The Beatles travel from Hamburg to Tokyo

June 27-29, 1966

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The previous day, The Beatles had played the two last concerts of their 1966 West Germany tour in Hamburg. On this day, they started their long journey to Japan, for the second leg of their world tour. They first flew from Hamburg to London Heathrow.

They then boarded a Japanese Airlines flight with a stop in Anchorage, Alaska. It was reported that a typhoon hitting Japan forced them to stop. However, according to a ground service agent at the Anchorage International Airport, The Beatles’ plane was scheduled to land in Anchorage to refuel. Then, a problem with the plane’s hydraulics system delayed their departure. It wasn’t a difficult repair, but the Beatles’ plane couldn’t take off again because it would have landed in Japan after the country’s curfew.

On Monday, June 27, the day after the Ernst Merck gig, when all we wanted to do was sleep off the enormous excesses of the previous night, we were flown back to London’s Heathrow airport and transferred almost immediately to the Japan Airlines polar flight which would carry us on to the Orient. As we settled down for take-off, Paul tried to calculate the number of miles we would fly before the summer tour wound up at the end of August at Candlestick Park in San Francisco. “I’m sure the total on the American part alone will be something like 20 or 30 thousand miles,” he announced, but none of us could be bothered to tot up the true figure.

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

The day after the Hamburg concert we had a flight to Tokyo, so we were driven straight out of the concert, out of Hamburg to a schloss – a big castle of a hotel – where we stayed the night, and then we were flown to Heathrow and put on the plane to Japan. Unfortunately there was a hurricane hitting Tokyo and our plane got diverted to Alaska.

I remember looking out of the window on the flight in, and Alaska was incredible: mountains, lush green pine forests, wonderful lakes and rivers. As we were coming lower and lower, the lakes and the trees were thinning out a bit, but when we landed suddenly there was a huge, bulldozed mess that Man had made in the middle of the lush beauty.

I thought, ‘Oh, here we are again.’ Mankind keeps giving us real tacky things until eventually the planet’s covered in them. The nasty little hotels that they throw up – boxes made out of concrete. It was so obvious there in Alaska. Normally they are absorbed into the city, but in the middle of a million acres of pristine forest they stick out a bit.

George Harrison – From “The Beatles Anthology” book, 2000

It was freezing cold and snowing heavily, and Brian and the Beatles were quite upset at having to be put up in emergency accommodations in a small hotel, as if the typhoon were a personal offense. Brian was claustrophobic and irritable in his small room and decided to ring Nat Weiss in New York City, three time zones and 8,000 miles away. He woke Nat out of a deep sleep, demanding, “Who owns Alaska, Nat?” and “Do you know the name of a good bar?”

Peter Brown – From “The Love You Make“, 2002

At the hotel in Hamburg, before leaving. From Flying to Tokyo – The Beatles History (beatles-chronology.ru) – On the stairs of the hotel with members of the German band “Rattles”. In the photo: Ringo, (center) Hermann Rügenstein, George, Dickie Tarrach, Herbert Hildebrandt, (front row) John, Paul, Achim Reichel. Photo by Günter Zint.
From Meet the Beatles for Real (rssing.com) The Beatles leave Hamburg
From June 1966: Germany went wild over The Beatles’ blitz tour – DW – 06/22/2016 – After their six short concerts in just three days, it was all over. On Monday June 27, 1966, thousands of fans came to Hamburg’s airport to say “Auf Wiedersehen” and send them off on their Asia tour. The four flew directly to Tokyio, and the German media breathed a sigh of relief. “We survived the Beatles,” commented the “Sonne” of Baden-Baden. Image: picture-alliance/AP Photo/H. Lohmann
From 1966: Beatles give concert in Hamburg | NDR.de – History – One last smile for the fans: Disheveled by the wind, the Beatles climbed into the plane on 27 June 1966 and headed off for Tokyo. © ullstein bild, Photo: C.T. Fotostudio

The Beatles spent nine hours in Anchorage. They were brought to the Anchorage Westward Hotel, where they took over an entire floor. But within 30 minutes of their arrival, the area was swamped by fans. A local radio station camped on the grounds and broadcast regular reports until their departure. In the evening visited the Top Of The World club on the hotel’s top floor. They were also given a brief tour of the city by a local DJ.

The Anchorage experience was a memorable one-off. We were transported from the airport to the hotel in an ordinary airline bus. As we stopped at traffic lights on the relatively narrow suburban streets, locals did a double take as they spotted each of the bleary-eyed Beatles staring out at them from the windows of our bus. Our plan to sleep right through the stopover went out of the window when local media people realised that they had the world’s most famous pack of pop megastars right under their noses. The Beatles in Alaska? Impossible, but true! One radio station dispatched a news car to our hotel so that their deejay could broadcast the rest of his programme from below our bedroom windows: “Come right on down, folks! The Beatles are waiting to meet you.”

