Hong Kong's Beatles Bar

by AFP/Richard A. Brooks, Sep 4, 2009 | Destinations: Hong Kong / China

The bar is typically Japanese. Businessmen sip their Yebisu beers or savour "two-fingers" of whiskey, while office ladies out on the town clap along to the band and chatter between sets.
The quartet of Japanese musicians belts out out a string of hits from one of the Land of the Rising Sun's most enduring popular bands, The Beatles.

And with Fab Four memorabilia from vintage guitars to newspaper clippings adorning the walls, a visitor could be forgiven for assuming he were in one of the many theme bars or karaoke clubs in downtown Tokyo.

Yet this is Hong Kong -- home to some 25,000 Japanese expatriates according to the latest figures from the Japanese Consulate -- and the bar, named after the Beatles song "Mr Moonlight", is the result of three men's passion for the British band and their music.

"This is when the Beatles came to Hong Kong", owner Hiroshi Yanagida says as he points to a framed Hong Kong newspaper clipping from 1964. "Ringo was sick. The drummer was Jimmy Nicol", whose fifteen minutes of fame standing in for Ringo during their 1964 tour of Asia and Australia has been well documented.

Yanagida and Fumihiko Ono, who are the George (guitarist Harrison) and Ringo (drummer Starr) in the local Beatles cover band called The Broadwoods, opened Mr Moonlight in 2003 with a third enthusiast, shortly after the territory hit rock bottom due to the outbreakof SARS, or Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome.

At the height of SARS epidemic, which killed almost 300 people in Hong Kong and threw the city's residents into a panic, many Japanese and their families joined an expatriot exodus and returned home.

But Yanagida, who came to Hong Kong some 28 years ago shortly after graduating from university and has since created a successful chain of 18 retail clothing stores, stayed.

He knew there would always be a market for his bar regardless of the business climate since it was borne from their common love of The Beatles.

And Japanese love The Beatles.

"I did not expect a big profit operating a night-time business, so it was important not to forget my daytime job," Yanagida says. "During the week, it is quiet with only a few regular customers. Usually people come here only at weekends."

The bar occasionally hosts other musical acts on Saturday nights, including an all-Japanese Dixieland jazz band the previous weekend who entertained patrons with hits such as "Hello Dolly" and "When the Saints Go Marching In".

But with pictures of John, Paul, George and Ringo staring down from the walls, The Beatles cast a shadow of everyone here.
On nights when the The Broadwoods play, the bar is packed with people taking advantage of the all-you-can-drink admission charge of 300 Hong Kong dollars (40 US dollars).

Choruses of "Help!" and "Love Me Do" resonate from the businessmen and office ladies as they sing along as if taking part in a communal karaoke session.

"People who want to can often join the band and sing on stage with the band," says Ken Sugawara, a Japanese expat based in Hong Kong for 20 years who regularly visits Mr Moonlight.

"Beatles fans want to go far the atmosphere, especially the music. People want to enjoy the music and dance," adds his wife Miki, going on to explain why the Fab Four's appeal endures among Japanese after 40 years.

"Over 30 years ago younger people were very influenced by their music and style, and many businessmen remember their music and want to recall their younger days," she says.

Memories which Yanagida, who during a break in the music displays a set of Russian "matryoshka", or nesting dolls, hand-painted with Beatles faces, helps his compatriots bring back every night.

* * *

12/F Henry House, 40-42 Yun Ping Road, Causeway Bay, Hong Kong. Tel: +852-2881-0199. mrmlhk.exblog.jp

* * * * *