- Nippon Budokan
More from year 1966
June 30 - July 2, 1966
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On June 29, 1966, when The Beatles arrived at The Tokyo Hilton, they were informed for security reasons to remain in their hotel suite, venturing out only for their performances at the Budokan. On June 30, they performed their first concert at the Budokan.
On this day, July 1, despite the restrictions, John Lennon and Paul McCartney were eager to explore Tokyo. John, accompanied by Neil Aspinall, managed a shopping escape, while Paul and Mal Evans sneaked out, took a taxi to go to the Imperial Palace and spent some time enjoying the outsides before coming back. According to a report in Fabulous208 magazine by Neil Aspinall, both escapades occurred on July 1. However, Tony Barrow asserted they took place over two consecutive days.
That afternoon at 2 pm, The Beatles gave their second performance at the Nippon Budokan Hall to an enthusiastic crowd of 10,000. As with the previous day’s performance, Nippon Television (NTV) captured the concert in colour.
This evening, at 9 pm on NTV Channel 4, a TV special, titled “The Beatles Recital From Nippon Budokan Tokyo,” combined footage from the two concerts. A unique identifier for the second Budokan performance is The Beatles’ attire: they donned light grey jackets, a contrast to the black jackets they wore during the first show.
Throughout their stay at The Tokyo Hilton from June 30 to July 2, The Beatles welcomed a variety of visitors — journalists, merchants, and others — in their suite. They also had enough to create a collaborative abstract painting.
The Hilton Hotel was surrounded by police, and ID was required even to enter the elevator on the first floor. The corridors of the hotel were filled with the crackle of police radios and the hum of Japanese voices. Photographer Bob Whitaker visited the local branch of Life magazine daily to submit photographs for publication. Returning, he told the Beatles about local attractions and the assortment of noisy nearby markets. On July 1st, bored and impatient John came up with a great idea! Believing that the locals would not be able to distinguish one Englishman from another, he took Whitaker’s ID card and, accompanied by Neil Aspinall, quietly slipped out of the hotel.Atsushi Noguchi – From “Beatles wo Mita” (“I Saw Them Standing There”), 2016
At one point, Paul borrowed a shabby raincoat and said to me: “Come on, Tony, let’s be the first to break out of Alcatraz!” Pulling the raincoat collar high around his neck to hide his hairy fringe under a hat that Neil Aspinall lent him, Paul led me from the Presidential Suite to the lifts. Nobody challenged us. By the time we reached the lobby, however, those walkie-talkies must have been hot with the news of ourbold escape. We were surrounded by agitated, chattering Japanese officials who herded us back into the lift and made sure we returned to our floor. On another occasion, Ringo and Paul made it all the way to a taxi parked on a rank outside the hotel, before being re-captured. Eventually, John and Neil were successful in evading all our guards and took a taxi down to the local market and went on to look around a nearby gallery. The next day, determined to get in at least a little sightseeing before our brief visit ended, Paul and Mal managed to slip out and visit the Imperial Plaza where, under cover of disguise, Paul took photographs and bought a few souvenirs.Tony Barrow – From “John, Paul, George, Ringo & me: the real Beatles story“, 2006
I didn’t get farther than the Palace gates, though. There were hundreds of tourists and they gathered round in a moment. Most of them were Americans but they attracted the attention of Japanese fans in the area and there was this blooming great riot all over the taxi in no time. So we came back home.Paul McCartney – From Fabulous208 – March 11, 1967
Late morning of the second day Brian and I were busy tending to last-minute details of the boys’ Budokan concert when the nattily-dressed police commissioner appeared at the door. This time he was no longer bowing. He was most annoyed because Paul had snuck out of his suite that morning and had roamed around Tokyo with Mal Evans for several hours, all the while being trailed by undercover security agents. Paul awoke that morning absolutely claustrophobic and couldn’t face another day locked up inside, so he and Mal donned fake moustaches and wide-brimmed hats from their collection of disguises and slipped out the service entrance of the hotel. The security agents allowed them a few hours of freedom before they were put under custody and driven back to the hotel in a police car. The police commissioner warned Brian that if any of the Beatles breached security again, all the protection would be called off in the blink of an eye, and the Beatles would be left to their own defenses against the militant students. When the commissioner left the room, Brian’s reaction was, “They wouldn’t dare.”Peter Brown – From “The Love You Make: An Insider’s Story of the Beatles“, 2002
Realising how poorly they had performed at the first Budokan concert seemed to shock John, Paul, George and Ringo into making a greater effort at each of the remaining four sell-out shows. On the second and final days, they were back on form on and off the stage, singing and playing well and generally in much better spirits. A television special made by Japan’s NTV carefully picked out the less awful bits of the opening show and edited them in with excerpts from one of the much improved second day’s performances.Tony Barrow – From “John, Paul, George, Ringo & me: the real Beatles story“, 2006
There were one or two screamers, but for the most part the teenaged boys and girls sat politely in their seats and applauded enthusiastically after each number. It was one of the few concerts during which the boys could hear themselves play.Tony Barrow – From “John, Paul, George, Ringo & me: the real Beatles story“, 2006
[During the first concert the day before] for the first time in a long time, the audience could hear the music. There were no loud screams, which came as a surprise and the group suddenly realized that they were not playing in unison and needed consistency. The second performance was pretty good. By this time they had gathered, but the first performance was something of a shock.Neil Aspinall (personal assistant to the Beatles)
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.Paul McCartney – From “The Beatles Anthology” book, 2000
What was the most memorable thing about playing the Budokan concert [with The Beatles] and why did you decide to return to the venue [in 2015]?
