A blast from the past ... Eric Clapton back in 1987. Photo: AFP

Eric Clapton live | Nippon Budokan, Tokyo | April 15, 17, 18, 20

The legendary blues and rock guitarist continues his five-night residency at the equally legendary Budokan venue, smack dab in the middle of Tokyo. Clapton can be forgiven for losing count of his gigs at the historic venue, appearing for the first time way back in the early 1970s. This residency will mark his 100th performance at the Budokan, making Clapton the unofficial “gaijin” master of the event.

“The crowd is almost over appreciative,” said Clapton, of the indoor arena which was originally built in the early 1960s to host the first ever judo event at the 1964 Tokyo summer Olympics. With an official seating capacity of 14,471, it was modeled on the ancestral Yumedono temple in Nara – Budokan means “martial arts hall” in English – and quickly became the spiritual Japanese home of judo, aikido, and karate.

No less than Muhammad Ali fought twice here as well. However, the narrative for the venue internationally was quickly established by the musical acts who flocked to its stage. The ranks of performers alone who have made a live recording at Budokan reads like the main wall of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: Deep Purple, Cheap Trick, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Cream, Kiss, The Police, The Doobie Brothers, Bob Dylan and, just for good measure Frank Sinatra and Diana Ross.

But the first musical act of any form to appear on stage at the Budokan was, who else, The Beatles in 1966. A scant 20 years after Japan’s World War II defeat, TV talk shows dismissed the band as “beggarly entertainers” while terrorist threats from ultra-rightist groups in the country forced the Fab Four to be in lockdown mode in their hotel for the entirety of their stay.

John Lennon was quoted as saying he knows nothing of Japan other than hotel room service. Nonetheless, The Beatles remain wildly popular in the country to this day.

A little less than one year ago, Japan’s Emperor Akihito addressed a memorial service at the Budokan to express, one final time, his “deep remorse” for the country’s role in World War II. Standing in the shadow of the Imperial Palace, the Budokan will be a focal point in two weeks-time during the abdication of the throne ceremonies as Akihito’s son, Crown Prince Naruhito, prepares to take over.

The Budokan will also be front row center during the 2020 Summer Olympics when it once again hosts the judo and karate events. But first, the stage belongs to an old familiar friend as Slowhand is in the house for the one-hundredth time.

Asian Athletic Championships | Khalifa International Stadium, Doha | April 21-24

Impossible as it still may be for many to digest, in less than four years-time Qatar will host the most significant global sporting event of them all when FIFA’s World Cup comes to the natural gas-rich Gulf country. Despite having the highest per capita income in the world, the country has almost zero indigenous sports culture and even more shocking than hosting the World Cup will be the appearance of their national team in the prestigious event.

But this is reality and as the country tunes up for 2022, it is set to welcome the continents’ top track and field athletes to the 23rd Asian Athletics Championships. In 2006, over 9,000 athletes decamped in Qatar for the Asian Games and the participants far outnumbered the spectators. Hopefully, the stands will be a bit more packed this week to see a number of potential 2020 Olympians, including Chinese sprinter Su Bingtian and world shot put champion Gong Lijiao.

Beijing International Film Festival | Beijing, China | April 13-20

While the Busan International Film Festival in the South Korean port city is acknowledged as the most significant Asian film gathering and the Tokyo Film Festival routinely plays host to the biggest names in world cinema, the Beijing International Film Festival is starting to nudge its way into an increasingly crowded field. As China asserts itself both financially and artistically in the world of film, the ninth edition of the festival will see a spike in attendance from top Hollywood executives, directors, producers and studio heads, many who now find themselves working for Chinese interests.

In 2017, the Dalian Wanda group shelled out a seemingly absurd US$3.5 billion to buy Legendary Entertainment with the stated goal of making it one of the top five studios in the word by 2020. It then proceeded to announce it was paying $1 billion for Dick Clark Productions, only to have the government in Beijing put a stop to it.

However, the presence of so many top end movie folks in Beijing this week shows that few believe the momentum of mainland money in the film industry will stop. Among the more intriguing films debuting will be Li Na, from Chinese director Peter Chan, who chronicles the rise of the first Asian tennis player to win a coveted grand slam.

Okinawa International Film Festival | Okinawa, Japan | April 18-21

Beijing is not the only locale in Asia that will be rolling out the red carpet this week and while the Okinawa Film Festival will be smaller in size, it will be no less significant both in Japan and abroad. Conveniently located within a 1,500-kilometer radius of Taipei, Shanghai, Seoul, Manila and Hong Kong, organizers see their role as “the gateway to Asia” for Japanese film companies and their regional partners.

Last year, there were 51 titles screened and over 200,000 attendees at various events throughout the tropical island, which featured a 150-meter-long red carpet running down the main street of Naha. The festival was founded in 2009 by Japanese comedic legend Yoshimoto Kogyo, who established the main theme as “Laugh and Peace” and has featured films from the Jackass series, an American reality comedy franchise.

This year’s lineup highlights another eclectic and diverse menu including the anime drama I Want to Eat Your Pancreas, the illustrated tale of a high school student who keeps her pancreatic cancer ailment a secret, and A Shitty Film, where the audience will be “pulled into a roller-coaster ride which focuses on the stains and beauty of human life and turns from comedy to serious as the story becomes reality, and reality becomes the story.”

Tim Noonan is a writer based in Bangkok and Toyko, covering sports and culture.

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