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

I don’t believe any of us managed to get much rest in Anchorage, although I was amazed to hear that a couple of the boys had actually gone on a short nocturnal sightseeing trip around the town with the hotel disco’s deejay.

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

From A brief history of the Beatles’ (brief) time in Alaska (adn.com), July 6, 2014:

The Beatles — together or separately — are known to have passed through Alaska twice.

The first time they came was at 1:45 p.m. on June 27, 1966. Most sources say the DC-8 jet carrying the Fab Four to Japan was obliged to set down at Anchorage International Airport because a typhoon named Kit blocked their way.

Gerry Henningsen of Anchorage, a ground service agent with Pacific Northern Airlines at the time, remembers it differently. The layover was planned, he said, a routine refilling stop. But after it landed, a mechanical issue was discovered that kept the plane on the ground longer than expected. “I think it was hydraulics,” he said. Had the plane taken off after repairs were made, it would have been unable to land in Japan because of a curfew at the airports there.

Henningsen was sent on board the DC-8 to get the famous passengers’ paperwork for customs while Beatles manager Brian Epstein, flying with the band, tried to figure out what to do.

“I babysat those guys for two and a half, three hours,” said Henningsen, who was not a Beatlemaniac. “They were not my cup of tea, just four young men who had made a big dent in the entertainment world. We talked about a lot of things. They were asking, ‘What’s there to do in Anchorage?’ They saw Earthquake Park on a map and were curious about that.”

But they never got to see it.

After several hours of waiting, the four came down the ramp, George Harrison leading the way, and headed for a waiting bus. They were spotted by local teenagers, whom they gifted with a few souvenirs.

Word spread among the city’s youths in a flash: The Beatles’ plane was in Anchorage and someone had ordered a secret chartered bus to go to the airport.

Anchorage teens quickly put two and two together. Ted Spencer was one of them. He joined a carload of other boys racing to the airport.

“We saw the bus going the other way and realized that was them, so we turned around and chased it,” Spencer said. The driver was so excited that he slid into a stop sign, but kept going. As the bus rolled along Spenard Road to downtown, an ever-growing caravan formed behind it, with fans shouting and honking.

Everyone knew there was only one place in Anchorage swanky enough for the Beatles to stay — the Anchorage Westward Hotel, now the Hilton. And, sure enough, that’s where the bus was heading.

“The bus went into the alley behind the Westward and we were right behind them,” Spencer said. “We just barely got a glimpse of the Beatles walking from the bus to the back door of the hotel.”

The band and entourage went to room 1050. An Anchorage police detective and two uniformed officers stood guard in the hall to shoo off the curious and the fans, some of whom showed up with armloads of records. Food was delivered — hamburgers and king crab.

Harrison called Seidenverg and Kay’s, an upscale men’s haberdashery on Fourth Avenue, and ordered a hat and a couple of shirts. The proprietor delivered the goods and said that Harrison, who met him, seemed alert and engaged, but the other three were sitting around looking bored and a little peeved.

That impression is backed up by photos taken of them in the room by British photographer Robert Whitaker. They show the band slumped over chairs and sofas like wet socks. Apparently the most interesting thing that happened was that George got hold of a Polaroid camera and took some candid shots of his mates.

For the most part, the party stayed hunkered in the suite. But Daily News photographer Robin Smith managed to snap Harrison taking a stroll through the Westward hallway in his stockings.

Meanwhile, more than 500 Anchorage teens had gathered in the alley behind the hotel, looking up at the 10th floor, sometimes exclaiming that they’d seen a famous face looking out at them, chanting, “We want the Beatles” and singing — to the tune of “Bye-Bye Birdie” — “We love you, Beatles.”

There was a report of a broken window, but Anchorage police said that the kids behaved pretty politely. How politely? Well, when the 10 p.m. teen curfew arrived, the crowd obediently dispersed, leaving a few 18-and-overs.

At 1 a.m., the band reboarded the bus, returned to the airport and left for Japan.


From Flying to Tokyo – The Beatles History (beatles-chronology.ru)
From Getty Images – Left to right: Beatles manager Brian Epstein (1934 – 1967), Paul McCartney, George Harrison (1943 – 2001) and Ringo Starr at the Westwood Hotel in Anchorage, Alaska, 27th-28th June 1966. En route for the Japanese leg of their final world tour, the group made an unscheduled overnight stop in Alaska to avoid Typhoon Kit. (Photo by Robert Whitaker/Getty Images)
From Getty Images – Singer Paul McCartney of the Beatles shows the strain of touring whilst waiting in a hotel room in Anchorage, 28th June 1966. On their way to Tokyo for their Asian tour, the band were diverted to Alaska because of a typhoon. (Photo by Bob Whitaker/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
From Flying to Tokyo – The Beatles History (beatles-chronology.ru)

STOP PRESS!

