Tokyo Journal’s Exclusive Interview with Yoko Ono on the 33rd Anniversary of John Lennon’s Death
Interview by Anthony Al-Jamie
Why is Yoko Ono amazing, you ask? What is not amazing about her would be a better question! Not only is she the most famous Japanese person in the world, she has been breaking new ground in art, peace activism, and music for six decades. Now, 81-years old, Yoko is producing one chart-topper after another, with 11 #1 dance singles, all while traveling the world promoting peace. Performing with her band, the Plastic Ono Band which includes the exceptionally talented Sean Lennon (son of John Lennon and Yoko Ono), Yoko has captured the interest of a new generation not emotionally vested in The Beatles and free of prejudice.
Yoko’s love for music and art began long before she met John Lennon. She grew up studying piano and composition and learning to sing classical opera and German lieder at the prestigious Jiyu-gakuen Music school in Japan. The great granddaughter of Yasuda bank’s founder Zenijiro Yasuda, Yoko came from an elite family and was the first woman ever admitted to the philosophy program at the prestigious Gakushuin University, where she was a classmate of the Crown Prince (the present Emperor of Japan). Yoko moved to New York and enrolled in the prestigious Sarah Lawrence College in 1952.
She went through two brief marriages: first to Toshi Ichiyanagi and later to Anthony Cox (who fathered her daughter Kyoko). During this period her artwork attracted the attention of leading members of New York’s avant-garde artistic community through her involvement with such artists as John Cage, Merce Cunningham, Ornette Coleman and Andy Warhol. In 1966 Yoko Ono met her third husband to be - John Lennon - when he visited a preview of her exhibition at the Indica Gallery in London, England. It was at this time that her life changed from that of avant-garde artist, highly respected by her peers and the artistic community, to household name whose art was picked apart by a public not ready for her radical approach.
I was fortunate enough to interview Yoko Ono on December 8th, 2013, the 33rd anniversary of John Lennon’s death. She was in Tokyo for the December 7th “Dream Power John Lennon Super Live Concert” at the legendary Budokan.
TJ: Tell us about your new video “Bad Dancer”. How did that come about?
ONO: Well, I needed a video from my album. Whenever I played that one, people just started moving their butts.
TJ: Who choreographed it?
ONO: Well, there’s no choreography, is there? We just brought in people. That was Ben [Dickinson]’s idea; he said, “Is it ok?” and I said, “ok.”
TJ: Tell me about your new album “Take Me to the Land of Hell”. Is there a deep message behind it?
ONO: The message? The message is good music. If I could give you some pleasure, enjoyment and knowledge, I’ll be very happy.
TJ: How was yesterday’s concert at Budokan?
ONO: It was good. It’s all to do with the exchange of power and the exchange of love. If we keep doing that, one day we’ll have a beautiful world.
TJ: You’ve always been concerned about war.
ONO: Yes, it’s such a silly thing to do. It’s not a way to solve anything. If you want to solve [problems] with war, then you become poorer and poorer, because it’s a very expensive game.
TJ: Yes it is, and you experienced war as a child in Tokyo during the WWII bombings of Tokyo, right?
ONO: Yes, I was in Tokyo and then I went to Nagano prefecture. Many families died, you know. Well, first of all, my father was in French Indochina, which was the name for Vietnam at the time and my mother was in Tokyo. She was looking after the house and whatever else. The three kids - me, my younger sister and my younger brother - were evacuated to the country and it was not easy.
TJ: So, do you think that difficult experience of the war made a strong impression on you and did that stimulate you to want to help bring about peace?
ONO: Well, I think at the time I thought that was just life. That was the only life I knew. Life was a pretty frightening thing, but also an exciting thing and I was right in the middle of that. Afterwards, when I think about it, wow! That experience was good.
TJ: Was it a difficult time in Japan for you?
ONO: Yes, it was very difficult. Well, not for me necessarily, but Japan changed altogether.
The complete article can be found in Issue #274 of the Tokyo Journal. Click here to order from Amazon.