The Beatles live: Nippon Budokan Hall, Tokyo

The Beatles’ long journey to Tokyo ended with their arrival at Haneda Airport at 3.40am on this morning. In the evening they played the first of five concerts at the Nippon Budokan Hall.

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The group and their entourage stayed at the Tokyo Hilton, where they occupied the Presidential Suite. Security at the hotel was so tight that they were unable to make unscheduled excursions around the city. They did, however, give a press conference from the hotel.

We were there for about twelve hours. I’ve never been back, but I’d like to some day. We went on to Tokyo. When we came off the plane, we were put in little 1940s-type cars along with policeman dressed in metal helmets, like Second World War American soldiers’ helmets. We were driven in convoy into town and taken to the Tokyo Hilton where we were put in our upstairs suite – and that was it. We were only allowed out of the room when it was time for the concert.

To get our own back on the people who weren’t letting us out, we used to get them to bring tradesmen up to our suite. They would bring big boxes and trunks full of golden kimonos, jade, incense-holders and little carved objects, which we would buy: ‘We’ll show them!’ We wanted to go shopping.

Over the three nights they spent at the Tokyo Hilton, The Beatles collaborated on a painting which became known as Images Of A Woman. All four members of the group painted parts of the 30″x40″ paper, working by the light of a lamp in the centre. When the painting was complete the lamp was removed, and The Beatles signed the empty space next to their contributions.

The Beatles’ painting Images Of A Woman, Tokyo, 1966

The paper and paints were provided by the Japanese promoter, Tats Nagashima, who suggested that the completed painting be auctioned for charity. It was bought by a cinema manager and local fan club president Tetsusaburo Shimoyama.

Images Of A Woman is believed to be the only instance of a painting by all four Beatles. It was sold again in Osaka for ¥15 million, and in 2002 appeared on the eBay auction website. In September 2012 it was put up for sale again through Philip Weiss Auctions and sold for $155,250 including the buyer’s premium.

The Nippon Budokan was considered a national shrine to Japan’s war dead, and many saw it as sacrilegious that a rock ‘n’ roll group were allowed to perform there. Death threats were reported, and 30,000 uniformed police officers lined the route from the airport and hotel to the venue. In later years it became one of Japan’s main music venues.

Everywhere we were going, there was a demonstration about one thing or another. In America the race riots were going on when Beatlemania had come to town. In Japan there were student riots, plus people were demonstrating because the Budokan, where we were playing, was supposed to be a special spiritual hall reserved for martial arts. So in the Budokan only violence and spirituality were approved of, not pop music.
George Harrison

The evening’s concert had support from Yuya Uchida and Isao Bitoh. The Beatles performed before 10,000 fans, with a set containing 11 songs: ‘Rock And Roll Music’, ‘She’s A Woman’, ‘If I Needed Someone’, ‘Day Tripper’, ‘Baby’s In Black’, ‘I Feel Fine’, ‘Yesterday’, ‘I Wanna Be Your Man’, ‘Nowhere Man’, ‘Paperback Writer’ and ‘I’m Down’.

They had the seating exactly arranged in all the cars. Amazing efficiency, that we’d never seen the like of in Britain. When we went to the gig they had the fans organised with police patrols on each corner, so there weren’t any fans haphazardly waving along the streets. They had been gathered up and herded into a place where they were allowed to wave, so we’d go along the street and there’d be a little ‘eeeeek!’ and then we’d go a few more hundred yards and there’d be another ‘eeeeek!’

At the Budokan we were shown the old Samurai warriors’ costumes, which we marvelled at dutifully in a touristy kind of way: ‘Very good! Very old!’

We were more amazed to see the women leaping up out of the seats for the promoter, because we’d never seen that in the West. The subservience of the women was amazing. They’d say, ‘Oh God, I’m sorry – was I in your seat?’ I remember us getting back to Britain and saying to our wives and girlfriends, ‘I wouldn’t want you to do that, but maybe it’s a direction worth considering?’ Promptly rejected.

We got into our yellow shirts and natty bottle green suits. The thing about suits was that they always made us feel part of a team. When we arrived we were in our civvies, but once we put those on we were The Beatles! – the four-headed monster. It was good for me that we all wore the same, in that I really felt part of a unit.

Peeping from behind the stage to watch the place fill up, we saw police walk in from either side and fill the whole of the front row, upstairs and downstairs. After them, the crowd was allowed to come in. They were very well behaved compared to what we’d seen of Western crowds, but they seemed to enjoy it.

There was a funny local group on stage before us. This was in the days when the Japanese didn’t really know how to do rock’n’roll, although they’ve now got the hang of it pretty well. They sang a song that went, ‘Hello Beatles! Welcome Beatles!’ – something pretty naff in rock’n’roll terms, but it was very nice of them to do it. Our show went down quite well.

The concert, and their first on the following day, was video taped by Nippon Television. The two shows were edited together and broadcast during The Beatles Recital, From Nippon Budokan, Tokyo, which was screened on NTV Channel 4 on 1 July from 9pm.

The audience was very subdued. If you look at the footage from the shows you’ll see a cop on every row. They’d all get excited in their seats as we were playing, but they couldn’t express it.
Last updated: 24 January 2024
Travel: Alaska to Tokyo
The Beatles live: Nippon Budokan Hall, Tokyo
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