The Beatles create an abstract collaborating painting during their stay in Tokyo

June 30 - July 2, 1966
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Hilton Hotel, Tokyo, Japan

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On June 30, 1966, The Beatles played the first of five concerts at the Nippon Budokan Hall, a martial arts arena. They were the first rock group to perform there, and their appearances were met with opposition from some who felt that the appearance of a Western pop group would defile the venue. For security reasons, The Beatles were confined to their hotel, the Tokyo Hilton, when they were not performing.

A scheduled group visit to Kamakura, a seaside Japanese city just south of Tokyo, on June 30 was cancelled after the Beatles learned that the police could not guarantee their safety.

On July 1, despite the restrictions, John Lennon and Paul McCartney were eager to explore Tokyo. John managed to sneak out and do some shopping, while Paul and Mal Evans took a taxi to the Imperial Palace and spent some time enjoying the grounds. According to Neil Aspinall’s report in Fabulous208 magazine, both escapades occurred on July 1, but Tony Barrow asserted that they took place over two consecutive days.

Throughout their stay at the Tokyo Hilton from June 30 to July 2, The Beatles welcomed a variety of visitors in their suite, including journalists and merchants. To occupy themselves, they also created an abstract painting together, known as “Images of a Woman” or “The Tokyo Painting.” They also decided the title of their new LP, “Revolver.”

On June 23, 1966, during their stay in Munich, they had brainstormed about the title for their new album. Titles like “Magic Circle,” “Four Sides to the Circle,” “Beatles on Safari,” and “After Geography” (a parody of The Rolling Stones’ recently released “Aftermath” album) were mentioned, but no one was convinced.

Later during their German tour, they continued thinking about a title. At some point, Paul McCartney came up with a new suggestion, “Pendulum,” but no one reacted positively. He then facetiously suggested “Let’s call it ‘Rock and Roll Hits of ’66.’ That’ll solve it.On July 24, while The Beatles were in Essen, Paul suggested another name “Revolver“.

While in Tokyo, more titles were suggested, like “Abracadabra” and “Freewheelin’ Beatles,” before the band settled on “Revolver.” This title is a pun, referring to both a handgun and the “revolving” motion of a record being played on a turntable.

We suddenly thought, ‘Hey, what does a record do? It revolves. Great!’. You know – and so it was a Revolver.

Paul McCartney – From The Beatles

On July 2, they sent a telegram to EMI confirming the name.

Once we had checked in to the hotel, the authorities informed us that for security purposes the Beatles were never to leave their hotel suite, except to go to the Budokan for performances. Instead of seeing Japan, Japan was to be brought to them. Disgruntled at what seemed to them to be undue precautions, the Beatles sat around their suite, dressed in ceremonial silk kimonos, and like four young Roman emperors had the riches of the country paraded before them. The directors of the biggest companies in Japan personally came to the hotel to display their wares, and within hours the boys had spent tens of thousands of pounds on cameras, clothing, watches, jewelry, and other trinkets. Sushi chefs appeared in the suite with trays of fish to be carved up for them, and Geisha girls appeared for back rubs and other physical delights.

Tony Barrow – From “John, Paul, George, Ringo & me: the real Beatles story“, 2006

Our thoughtful concert promoter decided that, if we were unable to go shopping, the up-market merchants of Tokyo should come to us. This cheered everyone up because buying Japanese souvenirs was high on our list of must-do things. We were also offered the services of a group of attractive geisha girls, but as John said at the time: “We can get crumpet anywhere. Let’s stick to shopping today!” In no time the main lounge within the Presidential Suite resembled an Aladdin’s cave. Traders brought in a treasure trove of ivory ornaments, a wonderful array of jewellery, photographic equipment, beautifully carved bowls, traditional silk kimonos in a rainbow of bright colours and variations on the airline “happi coats” the boys had been given at the airport. One tradesman offered sets of square-, round- and diamond-shaped sunshades which we couldn’t resist. The boys were also fascinated by traditional Japanese brush-painting sets and bought several complete boxes of brushes, tubes of oil paint, a range of watercolours and all manner of artists’ accessories.

Since we were unable to understand anything on the TV, painting became the new hobby of preference. We sent out for large sheets of paper — fine handmade Japanese art paper — and the four boys spread one of these out under the light of a table lamp. Each Beatle claimed a corner of the paper and set to work, busily dipping brushes into jars of water and experimenting with different colours. I seem to remember that John worked in oils, using dark colours to dramatic effect, while the other three went for lighter and brighter watercolours. Never before or after did I ever see John, who was notorious for his short attention span, concentrating with such contented determination on such a non-essential project. On the second and third days, we had an afternoon show in addition to the evening one, so the communal painting was not completed at a single session but during various tranquil moments when nothing else was happening. Such moments were not easy to find but gradually the four designs reached the centre of the sheet and this extraordinary multi-coloured work of art was complete. The painting spree was a wonderful therapy for four tour-weary Beatles, relaxing them totally and holding their interest to an unusual extent. A communal painting by all four Beatles would now be worth a fortune, but the finished product was presented to the Japanese fan club branch manager. I told him that The Beatles wanted the painting to be auctioned among club members with the proceeds going to charity. Alternatively, he might organise a competition, perhaps a painting competition, and present The Beatles’ work to the winner. I believe this unique trophy has changed hands several times in recent years but to my knowledge, it has stayed in Japan.

