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Rolling Stones Steel Wheels Tour Rolls in Japan

Tokyo concert debut earns Stones $30 million

The Rolling Stones during their 'Steel Wheels' tour in 1990.
Graham Wiltshire/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
April 19, 1990

I feel better than Mike Tyson," Keith Richards said by way of greeting the 50,000 fans at Tokyo's Korakuen Dome before launching into his signature song "Happy." Just three days earlier, boxing history had been made inside that same building when Buster Douglas dropped Tyson to the canvas to gain the world heavyweight championship. And now it was time for the Rolling Stones, heavyweights in their own right, to make a bit of rock history.

The Stones' February tour of Japan, actually a ten-concert stand at the Dome, was their first-ever appearance in the country. Although Mick Jagger had toured Japan as a solo act in 1988, visa hassles stemming from band members' drug busts in the Sixties and Seventies had prevented earlier visits.

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The reception that the Stones received upon landing at Tokyo's Narita Airport was reminiscent of the welcomes they'd seen during their British Invasion days. Hordes of screaming fans and camera crews turned out February 6th to greet Richards and Ron Wood's flight from London. Jagger and Charlie Watts were whisked through a similar scene the following day when they arrived from New York. Bill Wyman, tending to his seriously ill father in London, didn't turn up in Tokyo until February 11th. (His father passed away two weeks later.)

The Stones played the first of ten concerts on February 14th for 50,000 people who paid 10,000 yen – roughly $70 – each to see a show identical to those the Stones staged in the U.S. last year.

But even the total of a half million tickets wasn't enough. The Stones – who had to make room for the Dome's next tenant, Paul McCartney – could have sold enough tickets to extend their stay for at least another two weeks. Word has it that talk of bringing the Stones back in 1992 has already begun. And why not? Their two-week stint at the Dome earned them a reported $30 million.

The trip was also made appealing by the fact that the Stones never had to travel outside of Tokyo. (By contrast, their 1989 tour leapfrogged throughout the United States and made use of four stages.) And they won't even have to ship their one Japanese stage back to the States: It was sold as scrap metal.

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The Japanese audiences were enthusiastic – up to a point. Each night, they stood throughout the whole concert. But perhaps the most glaring difference between American and Japanese audiences was the way the Japanese concertgoers filed out after the show: They remained in their seats until dismissed – section by section.

Unfortunately, the Stones' trip was marred by the death of Wyman's father, as well as the illness of Richards's mother-in-law, who suffered a heart attack and remained in a Tokyo hospital after the tour's conclusion.

The band regroups April 30th in Paris to begin rehearsals for a European tour that is set to open in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, in late May and could end in Moscow in August. New studio sessions are tentatively slated to follow the tour.

This story is from the April 19th, 1990 issue of Rolling Stone.


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