event, the festival’s organizers told the Yonhap news agency that it would limit the number of attendees to 1,000 a day and offer some concerts online.

Last year’s festival featured 30 foreign and domestic acts and was attended by 30,000 people on each of its three days in August.

Sumo Tournaments Return To Japan

In Japan, professional sumo tournaments take place every two months. The latest competition started July 19 at the national sumo arena in Ryokogu, Tokyo, with a limited audience after the March tournament took place with no live spectators and the May tournament was cancelled altogether.

The Kokugikan, as it is called, seats more than 11,000, but only 2,500 sumo fans are being allowed into the facility each day during the 15-day tournament. Usually, tournaments are completely sold out.

As with concerts and other live entertainment, the venue had restrictions in place. Social distancing was guaranteed by taping off every other booth in the arena. Everyone who entered had their body temperature measured and are required to wear masks. No autographs from sumo wrestlers are allowed. And, most significantly, spectators are asked to refrain from cheering, which tends to be a very important part of sumo tournaments.

Since the pandemic started, one sumo wrestler has died from the disease and a number of others have tested positive. Usually, the July tournament is held in the central Japan city of Nagoya, but sumo officials decided to hold it in Tokyo since most of the sumo stables are in the capital and they wanted to limit the wrestlers’ travel as much as possible.

Female Musical Revue Takarazuka Returns

Another Japanese tradition that has reopened in recent week is the Takarazuka all-female stage musical revue, which had been on hiatus for four months due to the pandemic. The revue’s Flower Troupe performed “Haikara-san: Here Comes Miss Modern” at its flagship Grand Theater in Takarazuka, Hyogo Prefecture, in western Japan on July 17.

According to the Mainichi Shimbun newspaper, audience members were only allowed to fill every other seat in the 1,274-seat theater. In addition the production eschewed a live orchestra and used recorded music instead. Masks were mandatory except for the performers.

Takarazuka is famous for its all-female casts, who cover both female roles and male roles in specially staged musicals that highlight gaudy production numbers. They run theaters in various cities throughout Japan and have tens of thousands of dedicated fans, mostly women. The current production is scheduled to run until Sept. 5.