Tony Barrow – From “John, Paul, George, Ringo & me: the real Beatles story“, 2006

The streets were crammed, people were lining the whole route as we drove to the hotel. At the Tokyo Hilton, we were put in the presidential suite, room 1005, the whole floor. Everything you could wish for was laid on. The promoter also offered The Beatles the best-looking crumpet in kimonos you could imagine, but they all said no.

Robert Whitaker – From “The Beatles: Off the Record” by Keith Badman, 2008

Other than their music this painting was the only creative enterprise I saw the Beatles undertake as a group. I had never seen them so happy – no drink, no drugs, no girls – just working together with no distractions.

Robert Whitaker – Photographer – From “The unseen Beatles” by Robert Whitaker

One of the most curious moments you witnessed was in that Japanese hotel in 1966. We mean the painting they made all together around a lamp table. It has been described as one of the few moments in the tour when they were doing what they felt like. What do you remember about it?

Personally I remember it as the best period I shared with them… We had many girls offered for sex or something like that. “Goodbye, not interested,” not at all. They made paintings, as the promoter Tatsuji Nagashima suggested they should do. As The Beatles could not leave the hotel, as none of us could go out, we had people who brought pieces of Japanese art into the hotel. I took many pictures.

So it was the best ever time I saw of them. Well, in fact it’s one of the only things that The Beatles ever made together that had nothing to do with music. At the time, the record “Revolver” had been sent from EMI to Tokyo and we were listening to it all the time. We were deciding on the position of tracks on the finished product. While that was going on, they were making their painting. I was taking pictures of it; we were just listening to the music, smoking a bit of dope. Then they went to the concert; they were happy with it. They came back and got back into the painting. And it was the best time I ever knew The Beatles.

Robert Whitaker – Photographer – From Beatlefan #108, Sept-Oct 1997

In the hotel room we did a communal painting. We all started a corner of the piece of paper and drew in towards the middle where the paintings met. This was just to pass the time away. I’ve seen it recently: it’s a psychedelic whirl of coloured doodles.

Paul McCartney – From “The Beatles Anthology” book, 2000

From Wikipedia:

Images of a Woman, also known as The Tokyo Painting, is an abstract painting by the 1960s pop group the Beatles. It is believed to be the only painting produced collaboratively by the group.


Images of a Woman was painted over three nights in July 1966 in a Tokyo Hilton suite where all four of the Beatles (John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr) were staying as part of their tour of the Far East. The group had been placed in lockdown as a precaution by the Japanese authorities after death threats had been received. The Japanese tour promoter, Tats Nagashima, had painting materials brought in for the group to use. The band’s tour photographer, Robert Whitaker, was present and was amazed by how tranquil the band members seemed as they painted: “Absolutely the best period I ever witnessed among the Beatles”, Whitaker said, adding that he “never saw them calmer, more contented than at this time… They’d stop, go and do a concert, and then it was ‘Let’s go back to the picture!'”

The resulting painting was given to a charity auction. It was originally bought by the Japanese Beatles fan club president, Tetsusaburo Shimoyama. In the mid-1990s it was sold to an art dealer in Osaka for around $191,000, and re-appeared in 2002 on the website eBay. It was put up for sale by Philip Weiss Auctions in 2012, selling in New York City for $155,250.


Each of the Beatles painted one corner of the 30 × 40 inch canvas. Despite the painting’s title, it does not feature any figurative depictions of a woman, consisting only of abstract designs painted using oil and watercolour against a brightly coloured background. A lamp left in the middle of the canvas left a blank circle when it was removed; the group used this space for their signatures.

