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Things were so tense the whole time, I felt like I was a war correspondent.Shimpei Asai on When The Beatles Visitied Japan. #8DaysDVD
Ideological concerns and controversy
The Beatles’ flight to Tokyo stopped in Anchorage, Alaska late on 27 June, local time, and was grounded there due to the presence of a typhoon over Japan. Epstein arranged for the Beatles to wait out the delay at Anchorage’s Westward Hotel, where the band’s presence instantly attracted a crowd of local fans, who serenaded them from the street below. 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 Beatles served as cultural ambassadors in Japan, where the authorities had viewed the band in an unfavourable light until their appointment as MBEs in 1965. The visit had been the subject of national debate and coincided with an era in which Japan sought to re-establish its cultural identity, following the country’s defeat in World War Two. While the more progressive-minded elements of the population welcomed the spirit of change and youthful optimism that the Beatles represented, traditionalists were opposed to the band’s influence. To meet Epstein’s requirement of $100,000 (around $750,000 in 2016) for each performance, the 10,000-seat Nippon Budokan hall was chosen; tickets were priced at twice the rate of any previous visiting pop act.
The announcement that the concerts were to take place at the Budokan – a venue reserved for martial arts, as well as a shrine to Japan’s war dead – outraged the country’s hardline nationalists, who vowed to intercede and stop the proceedings. This issue, combined with a written death threat that the Beatles had received while in Hamburg, ensured that security around the group was extreme throughout their stay. In an operation that compared with Japan’s measures when hosting the 1964 Olympic Games, around 35,000 police and fire brigade personnel were mobilised to protect the Beatles.
Arrival and confinement
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. During the press conference, held in the afternoon of 30 June, Lennon spoke out publicly against the Vietnam War on the Beatles’ behalf. This marked the first time that the band had spoken out against the war in one of their press conferences, and followed Lennon and Harrison’s warning to Epstein before the tour that they were no longer prepared to stay silent on this issue.
A scheduled group visit to Kamakura on 30 June was cancelled after the Beatles learned that the police could not guarantee their safety. Accompanied by one of their road managers, Lennon and McCartney each managed to venture out at one point, only to be escorted back to the hotel once they were discovered. Starr recalls that every time the Beatles had to leave for an engagement, the process was handled with military-style precision by their Japanese hosts. To lighten the mood, the band took to delaying their exit from the hotel suite, thereby causing consternation for the time-conscious security staff.
Concerts and reception
The band played the first of their five concerts at the Budokan on 30 June. The support acts were all local artists: the Drifters, Yuya Uchida, Isao Bitoh, the Blue Comets, Hiroshi Mochizuki, and the Blue Jeans. The shows were sponsored by the Japanese newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun and promoted by the Kyodo Agency. Both the 30 June performance, when the Beatles were dressed in dark green suits with red shirts, and the first show on 1 July, when they wore Hung On You-designed grey suits with thin orange stripes, were filmed in colour by Nippon TV. The footage was swiftly edited by the television company and combined with brief segments of documentary footage for broadcast, as The Beatles Recital: From Nippon Budokan, Tokyo, at 9 pm on 1 July.
As ultranationalist students demonstrated in the city and outside the venue, the police presence was especially heavy inside and around the stage. According to Tony Barrow, the police feared that these right-wing students might have placed snipers in the audience. The stage itself was set on an 8-foot-high podium; all ground-floor seating had been cleared, meaning the audience was restricted to the hall’s first and second tiers. Concertgoers were warned that anyone standing up or cheering risked being arrested. The Beatles felt that the uniformed officers subdued the crowd, although the Japanese fans’ more reserved nature, relative to the group’s usual audiences, was also a factor. The band gave an especially poor performance on 30 June. According to Barrow and Aspinall, the group were humbled by this, having grown accustomed to not hearing themselves play, and resolved to perform well for the remainder of the Budokan dates.
During their extended periods in the hotel suite, the Beatles collaborated on a psychedelic-themed painting, using brushes and paints supplied by one of the visiting tradesmen, and listened to a tape of their new album. Whitaker photographed them at work and later commented: “I never saw them calmer, more contented than at this time. They were working on something that let their personalities come out … They’d stop, go and do a concert and then it was, ‘Let’s go back to the picture!'” Having struggled to find a title for the new album since their arrival in Munich, the Beatles finally settled on Revolver and informed EMI of their decision by telegram on 2 July. Whitaker recalled that, despite the hours of confinement in the Hilton, the atmosphere within the band while in Tokyo was “a crescendo of happiness”.
