Paul McCartney arrested and jailed in Japan

Wednesday, January 16, 1980
Timeline More from year 1980
Narita International Airport, Tokyo, Japan

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On this day, Paul McCartney, Linda McCartney and their four children flew to Tokyo for the upcoming Wings Japan tour. At the airport, customs officials found 219 grams of cannabis in Paul McCartney’s luggage. They arrested McCartney and brought him to a local jail while the Japanese government decided what to do. He was to stay ten days in jail, before being released and deported without charge. From

Former Beatle Paul McCartney was arrested and jailed in Japan for possession of marijuana on this day in 1980.

The musician had landed at Tokyo’s Narita airport with the rest of his band, Wings, his wife Linda and their four children prior to a short tour of the country when the drugs were found in his suitcase.

Customs officials discovered nearly eight ounces of the drug in McCartney’s belongings, at a time when possession of that amount could be punished with a sentence of seven years’ hard labour.

He was arrested, handcuffed and questioned for an hour by narcotics officers, who then transferred him to the local jail, while his family and band members were placed in a hotel. Japanese authorities held him there while they decided what to do with him. […]

When the fellow pulled it out of the suitcase, he looked more embarrassed than me. I think he just wanted to put it back in and forget the whole thing, you know, but there it was. I didn’t try to hide it. I had just come from America and still had the American attitude that marijuana isn’t that bad. I didn’t realize just how strict the Japanese attitude is. I made a confession on the night I was arrested and apologized for breaking Japanese law, but they still wanted to know everything. I had to go through my whole life story—school, father’s name, income, even my medal from the Queen.

Paul McCartney

Well, to this day I have no idea what made me do it. I don’t know if it was just arrogance or what. Maybe I thought that they wouldn’t open my suitcase… I can’t put myself back into that mindset now.

I could almost persuade myself I was framed. I don’t think I was, but when you see the news footage – the guy opens the suitcase and there, right on top… It’s like a pop-up book – here, check this!

It was the maddest thing in my life – to go into Japan, which has a seven-year hard labour penalty for pot, and be so free and easy. I put a bloody great bag of the stuff right on the top of my suitcase. Why didn’t I even hide it in a pullover? I look at the footage now, and I just think, ‘That couldn’t have been me’

Paul McCartney, from Wingspan book, 2002

We were about to fly to Japan and I knew I wouldn’t be able to get anything to smoke over there. This stuff was too good to flush down the toilet, so I thought I’d take it with me.

Paul McCartney, 2004
From Facebook

It’s really very silly. People certainly are different over here. They take it so very seriously. Paul is now in some kind of detention place and I have not been allowed to see him. As soon as they get someone nice like Paul, they seem to make a field day of it! […] I’ll never come back to Japan again. It’s my first trip and my last!

Linda McCartney
From Laurence Juber on Twitter – January 16, 1980. Every passport tells a story…….the bust heard around the world.
paulmccartney #PaulMcCartneyandwings #tokyo
From B26040 – Paul McCartney 1980 Japanese Arrest London Evening Standard Billboard Poster (UK) – Tracks – An original London Evening Standard billboard poster that dates to January 1980. The poster has the headline ‘PAUL McCARTNEY DEPORTED – PICTURE’ printed on it. The story relates to Paul McCartney’s arrest for possession of cannabis when he was trying to enter Japan on 16th January 1980. The poster measures 43cm x 74cm (17 inches x 29 inches). 
From New Musical Express – January 26, 1980

Throughout my life, I’ve had a few of those “Oh dear, Oh God!” moments when I’ve gone too far and paid the price. I’m like some bloody Liverpool sailor that’s been to all these ports and brought back all these parrots. I’ve seen and done a lot of things and I feel good about most of it. I feel a bit stupid about some of it. Getting busted in Japan was right up there in terms of stupidity.

I was out in New York and I had all this really good grass. Excellent stuff. We were about to fly to Japan and I knew I wouldn’t be able to get anything to smoke over there. This stuff was too good to flush down the toilet. So I thought I’d take it with me. I was so warned against doing it. But I thought, “What the hell!” I was incredibly cavalier about the whole thing. In America, President Carter had come out and said he thought cannabis should be decriminalised. Maybe I was thinking, “Hey, it’s no big deal.” In my mind, I was only doing what everyone else was doing. It was like everyone was nicking sweets from the school tuck shop and I happened to be the one who got my collar felt.

Looking back, it’s not too wonderful being banged up in a Japanese jail. When I first arrived I was thinking, “This is a storm in a teacup, I’ll be out in no time.” Then the British Vice-Consul told me I could get seven years of hard labour. That’s when it got extremely worrying. I couldn’t sleep for the first three days. It was five days before Linda was allowed to visit me and I’d never spent a night apart from her since we’d married. It was pretty rough. Just a thin mattress on the floor. I had to wash using water from the toilet cistern. I had to share a bath with a bloke who was in for murder. I was afraid to take my suit off in case I got raped. But I’d seen all those prisoner-of-war movies and I knew you had to keep your spirits up. So I’d organise sing-songs with the other prisoners.

I had no idea at the time what the reaction around the world was. Some of it was obviously disapproving. But there was also a bit of, “Hello, Paul’s been a naughty boy, good for him.” For me, the most stupid thing about it all was that I put other people at risk. I’m the Liverpool sailor, right? It’s OK if I get nobbled in Morocco – I can handle that. But I’m married with kids and getting nobbled in Morocco – that just won’t do. Without doubt, it was the daftest thing I’ve done in my entire life.

Of course, it’s now one of the things I’m remembered for. Just the other day, I went for a walk on my own in the Hollywood Hills. This bunch of teenagers passed by me. One t of them turned to me and said, “Hey, Macca, you’re the man! Fancy joining us for a smoke?” To me, it’s a huge compliment that a bunch of kids think I might be up to smoke a bit of dope with them.

Paul McCartney – From interview with UNCUT, July 2004

Last updated on February 17, 2024

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Bruce Bryant 2 years ago

As an American, and about 10 years younger than Paul McCartney, I personally have a great deal of respect for Japanese Laws. My two year stay in Japan was an education in many ways. Don't misunderstand, I love America in spite of some flaws, but Japan is a little bit more serious regarding crime. Anyway I've always enjoyed the musical talent of Paul McCartney

DENNY LAINE: ACOUSTIC SONGS & STORIES | This Week in New York 1 year ago

[…] just hadn’t come out. So I’d already done that. It was partly to do with the fact that Paul had that thing with Japan, so we couldn’t really tour for a while after that. Eventually I just said, well, I want to go out […]

Negway Ichi Jr. 1 year ago

So sad that Paul couldn't get a chance to see Yuji Naka in Jail

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