From The Beatles Made A Painting Together, Now It’s Up For Auction – I Read the News Today — LiveJournal
From Tokyo Performance – The Beatles History (
From Tokyo Performance – The Beatles History (

Paul McCartney  has his suit taken out by a tailor at the Tokyo Hilton during the  Beatles' Asian tour, 30th June 1966
Paul McCartney has his suit taken out by a tailor at the Tokyo Hilton during the Beatles’ Asian tour, 30th June 1966
From RollingStone – Shimpei Asai – “They were still young and they didn’t know much about Japan. These seemed appropriate items for them to start having an interest in the country.”
From Tokyo Performance – The Beatles History ( – This photo taken by Robert Whitaker was used as the back cover of “A Collection of Beatles Oldies” released in December 1966
From Facebook – Today’s “Rare Beatles Photos” shows Paul playing a Shamisen, a three stringed traditional Japanese musical instrument at the Tokyo Hilton Hotel on July 2, 1966. Photo taken by Koh Hasebe.
From Meet the Beatles for Real: Hanging out in the hotel — Paul in Black kimono – Photo by Shimpei Asai

[…] Towards the end of our stay at the Tokyo Hilton, John and I took off early in the morning on an unofficial shopping spree, avoiding the usual police escort bit, which would have just drawn attention to everything. Meanwhile, Paul also slipped out in another car accompanied by Mal to drive round the city and look at some of the sights.

Otherwise the boys had to limit their gift-buying to the extent that instead of looking round shops a group of representatives were invited to bring up to the Hilton’s Presidential Suite an assortment of things which John, Paul, George and Ringo were interested in buying. They looked at all sorts of things including photographic equipment, traditional silk kimonos and “happi coats”, sets of square, round and diamond-shaped sun shades and painting sets designed for Japanese brush painting.


One night when there was nothing any of us could understand on TV, the Beatles decided to put their painting set to work. Each one started in one corner of a huge sheet of paper and worked towards the centre, building four elaborately coloured designs into one vast painting. The finished product was presented to the president of the Japan fan club branch before we left Tokyo, and the club was planning to run some sort of competition so that the painting would be won by a member. […]

From The Beatles Monthly Book – August 1966
From The Beatles Monthly Book – August 1966

beatle life

Neil Aspinall, road manager to The Beatles, continuing his series about their travels, tells of the time John, Paul, George and Ringo painted some pretty artistic efforts.

AS I said last week, a Japanese fan gave The Beatles some paintbrushes. “Neil, let’s get a whole set of paints,” suggested Paul. “And a whole lot of paper. Big sheets of it,” added George. “We need more brushes, too,” said Ringo.

So whenever there was a lull in the stream of visitors, or an uninteresting programme on the telly, out would come the brush-paint sets and all four boys would begin new designs on their enormous sheets of paper.

I remember one particularly long art session running on into the night. All four boys started to draw on one sheet of paper, each claiming a particular corner and evolving a design which worked in towards the centre. The whole thing took nearly seven hours to approach completion. It was a magnificent thing, full of colour and a hundred different ideas.

What happened to it? Well, we had a visit from the president of The Beatles’ Japanese fan club branch a few hours before we left Tokyo. And the finished painting, still scarcely dry, was presented to the fan club. By now each Beatle had signed in the centre to show which section of the painting he had done. “TELL you what,” said Paul as he chatted to the club president. “Why don’t you run a competition? Cover up our signatures and get fan club members to guess which of us painted each quarter. Then pick out one of the correct answers and make the painting itself the prize.

Incidentally, that sparked off a long-term interest in painting and sketching because on more recent trips the boys have settled down to while away spare time in dressing rooms and studios by getting out brushes or felt pens and calling for sheets of paper. I think it acts as a sort of tranquillising therapy before a big show. All through the American tour last August it became a familiar sight to see all four boys sitting round a backstage table finishing off old drawings or beginning new ones.

At Candlestick Park, San Francisco, Joan Baez joined in and, at the invitation of the guy in charge of the dressing room catering, The Beatles signed paintings they’d done on his tablecloth after we had all finished our meal and the dishes had been cleared away! So if you were one of the many fans who managed to sneak into a Beatles’ dressing room after a show, to hunt for souvenirs, you may have picked up a genuine Beatle painting or drawing during that August tour.

FROM Tokyo we flew to Manila via Hongkong. There was a brief stopover at Hong Kong while we switched planes. One of the local papers seemed to have got everything a bit mixed up. On its front page, alongside a full-colour portrait of The Beatles, it commented:

“Three of The Beatles’ wives will be travelling with them and it’s also believed that Jane Asher, Paul McCartney’s girlfriend, is in the party. Hurried bookings had to be made after plans for an overnight stay in Hongkong were suddenly cancelled.”

In fact, neither Cyn, Maureen, Pattie nor Jane Asher were travelling with us. Never since their very first trip to the US have The Beatles had wives or girlfriends on tour with them. It would be absurd to do so because any international tour for The Beatles is a hectic affair. Incidentally, there was never any question of an overnight stay in Hong Kong either, so that newspaper was pretty far from the facts on all counts!

Next week I’ll tell you all about the Manila catastrophe!

From Fabulous208 – March 18, 1967
From Fabulous208 – March 18, 1967

Last updated on February 9, 2024

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