The Beatles and their entourage departed for Manila in the Philippines, via Hong Kong, mid-morning on 3 July. The Japanese press were highly favourable in their assessments of the Beatles’ visit, with the extreme security measures and the brevity of the band’s performances being the only areas of disappointment. Reporting to the Foreign Office in London, Dudley Cheke wrote that the cyclone over Japan had been replaced by a “Beatles typhoon”, which “swept the youth of Japan off their feet”. The Beatles embodied a new identity for the country’s youth; in the description of Japanese academic Toshinobu Fukuya, their presence had signalled that “one did not always have to obediently follow arrangements prescribed by adults; it was possible to follow one’s own path and still be socially and financially successful in life.” On 15 July, the Beatles’ stay in Japan was the subject of an article in America’s Life magazine.
Arrival in Manila
The Beatles’ concerts in Manila had been anticipated by the local population on a level that Gould likens to the band’s 1964 tour of Australia, when the whole country appeared to view the visit as a national event. The group’s commitment to perform in the Philippines reinforced the country’s pro-Western image and was especially welcomed by the recently elected president, Ferdinand Marcos, and his wife Imelda. Although the Beatles’ tour itinerary originally listed the venue as the Araneta Coliseum, the concerts took place at the Rizal Memorial Stadium. The shows were promoted by Ramon Ramos and his company Cavalcade International Productions.
The Cathay Pacific flight carrying the Beatles landed at Manila Airport at 4.30 pm on 3 July. The nation’s police and military forces were in a state of high alert comparable with President Eisenhower’s 1960 visit; noting the prevalence of firearms, one of the Beatles asked whether there was a war taking place in the Philippines. In Starr’s description, the atmosphere was “that hot/Catholic/gun/Spanish Inquisition attitude”. Whereas the band and their entourage were usually given the privileges afforded visiting diplomats, on this occasion, the four Beatles were hustled into a vehicle by armed men wearing civilian clothes. Harrison later recalled their alarm at being separated from Epstein, Aspinall and Mal Evans for the first time on a tour; his immediate concern was that, with their hand luggage left behind on the runway, the band would be arrested once their supplies of marijuana were discovered by the authorities. The Beatles were driven to the headquarters of the Philippines Navy on Manila Harbour and led to a press conference attended by 40 journalists. They were then escorted by military personnel to a luxury yacht owned by Don Manolo Elizalde, a wealthy Filipino industrialist, whose 24-year-old son wanted to host a party to show off the Beatles to his friends. Epstein finally caught up with the band before the yacht sailed out into Manila Bay. After spending several hours on board, he and the Beatles returned to the marina and, at 4 am, arrived at the Manila Hotel, where Epstein had booked accommodation.
Music journalists Jim Irvin and Chris Ingham have referred to the Beatles’ abduction at the airport and detainment on the yacht as a kidnapping. Alternatively, Turner writes that, unknown to Epstein, arrangements had been made between Ramon Ramos and Vic Lewis for the Beatles to spend the night on the yacht, since that presented a better security option than a city hotel. Aspinall, who had arrived at the marina with the Beatles’ hand luggage while they were out on the bay, said that their abduction was carried out by a militia gang who were rivals of the individuals presenting the upcoming concerts.
Invitation to Malacañang Palace
Apart from McCartney, who went sightseeing with Aspinall, the Beatles slept in late on 4 July until woken by security staff intent on taking them to a party hosted by Imelda Marcos in their honour at Malacañang Palace. The event was scheduled for 11 am and had been announced in the previous day’s edition of The Manila Times. While the Beatles were unaware of this announcement, Epstein had already declined the invitation when they were in Tokyo. This was in keeping with his policy since 1964 regarding all embassy or other official functions to which the group were often invited while on tour. The 1966 itinerary mentioned only that the Beatles might “call in” at the palace at 3 pm en route to their first concert. Turner interprets the casual wording of this item as Ramos, faced with delivering on Imelda Marcos’s wishes, “burying the invitation in the small print, hoping for a compromise on the day”.
