Beatlemania & The John Lennon Museum

There are not many reasons to visit Saitama for sightseeing and one of my class mates – who is from Saitama City – couldn’t even name one. Actually there were two sights in Saitama. One is the railway museum which used to be in Akihabara and the other was the John Lennon Museum.

Located next to the Saitama Super Arena, it displayed various memorabilia owned by his wife Yoko Ono. Therefore it didn’t focus much on the other members of the Fab 4 or Lennon’s first wife. It opened on October 9 2000, Lennon’s 60th birthday. It closed in 2010 – not because of lack of interest, but because it was never meant to stay there. Ono explained that just like Lennon’s spirit, the museum had to move on.

I visited the museum twenty days before it closed to see Lennon’s favorite personal items and notes. I also hoped that maybe the telephone would ring. There was a telephone at the museum and sometimes Yoko Ono would call that telephone. I don’t know how often she did that but if I were her I would probably be bored calling there after the second year or so.

It’s unsurprising that the museum centered more on Lennon’s time with Ono given that the material was donated by her. I did know her works (sans Lennon) from an exhibition in Bremen before.

Just one year before the John Lennon Museum was closed, a museum dedicated to the Beatles was opened in Hamburg: Beatlemania.Hamburg is the town where the Beatles started their career and this museum was opened near the clubs where the Beatles played in the 60’s. The museum has five floors and is full of memorabilia, interactive exhibits such as the Yellow Submarine and even a reconstruction of the Große Freiheit street. This is not a museum that has been created by a member of the band and from what I’ve read none of them ever visited it.

Many rooms concentrate on a specific album like Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Using an interactive display visitors can see who’s who on the cover. Even though the people featured on the cover weren’t payed, the cover was one of the most expensive ones at that time.

There’s no shortage of Beatles tat and newspaper excerpts. Video interviews with people who have collaborated with the Beatles are unlocked by waving the “magic card” in front of it. It’s also possible to spend money inside the museum: Take a photo for your “passport” at the photo booth or buy a recording of your karaoke session on a USB stick.

Before leaving the museum for the Yeah Café, there’s a room for the Let It Be album. Originally it was supposed to bring the Beatles back to their roots, but after internal disputes it was finished by producer Phil Spector using additional arrangements and effects. In 2003 a remixed and edited version of the album was released as “Let It Be… Naked”, bringing it closer to the one originally intended by the band. It’s possible for listeners to compare both versions.

Beatlemania was perhaps not as big or interactive as the one in Liverpool, but it was a fine modern museum. Unfortunately it wasn’t very successful and as a private museum it didn’t receive support from the state. Since May 2009 there were only 150000 visitors even though the district of Repperbahn is one of the main attractions of Hamburg. It’s sad that the only thing commemorating the Beatles will be the Beatles Square with its five metal statues. Every time I see those statues I’m reminded of cookie cutters.

Mia Jaap

Journalist, developer and passionate about Japanese and Korean language. Japan is my #1 country for travelling, penguins my favourite animals.

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