Yoko Ono Lennon experienced the devastation of WWII on Japan. Since then, she's moved to the United States and worked as an artist and musician. She speaks strongly about pain, love, and her reverence for planet Earth. In the wake of Japan's quake and tsunami, she has been thinking of her home country and contributing to the Red Cross. She encourages others to do the same, or to participate in the rebuilding of Japan in a more hands-on way if they can. Amidst the pain and the destruction, she is hopeful that her country can rebuild.
John Hockenberry: We’re going to leave you with one more voice now, looking back at the Japan that was and looking forward to what it might be. Long before she was the famous widow of John Lennon, Yoko Ono was just a little girl when Tokyo was leveled in the fire bombings of World War 2. She knows what it means to have to rebuild everything, even though she’s lived much of her life outside of the country of her birth. We spoke with Yoko Ono Lennon yesterday from Los Angeles, and in her voice and spirit we found equal parts sadness for all that has been lost and an eagerness to start once again the rebuilding process that she says proudly defines what it means to be Japanese. She told us, like so many Japanese nationals in the U.S., she’s longing now for what once was home.
Yoko Ono Lennon: I still have that, of course all of us, we want to visit Japan, which is the kind of Japan we’ve always understood it to be. You know, it’s beautiful, and also, the Japanese people are very interesting in a sense that they’re rather peaceful people. Uh, you see that even in the video of something when you’re looking at it, there’s no one screaming or shouting, there’s just kind of like very sad and expressing sadness, but more sadness than anger I think.
Hockenberry: Yeah, I think you’re right. What is it about this Japanese psyche, this sort of cultural identity that really reflects a history of destruction but rebuilding, the idea that we must go on?
Ono Lennon: Yeah you know and it’s so important that I think you know, and I felt very, very bad about this suggestion, but certainly I had a vision about the future and the future of Japan is that they’re going to rebuild it and it’s almost not rebuilding but almost like constructing a new country, new city, new town, because you know most of the countries on this planet, they would love to do that. Aldous Huxley talked about the future world and all that, but the kind of future world that he was describing never came about because we have old buildings, we have old memories and those are things that are standing there and you can’t really break them I think, so now we don’t have anything there and it’s very exciting in a way because you know all of us can really unite and express our creativity so to speak.
Hockenberry: Although it must be said we can’t forget the destruction that’s happened in Japan. Yoko Ono is who we’re speaking with here. What memories from your own life reminded you of the destruction that we saw this week? And again, not to dwell on it, but you know, you’ve lived through some of the same experiences, the levels of destruction in Japan that really go with the history of this nation.
Ono Lennon: Yes, the Second World War. All the kids were evacuating in the country, so that you know they don’t have to be living in danger. And after the war, I came back from Northern Japan that I was in, and the truck was just kind of running, you know it said, “It’s Tokyo now.” So I just looked and I couldn’t believe it, because the whole place was just a burnt field. No building, no nothing. And from then on, I realized that people are building little shacks you know from a sheet of metal. You know, like collecting sheets of metal and building shacks and living in it. And it was like that! Now, that was not too long ago – I mean, it was long ago, but it was not centuries ago – and somehow Japan rediscovered its country but also reconstructed the country. And you know they were very good at it.
Hockenberry: Well they certainly were.
Ono Lennon: And I think that that’s the kind of spirit that the Japanese have. You know, very quiet, very understated, but at the same time extremely efficient and they’re all workaholics.
Hockenberry: Right right. What do you make of this nuclear crisis that’s going on, I mean it seems to me that with the history of World War 2 which you’ve just described, it’s a curse.
Ono Lennon: I think it’s terrible, I think it’s terrible, but you know I think that, uh, well, understandably so, but we seem to hone in on the most disastrous thing that’s happening. And I don’t want that to become a motive for people to become extremely depressed and try to jump off buildings or something, because this the time that it is like the end of something but also the end of something is the beginning of something.
Hockenberry: You know, Yoko Ono, someone was telling me the other day that it’s possible that depending on how this nuclear crisis develops that there might be a way for the people who survived Hiroshima and Nagasaki to bond with this new generation now that knows nothing about World War 2 and that time.
Ono Lennon: I was there in Japan when that happened, but many people died of course you know. But now we have inner memories that we actually went through an incredible situation and recovered and that memory’s very important and I want the Japanese people to, you know yes it’s very sad, but then we have to move on, we have to really think about creating a beautiful country.
Hockenberry: Let’s talk for just a second before we go about your art. So much of the work that you’ve done in the art world is about violence, but human on human violence. This is a violence that comes from the Earth itself. How do you create a theme or use that in your work?
Ono Lennon: Well, I think that you know it’s a very sensitive issue. And what I want to do is not to just sweep everything under the rug and say everything’s fine but I like to show the truth and then to understand that we can actually recover it, we can actually heal it.
Hockenberry: In 1985, Yoko Ono, you wrote this song “I love you Earth” – is that a difficult sentiment to recall now?
Ono Lennon: No, no, no, I was thinking about it this morning. “I love you Earth” – I want to sing that, because we have to understand that Earth needs some love as well, of course you know. And we were not giving Earth so much love; we were just taking things from Earth. And maybe that has a little to do with this particular disaster too, that already it was a delicate situation maybe and you know the delicate condition, but we certainly didn’t help it.
Hockenberry: Well your final thoughts on the people who have lost so much in your country who are working to recover right now – any words for them?
Ono Lennon: Well, I love you, I love all of you, and my heart is really in pain, in pain because of this particular situation that I share with you actually, because my heart is beating with your heart and I hope things will be better now, and for that, I hope we will have a positive attitude and together make a beautiful Japan again.
Hockenberry: Yoko Ono, thanks so much for being with us.