Thirty years ago today, Paul McCartney was released after spending ten days in a Japanese prison. McCartney’s ordeal began on the 16th of January when Paul, his family and the three other members of Wings arrived at Narita International Airport where customs inspectors quickly found nearly eight ounces of what Paul had described as “dynamite weed” (with a Japanese street value of ¥600,000) barely hidden in one of Macca’s suitcases and in the hood of eight-year-old Stella’s coat. Paul was immediately arrested, taken to prison where he was assigned prisoner number 22 and began several days of interrogation by narcotics officers.
McCartney was in Japan to perform 11 dates with Wings. Paul’s previous drug convictions had for years prevented him from getting a Japanese work visa, which he had been thrilled to finally get, but once the weed was found, not only were the shows cancelled but Wings’s music was also banned from Japanese airwaves. With Paul jailed, Linda did her best to smooth things over with the Japanese press: “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 out of it. I’ll never come back to Japan again. This is my first trip and last!”
Back in that detention place, McCartney was told by his public defender that a recent case similar to his resulted in two men being sentenced to three years hard labor. As millions of dollars worth of concert tickets were being refunded, the members of Wings whose last names weren’t McCartney left Japan like the rats getting off the sinking ship that they were. Denny Laine flew to Cannes and made plans to make a solo album. This news did not please prisoner # 22. Another colleague of Macca’s, this one a particularly grouchy former bandmate with whom McCartney hadn’t shared a good relationship for at least ten years, sent a telegram to the hotel where Linda was staying. It read: “Thinking of you all with love. Keep your spirits high. Nice to have you back home again soon. Love, George and Olivia.” Lennon, meanwhile, had nothing to say publicly about the incident. Ringo didn’t have much to say, either, about Paul’s troubles, though he was understandably none-too-pleased when he is strip-searched by customs upon entering Mexico a month later.
While all of this was going on, back in the States, 29 year-old Kenneth Lambert, a half-wit loser and literal die-hard Macca fan, was on a mission to “free Paul” which ended when he turned up at Miami International Airport demanding a free first-class ticket to Japan. When he produced a toy gun to use as a negotiating tool, police pulled out their actual guns and shot him dead. Meanwhile in Japan, an unruly fan outside of the prison holding McCartney also found herself shot by police—though her wound was not fatal.
After nine days of this madness, McCartney’s legal team arrived at an agreement with the Japanese Ministry of Justice that would see Paul and his family deported without any charges filed. It helped McCartney’s case that he planned on smoking all eight ounces of the weed himself rather than distribute it to the locals.
“Sayonara!” Paul shouted to fans at the airport as he was shoved onto the plane that was to take him home. Paul told reporters, “I have been a fool. What I did was incredibly dumb. My God, how stupid I have been! I was really scared, thinking that I might be imprisoned for so long and now I have made up my mind never to touch the stuff again. From now on, all I’m going to smoke is straightforward fags and no more pot!” He was serious about this last bit: it wasn’t until almost exactly four years to the day of his Japanese bust before he and Linda were busted for possession again. That would be in Barbados and then again less than forty-eight hours later while returning home from Barbados.
And what did Prison Mac think of his time in his four by eight cell? Turns out, it could have been worse: “I sang “Yesterday” to a killer in the bath! I joined my fellow inmates for a dip in the baths and they asked me for a sing-song. I gave them the old ones like “Red Red Robin” and “Take This Hammer.” Their favorite, though, was “Yesterday.” I communicated by knocking on walls and shouting. I became quite matey with the chap next door. He could speak a bit of English. Funnily enough, he was inside for smuggling pot. We told each other the worst jokes in the world. They were dreadful, but they helped to relieve the tension. Discipline in the prison was very strict, but I made friends among the prisoners and guards. We sang and laughed together as if we had been mates for ages. But I was never allowed to see sunlight or get a breath of fresh air. That was depressing! It was terribly hard for Linda—and terribly hard for me.” After this, McCartney claims to have never spent another night apart from Linda until her death in 1998.
McCartney lost several million dollars over the mess that he got himself into, but a handful of good things came out of this. The Japanese bust pretty much drew the curtain on Wings, an act with whom McCartney had become bored. And Michael Jackson eventually got his pick of the cancelled tour’s merchandise and got the pretty awesome jacket that he is pictured in below:
And Lee Perry wrote this letter of note to the “Minister of Justice” in Tokyo declaring that Master McCartney’s intentions were positive.