The most memorable thing about the concert was the fans, who were sensational. But what struck us as being just as memorable were the security arrangements that were put in place. The whole front row of the balcony was police, and we saw them all walking in. And as we were going to the show, all the fans were corralled on each street corner and guarded by police. So as we went by they went, ‘Eeeeeeehh!!’ And then there’s nothing for the next block or two. And then ‘Eeeeeeehhh!!’ It was zany because we’d come from England and the US where it had been mayhem. So when I think of the Budokan show I think of the fans first, and then security second.
Why go back and play there again? Just because it was such a special venue to play and I have a particularly special feeling about it. So when someone said there was a possibility of playing there again I jumped at the chance for old times’ sake.”Paul McCartney – From paulmccartney.com, March 28, 2015
When I saw all these guitars on the beds, I thought that this was the most important set of instruments of the most significant band in the world, all beautifully put together by Mel Evans or Neil Aspinal. Then I gave it to Sotheby’s auction, and Stephen Makecock said, ‘This is probably the most expensive guitar layout you’ve ever seen in your life.’Robert Whitaker
Neil Aspinall, road manager to The Beatles, continues his memories of travelling life with the boys. This week, John tries to buy an enormous ivory tower in Tokyo.
THE Japanese security people were keeping The Beatles safe and sound in the Hilton hotel in Tokyo. John and George tried to get out to see the town but the guards turned them back. “There are police everywhere,” said John, “but we’ll make it tomorrow. We’ll work out another plan!“
And they did. Quite early the following morning — a Friday and the first day of July — John arranged to slip out quietly with me and Alf Bicknell. This time nobody stopped us because nobody expected a Beatle to be out of bed as early as ten o’clock. We took a taxi and drove round looking at all the sights. Eventually, we got to an ivory shop and went in to look for gifts to take home. It’s the custom to take off your shoes in the non-tourist parts of Japanese shops, but the assistant obviously recognised John and realised that if a crowd gathered we might have to make a hasty departure. So he said we should keep our shoes on just in case!
John collected some little ivory statues and was fascinated by the elaborate ornaments in the shop. “How much is that?” he asked, pointing out an enormous ivory tower on display in the window. “You mean THAT one?” queried the assistant. “I don’t know. Nobody has ever asked to buy that one. It’s very expensive you know.“
Later somebody else in our party priced the exquisite object at about £8,500, but by that time John had found other items to take his fancy. When we left, John arranged for the owner of the shop to send up a selection of goods to the hotel. “The others are sure to want some of this gear. It’s great, isn’t it?” he said.
MEANWHILE, Paul had followed our example, got up early and slipped out of the Hilton without being noticed. With Mal Evans, he drove by taxi to the Imperial Palace to take some pictures with one of the many luxury cameras he’d been given as gifts when we arrived.
“I didn’t get farther than the Palace gates, though,” he told us afterwards. “There were hundreds of tourists and they gathered round in a moment. Most of them were Americans but they attracted the attention of Japanese fans in the area and there was this blooming great riot all over the taxi in no time. So we came back home.“
But George and Ringo weren’t left out of the Tokyo gift-buying spree because, in the three days of our stay at the Hilton, an unending procession of salesmen were invited to visit the tenth floor. They brought with them all sorts of souvenirs from kimonos to cameras, from elaborate camera lenses to traditional umbrellas. At peak periods the Presidential Suite looked more like a market place with treasures galore laid out on tables and floors for the boys to inspect. Oddly enough, it was one of their simplest purchases which gave The Beatles most pleasure. A Japanese fan club member gave them some Japanese paintbrushes.
This was to be the start of something! I’ll tell you more about it next week.From Fabulous208 – March 11, 1967
[…] On Friday morning, honourable prisoners Lennon and McCartney succeeded in a carefully planned secret breakout mission. John went with road manager Neil Aspinall to an ivory shop, where John bought a 100-year-old antique snuff box for €50.
John said: “They had dozens of these great things called Happy Gods but I just bought a small one and a big fat Buddah thing. I saw one ivory ornament and asked how much. The man replied: ‘I don’t know. Nobody ever asked to buy it before’.”
Paul McCartney and road manager Malcolm Evans got to the Imperial Palace then suddenly discovered an elaborate police escort which would attract attention, so returned to the hotel without shopping. […]From Disc And Music Echo – July 9, 1966
Last updated on September 17, 2023
Setlist for the concert
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