When confronted by Lewis, who was also woken by the presidential guards that morning, Epstein dismissed his suggestion and that of Leslie Minford, a chargé d’affaires at the British Embassy, that the Beatles should make an exception for the First Lady of the Philippines. The Beatles were equally adamant; when told by the guards that President Marcos was among the dignitaries awaiting their arrival, Lennon retorted: “Who’s he?” The band learned of the offence that Imelda Marcos had taken at their nonappearance while watching television at the hotel before leaving for the first concert. Footage from the palace was broadcast of the empty seats reserved for the four Beatles, children crying in disappointment, and the First Lady saying that the visiting musicians had let her down.
Concerts and national backlash
The Beatles played the first of their two concerts at the Rizal football stadium at 4 pm before a crowd of 30,000. The band performed on a small stage behind a wire fence. Pilita Corrales, the Reycards and the Downbeats were among the six local support acts. The second show took place at 8.30 and was attended by 50,000 fans. The combined total of 80,000 was the largest audience to see the Beatles in concert on a single day. The band were well received by their fans, although the poor sound and the distance from the stage was a problem for many. In his review of the concerts, Filipino writer Nick Joaquin detected a halfheartedness in the Beatles’ performance and said that even the fans’ screams “seemed mechanical, not rapture but exhibitionism”. Another reviewer concluded: “The sound was terrible, The Beatles were terrific.”
After watching the continual news broadcasts at the hotel, between the two shows, Epstein resolved to record a message to explain the Beatles’ nonappearance at Malacañang Palace. The message was filmed by the government-owned Channel 5, at the Manila Hotel. When the segment was broadcast later that evening, however, the sound was distorted – a seemingly deliberate act – and Epstein’s explanation was rendered inaudible. Barrow recalls that a backlash against the Beatles was evident straight after the evening show at Rizal, when their convoy of cars was briefly trapped behind a closed gate and surrounded by a large crowd of “organised troublemakers”. As the NEMS representative who had dealt directly with the Filipino promoter, Lewis was taken away by police officers during the night and subjected to a three-hour interrogation for his role in “snubbing” the Philippines. Lewis contacted the British Embassy, where Minford, in a telegram to the Foreign Office, reported that “a technical hitch over payment of Philippine income tax” was likely to delay the Beatles’ departure. Death threats against the Beatles were reported at the embassy and at their hotel.
The Beatles woke up early on 5 July in readiness for their flight to Delhi in India. After their requests for room service had gone unanswered, Evans went down to reception and found that all security protection inside the hotel had disappeared. The morning newspapers carried front-page stories condemning the Beatles for their failure to attend the engagement at Malacañang Palace. The tour party faced further intimidation initiated by Marcos loyalists. The Inland Revenue presented a tax bill on the band’s concert earnings, which were still held by Ramos; this was despite a stipulation in NEMS’ contract with Cavalcade that any such tax would be paid by the local promoter. All assistance from the hotel staff was withdrawn, as was any police escort through the city traffic, leaving Epstein to call ahead and plead with the pilot of their KLM flight to delay his takeoff. On the way to the airport, their Filipino drivers appeared to forget the route; in another example of what Aspinall termed “obstacles [put] in our way”, a soldier sent their cars repeatedly around the same traffic roundabout.
In Peter Brown’s description, when they arrived at the airport, it resembled an “armed military camp”. Aside from a heavy army presence, hundreds of irate citizens lined the path into the terminal building, where they harassed and jostled the tour party as each member walked by. Inside the terminal, on the instructions of Willy Jurado, the airport manager, the escalators had been turned off, and the band and their entourage were denied any assistance with musical instruments, amplifiers and luggage. The crowd from outside the building were then permitted into a glass-walled observation area, from which they continued their haranguing of the Beatles. The tour party moved into a large departure lounge, where uniformed men and others that Harrison recognised as the “thugs” from their arrival in Manila, began beating and kicking them, moving them from one corner of the room into another. Jurado later bragged about knocking Epstein to the ground and punching Lennon and Starr in the face, adding: “That’s what happens when you insult the First Lady.” Along with Alf Bicknell, Evans received a particularly thorough bashing after he intervened to shield the four band members from their attackers.
