Led Zeppelin, Bowie, Creedence, the Police, and more

When Led Zeppelin arrived in Japan for a 1971 tour less than two months before the release of their fourth album, it was a time of great excitement for the band and for rock ’n’ roll in the land of the rising sun. Zep was one of the first big Western groups to visit, and the lads were welcomed with open arms during their five-gig stint—the more so after their September 27 benefit show for victims at Hiroshima. The city’s mayor even bestowed on the band an honorary medal, leading the ever introspective Jimmy Page to ponder: “It made me think long and hard about the concept of war and its concentrated horror.”

With its reputation for gracious hosting, a hip and young population, and number of large cities, Japan may be the ideal location for any band’s foreign tour. And if you were a visiting rock star in the 1970s or 80s, there’s a good chance your publicist would have scheduled you for a photo shoot with local photographer Koh Hasebe. Hasebe worked for Japanese music publisher Shinko Music and, starting with the Beatles in 1965, he photographed just about every major musician to visit Japan. “It was just as Western artists began to visit Japan, and I somehow became the go-to guy to document tours,” Hasebe recalled in a 2015 Rolling Stone interview.

John Fogerty and the Creedence Clearwater Revival being entertained by Geisha at a dinner in Tokyo, February 1972. (Koh Hasebe/Shinko Music/Getty Images)

Hasebe’s images hold ground somewhere between posed PR giveaways and candid, fish-out-of-water snapshots. Here the golden gods of rock are seen experiencing something like Barthe’s “fictive nation”—a country and culture wholly foreign to Western sensibilities.

As official tour photographer, Hasebe also worked hard to get his subjects out of the hotel and into the culture. Kyoto’s Kinkaku-ji Temple was one of his favorite shooting locations, as were the ubiquitous reception parties which had stars like Rod Stewart experimenting with sipping sake from a box, or Gene Simmons groping geishas.

“Rock wasn’t something that decent people listened to,” says Hasebe. “But for anti-establishment youth, it was a beacon. It’s only now that we can look back and see that rock did in fact gradually — but, in the end, greatly — impact Japanese society.”

World’s Biggest Rock Stars as Tourists in 1970s Japan | Editor: Rian Dundon @Timeline_Now