And now, to Japan where tribute bands are happy to perform with or without those big contracts. There are Rolling Stones impersonators, David Bowie clones, and an often cited, but hard to confirm figure of 500 Japanese Elvis impersonators.

(Soundbite of laughter)

NPR's Anthony Kuhn reports on a local version of The Beatles, a band that's become a Tokyo institution.

(Soundbite of music)

ANTHONY KUHN: The Abbey Road Live House is on a small street and down a flight of stairs, just like the Cavern, the club where The Beatles got their start. But Liverpool, it ain't.

This is Roppongi, a pulsating epicenter of Tokyo nightlife, packed with clubs, bars and restaurants.

(Soundbite of laughing group)

KUHN: At Abbey Road, the walls are adorned with Beatles memorabilia and Beatles videos on the big TV screen. The club was established in 1996. Their main house band has since brought them fame.

Ladies and gentlemen, meet the Parrots.

(Soundbite of song, "You Can Drive My Car")

Mr. MAMORI YOSHII (Founder and Rhythm Guitarist, The Parrots): (Singing) You can do something in between. Baby, you can drive my car.

KUHN: With his long hair and sunglasses, Parrots' founder Mamori Yoshii looks a bit like a chunky, Asian version of John Lennon.

Mr. YOSHII: (Through translator) I heard The Beatles for the first time in 1963 when I was eight years old. I didn't know what it was about. And I didn't understand the English words at all, but I was singing along with the records.

KUHN: For someone who can't speak much English, he sings with a pretty convincing Liverpudlian Scouse accent. At first, he actually did try to mimic The Beatles' style, but he says, he's way passed that stage now.

(Soundbite of song, "Help")

Mr. YOSHII: (Singing) Help me if you can, I'm feeling down. And I do appreciate you being around.

KUHN: The Parrots were the first Asian band to have been invited to Beatles conventions. And now they've been to Liverpool six times.

Yoshii, speaks reverently, of visiting John Lennon's old haunts.

Mr. YOSHII: (Through translator) I know I'm so far from John and my personality is completely different from his. John is always above everything. I want to become closer to him. I'll always love him, but I can never reach him.

KUHN: At their shows, five nights a week, The Parrots take requests from the audience. But good luck trying to stump them, they can play more than 200 songs, pretty much the entire Beatles repertoire.

The audience at Abbey Road includes all types, from graying salaried men, grooving in their suits and ties to twenty-somethings having a birthday party.

(Soundbite of song, "You Can Drive My Car")

KUHN: One of the regulars at the club is engineering student Jumpei Ishiguro.

Mr. JUMPEI ISHIGURO (Engineering Student): They are great. I think they are one of the best Beatles tribute bands in Japan, of course. And they are quite famous in the other areas also.

KUHN: This summer, the British band Arctic Monkeys invited The Parrots to join them at their gigs in Manchester, England. Western bands that have heard The Parrot shows in Tokyo include Jeff Beck, Sting, The Pretenders and Oasis.

Mr. Yoshii says that Yoko Ono has not dropped by yet. Visitors may look at The Parrots and see a quirky, sort of, Beatlemania. But to many Japanese, it's more like Parrotmania.

Ms. KIYOTO (Customer, Abbey Road Live House): My name is Kiyoko. And my age is 40. And actually, I came here, like, six years ago. And I really like The Beatles now just because of The Parrots.

(Soundbite of laughter)

KUHN: How many Beatles albums do you own at home?

Ms. KIYOTO: All.

KUHN: For their 10th anniversary, The Parrots put out their own album of live Beatles covers on Sony Records.

(Soundbite of song, "She Loves You")

Mr. YOSHII: (Singing) You think you lost your love, when I saw her yesterday. It's you she's thinking of and she told me what to say. She says she loves you and you know that can't be bad. Yes, she loves you and you know you should be glad. She said you her so she almost lost her mind. But know she said she knows. You're not the hurting kind. She says she loves you and you know that can't be bad. Yes, she loves you and you know you...

KUHN: So why are these tribute bands such a big deal here?

Ask Japanese folks and many will voice the conventional wisdom that they are a nation of expert imitators who excel at reverse-engineering cars, electronics and pop music. But other Japanese give a more nuanced response. They say, it's just a tradition of craftsmanship and attention to detail. It's a keen eye for fashion and style and a knack for assimilating cultural imports. It's really just taking something you love and making it your own.

Anthony Kuhn, NPR News, Tokyo.


Copyright © 2007 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

NPR thanks our sponsors

Become an NPR sponsor

Support comes from