The tour party were finally allowed to board the aircraft. According to Barrow, the harassment continued as they crossed the tarmac leading to the steps up to the plane. Some of the band’s fans were also present; when they expressed sympathy for the Beatles, they too attracted scorn from the mob. McCartney recalled that, such was their relief once inside the cabin, “We were all kissing the seats.” An announcement then called Epstein off the plane to finalise the unpaid tax demand. Barrow and Evans were also told to disembark. After their passport irregularities had been sorted out, they both re-boarded and the plane was able to take off. Lewis then got into a heated argument with Epstein regarding the concert takings. Epstein admonished Lewis for focusing on money, given the ordeal they had all just endured, and asked him: “Who was it that screwed up the party invitation?”
Soon after the Beatles had left Manila on 5 July, President Marcos issued a statement acknowledging that the group had not purposely snubbed the First Family. He attributed the violent scenes at the airport to citizens overreacting to a “misunderstanding”, and announced that he had lifted the tax on the band’s earnings in the Philippines. Although Brown, writing in his 1983 memoir The Love You Make, said that the Beatles’ performance fee had been received from Ramos in two instalments, subsequent evidence suggests that the band were not paid. In his concluding report to the Foreign Office, Minford mentioned that some individuals at the airport had used “unnecessary zeal” towards the Beatles and he credited Benjamin Romualdez, the brother of Imelda Marcos, with sorting out the episode.
Writing two weeks after the Beatles’ visit, Joaquin commented that the Philippines had been attracted to the band’s image without appreciating that, behind the image, their message was one advocating individuality, adventurousness and originality over tradition and order. Joaquin cited this underestimation as the cause of the Beatles’ recent problems and likened the group’s presence in Manila to Batman being transplanted to Thebes in Ancient Greece.
Stopover in India
Before leaving London, Harrison had arranged to disembark in Delhi with Aspinall and buy a top-quality sitar there. During the tour, the other Beatles had each decided to join the pair, although, after their troubles in Manila, all of the band would have preferred to return to London immediately. Their plane landed at night at Delhi’s Palam Airport. While the Beatles had assumed that they were unknown in India, they were welcomed by a crowd of 500 fans and journalists and forced to give a brief press conference. The group’s two-day stay in Delhi similarly came to resemble the stops throughout the tour in terms of media attention and periods of confinement in their hotel, the Oberoi.
On 6 July, the band managed to evade the fans camped out in front of the hotel and go to Connaught Place. There, they shopped for Indian musical instruments at Lahore Music House and the prestigious instrument-makers Rikhi Ram & Sons. Since their presence had soon attracted a crowd of fans, the Beatles arranged for the Rikhi Ram staff to visit them later at the Oberoi Hotel with a sitar for Harrison, as well as a sarod, tambura and tabla. The entourage were also given a tour of Delhi, during which their Cadillacs were chased by a vehicle carrying the head of the local Associated Press bureau. Once the journalist had received a comment from McCartney about the controversy in Manila, the tour continued on to villages outside the city. The primitiveness and poverty they saw there was a shock to the band. Starr described India as the first genuinely “foreign” country he had visited; Harrison found it sobering to realise that their Nikon cameras, which were a gift to the group from their Japanese promoter, “were worth more money than the whole village would earn in a lifetime”. Other locations they visited while in Delhi included the historic Red Fort and Qutb Minar.
At the Oberoi, the Beatles discussed the recent events in Manila and privately expressed their dissatisfaction with Epstein’s management of their tours. According to Brown, when Aspinall said that Epstein was already booking concerts for 1967, Lennon and Harrison insisted that their current tour would be their last. They relayed this decision to Epstein either at the hotel, where he was bedridden with a high fever, or during the flight to London. The decision was also informed by the band’s increasing dissatisfaction with the inadequate sound systems at the venues they played and the inane questions they faced at each press conference.
Return to England and fallout from Manila
The Beatles arrived at Heathrow Airport early morning on 8 July and immediately conveyed their bitterness over Manila in a television interview for ITV. Lennon said they would “never go to any nuthouses again” while McCartney accused their attackers of being cowards. Both Harrison and Lennon said the only reason to return to the Philippines would be to drop a bomb on the country. Referring to this comment, Lennon wrote on a copy of the tour itinerary: “we all silently agreed.” Starr later described their ordeal in Manila as “the most frightening thing that’s ever happened to me”. Two days after the band’s return, it was announced that Freddie and the Dreamers had cancelled their upcoming concerts in the Philippines, as a gesture of solidarity with the Beatles.