BEATLES came face to face with a typhoon (code name “Kit”) on their journey from Hamburg to Tokyo this week. They had to stop over in Alaska on Tuesday to find which way the storm was heading

In Tokyo this week telephone poles in city were plastered with posters calling down “A curse upon the Beatles.”

From Disc And Music Echo – July 2, 1966
From Disc And Music Echo – July 2, 1966

Paul McCartney would pass through Alaska again on January 26, 1980, when travelling from Japan to London after his drug bust.


On the morning of June 28, after their unscheduled nine-hour stop in Anchorage, The Beatles continued their journey to Tokyo. They landed at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport at 3:40 am on June 29 (or was it on June 30?).

From Wikipedia:

The flight finally arrived at Haneda Airport in Tokyo in the early hours of 29 June, according to a report by Dudley Cheke, a chargé d’affaires at the British Embassy. Alternatively, an arrival time of around 3.30 am on 30 June is given by Beatles biographers Barry Miles and John Winn and in a 2016 Tokyo Weekender article about the visit. […]

The four band members descended from the aircraft dressed in happi coats bearing the JAL logo. Their attire was a publicity coup for the airline, who, recognising the value of being associated with the Beatles’ financial success, had instructed one of its First Class flight attendants to ensure that the band emerged wearing these traditional Japanese coats. Faced with a wall of glaring lights, the four musicians believed they were waving to a throng of fans, as was usual when they arrived in a new country. In fact, they were surrounded by security personnel, and only twenty members of the public were present to witness their arrival. Supervised by a large police presence, the band’s fans were instead organised in groups along the road into the city. In a 2016 feature article on the Beatles’ Tokyo concerts, The Japan Times said that the photograph of the group dressed in JAL happi coats and descending from the plane had become “an iconic image of the Beatles’ visit”.

The Beatles were accommodated in the Presidential Suite of the Tokyo Hilton. For the duration of their stay in Japan, the band members were confined to the suite, aside from a single press conference and the concert performances. […]


We didn’t arrive in Tokyo until dawn of the following day, already exhausted, although the major part of our trip was now just beginning. We were looking forward to some relaxation and sightseeing in Tokyo, yet the moment we deplaned we learned there was an ugly surprise waiting for us. A small, officious but polite police commissioner in a business suit ushered us into a VIP lounge and explained that a kamikaze squad of right-wing militant students, who objected to the Western “perversion” of Japanese culture, had vowed that the Beatles would never leave Japan alive. The students were particularly enraged because the Beatles were scheduled for three nights of concerts at the Budokan, which was also a national shrine to dead war heroes. The commissioner explained that the threats from the student fanatics were not to be taken lightly; they would kill the Beatles if they had the chance […]

Peter Brown – From “The Love You Make“, 2002

I remember nothing of the flight between Anchorage and Tokyo. I think most of us crashed out and deliberately missed out on whatever meals were being served. Our extended day had started on Hamburg’s Reeperbahn, taken us through London’s Heathrow, on to Alaska and finally landed us safely at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport at the unearthly hour of around 03.40 the following morning.

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

With military precision, we were moved to the top of the aircraft steps where we paused for press photographs, and then down onto the tarmac. Surprisingly, The Beatles did not object when airline staff cloaked them in traditional thigh-length “happi coats” featuring a blatantly large JAL logo on the lapels. One by one we were led smartly towards some sleek white limousines. Insistent guards dictated who went in which vehicle. Two of the boys were shown into the first one and Brian Epstein managed to squeeze past the line of guards to join them. The security people didn’t seem too happy about letting anyone else join each pair of Beatles, they kept gesturing wildly that the rest of us should wait for other cars to arrive. But taking my cue from Brian, I brushed past them and into the second limousine. The most remarkable aspect of our airport arrival was that at around 3.40am, a crowd of 1,500 Japanese Beatles’ fans were waiting in the darkness to greet the group. Clearly acting on orders that were not to be changed, our drivers ignored our pleas to take us slowly past the fans. Instead, they sped us on our way out of the airport. This was a shame, because the majority of those well-behaved and patient fans had waited an amazingly long time overnight to catch sight of the Fab Four.

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

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

From Getty Images – Paul talks to an air stewardess on board a Japan Airlines plane from Anchorage to Tokyo, at the start of the Beatles’ Asian tour, 28th June 1966. He is wearing a Happi coat provided by the airline. (Photo by Bob Whitaker/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
From Flying to Tokyo – The Beatles History (beatles-chronology.ru)
From Hello, Goodbye (genesis-publications.com)
From Getty Images – TOKYO, JAPAN – JUNE 29: Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo Starr of the British rock band The Beatles are seen on arrival at Haneda airport on June 29, 1966 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images)

Last updated on September 17, 2023

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