Distraught at the group’s decision to stop touring, Epstein was diagnosed with glandular fever and went to a remote hotel in northern Wales to recover. On 5 August, he was called away to the United States to ameliorate the controversy that had resulted from the publication of Lennon’s comment that the Beatles had become more popular than Christ. When the 1966 world tour resumed there on 12 August, the band were the subject of radio bans in some southern states and further death threats. According to Barrow, the decision to quit touring after 1966 was made without McCartney’s agreement and marked the first time that the Beatles had committed to a course of action without unanimous agreement among the four. McCartney said that he was finally persuaded to join the others’ way of thinking following the group’s concert at St Louis, which took place on 21 August.
Over the decades since the Beatles performed their first Asian concerts there in 1966, Japan has continued to occupy a significant place in the band’s legacy. After meeting his second wife, the Japanese artist Yoko Ono, in November 1966, Lennon enjoyed visiting the country during the 1970s. In December 1991, having never recovered his enthusiasm for performing live after the Beatles’ experiences, Harrison carried out his second of only two tours as a solo artist in Japan. McCartney and Starr have regularly toured the country since the late 1980s.
Following the controversy surrounding the Nippon Budokan’s first hosting of a rock concert in 1966, the hall has become the main venue for acts touring Japan. Writing in The Japan Times in 2016, Steve McClure said that the Beatles’ performances at the hall had “conferred on it a quasi-sacred status in rock mythology”. Among the fans who saw the Beatles perform there were future Japanese music-industry executives Aki Tanaka and Kei Ishizaka. Tanaka describes the concerts as “a social phenomenon” and credits them with inspiring “the birth of a real Japanese rock music scene”, in which local artists wrote their own songs rather than merely covering Western rock songs.
Steve Turner comments on the significance of the first leg of the Beatles’ 1966 world tour in terms of the development of the Beatlemania phenomenon, in that the band’s influence now incited “potential acts of terrorism”, just as their music had started to “fuel the fight between conservatives and liberals” in the countries they visited. Turner also views the brief stopover in India as important, since it represented the group’s formal introduction to a culture with which they became increasingly associated over the next two years.
For several years, the combined audience of 80,000 at the Rizal Memorial Stadium on 4 July 1966 stood as the world record for any act on a single day. The Marcoses were enjoying a honeymoon period in the mid 1960s as the Philippines’ American-style First Family, but the president later came to be seen as a dictator and, having amassed personal wealth of up to $10 billion, fled to the United States after being deposed in 1986; later, a Philippines court found Imelda Marcos guilty of corruption. Given these revelations, McCartney has said that the Beatles were “glad to have done what we did … We must have been the only people who’d ever dared to snub Marcos.” As of 2016, none of the former Beatles had ever returned to the Philippines, despite an attempt by Filipino musician Ely Buendia – in response to the promotional campaign for Starr’s 2015 album Postcards from Paradise – to lure Starr back to the country.
From paulmccartney.com, June 6, 2017, by Stuart Bell, Paul’s publicist:
[…] A curious member of the team asks what it was like first time round. “When we first came to Japan we didn’t know what to expect, we didn’t know anything about the culture of Japan, and so it was very different from what we were expecting,” Paul explains. “It was very beautiful, it was very unusual for us. Where we come from, no woman would have got up to give her seat to a man, and we thought that was crazy. We tried to tell our girlfriends back in England to see if it was a good idea, but they didn’t think it was! But it was great, we had a great time. The whole thing was interesting because, as you know, it [The Budokan] was originally just for sumo and martial arts, and there were one or two people who were a bit annoyed that we were playing Budokan because they thought that you shouldn’t play rock and roll in there. But we did it, we enjoyed it and the audience enjoyed it so the tradition of rock and roll has carried on and I have all of those memories – it’s lovely.”
On that historic first visit The Beatles played five concerts and performed 53 songs to about 43,000 people. Yet in the last week alone, Paul has played four concerts, performing a total of 148 songs to over 170,000 people! For the record, ‘I Wanna Be Your Man’ and ‘Yesterday’ were the only two songs that featured on both setlists. In fact Paul’s soundchecks this week were actually longer than those Beatles concerts in 1966. That initial trip inspired a generation of Japanese music fans, sweeping the youth off their feet – and many are still present at the shows in 2017, although this time alongside three or four different generations. […]
Last updated on April 22, 2019
7 concerts • 2 countries
Jul 01, 1966