Interview by HUMANITY Portrait by FRANCESCO CARROZZINI Culture

Yoko Ono - Humanity Magazine

HUMANITY: What was it like for you growing up—your upbringing, your parents, growing up in Japan?

YOKO ONO: My family was rather unique. My grandmother went to a French school, in Japan. She was part of a very important feminist group. In England at the time, there was a feminist movement known as the Blue Stockings. Around the same time, there was an important feminist group in Japan called Blue Steps. I am sure that it was named after the English one. My grandmother was one of them. She was very, very strong and she really pushed boundaries. My mother on the other hand was an equally strong woman but expressed her strength in a more complex way than my grandmother.

HUMANITY: So you took after your grandmother.

And my mother: I learned from both of them.

HUMANITY: But you grew up in Japan, right?

YO: I was born in Japan and lived in Tokyo until I was about 2 and a half years old. My father went to the United States just before I was born. Yes. And my mother was very upset about it. I heard from the relatives that my mother cried. I was probably upset too, in her tummy. I think he just could not face it all, you know—the fact that he was going to be a father. Some men are like that. He was just concentrating on his own life. Music and mathematics. Mathematicians from other countries used to send him notes to ask mathematic questions. He was also a good pianist and would make comments to me like: “When you play the piano, you have to continue playing until you finish the work.” And he would not say much else to me.




HUMANITY: Was your family supportive of your art?

YO: My mother was an accomplished painter. So both my parents were very high-minded about art. I always felt very guilty that I did not become any of what they wanted me to become. My father was the first person who introduced Malevich’s work to Japan. But for his daughter, he was hoping that I would not be avant-garde. They never showed their disappointment. The way I knew was that they never came to any of my concerts. And when John and I got married [in Gibraltar], I knew they wouldn’t come to that either.

HUMANITY: What do you think triggered your creativity? What made you want to express yourself and make things to share?

YO: It’s something that came very simply to me. I just liked it. It’s just something that agrees with my brain and body.

HUMANITY: I was reading your book [Just Me, published in Japanese], the part where you talk about your daughter [Kyoko]. You expressed how you were not ready to be a mother—you were still an artist and you were still making music. I felt that you were so honest to who you are as a person.

YO: I was never ready to be a mother. It is amazing that there are many women who don’t feel like they want to be a mother. And so I wanted to say something about it.



HUMANITY: So what is your perspective on being a mother?

YO: Well, I think there’s a very clear message from the male society that women have to have children, otherwise the human race is going to disappear. So they keep saying “What a beautiful thing you’re doing,” you know, and “Women love to be mothers!” and “Women love to have children!” I just remembered that there was this English woman who was working for my mother, and whenever I would visit my mother, this woman always seemed very stiff, very angry. I said to her one day, “Is there something that you don’t like in life?” and she said, “My husband gets me pregnant every year so that I won’t leave him.” And I remembered that. I guess some men used to do that, you know, keep their wives pregnant. Can you imagine?

HUMANITY: I can’t.

YO: A terrible, terrible thing to do to someone. I think that was rather convenient for the human race. In fact I have two children, and they are very kind, very good children, so I’m very lucky. Babies are so cute. So you can’t help falling in love with them.

HUMANITY: Did you feel you were always more devoted to your art?

YO: I just felt so much better when I was working on something creative, and before I had children people would say to me, “What about having kids? That’s creative.” I really didn’t think so. I really think some people like to create that way, but I didn’t.

HUMANITY: Then why did you decide to have another baby, to have Sean? Was it planned?

YO: It’s a funny thing. John was so adamant about having a child with me. He would say, “We have to have a child. We have to.” I ended up having some miscarriages, and everyone said, “Oh, she can’t hold it.” I mean, that’s a very English expression, I think. “She just can’t hold it.” Luckily we had Sean. I remember John was crazy and wanted to announce it right away. But because of the miscarriages I said, “This time, don’t announce it, OK?” But then around the third or fourth month he said, “Now it’s safe.” I didn’t know if it was safe or not, but we announced it. John was so proud about it, it was amazing, and he tried to show to other guys “it’s fun to have kids.” And that really helped the whole world. Isn’t that amazing?



HUMANITY: How did you and John inspire each other creatively?

YO: That’s like a miracle, you know. Because I always felt that most men were dumb. I don’t want to insult my two previous husbands—they were nice people, very sensitive, and they were talented too. Toshi was very protective of me, and Tony was very good in assisting me. John used to say that: “She thinks all men are assistants!” Which was how I looked at it. So when I met John, I realized that he was not dumb at all. I thought it was so interesting that he was so different from the idea that I had about men at the time. That they could be very talented but so stiff in their ideas, but John wasn’t. He went with anything that came to him that he thought was interesting, and we hit it off.

HUMANITY: So was it easy for you and John to support each other with your art while also being partners and having a family?

YO: For me, as a woman, being supportive of him is a normal thing. Most women do that for their husbands or partners. But for men to support the woman in her endeavors, like John did for me, was very unusual at the time.

HUMANITY: Since John’s death have you had any other relationships? When I see your performances, I see you are a very sexual person, and I just wondered, what about intimacy?

YO: Well, you know, it’s a real problem. I’ll tell you that I’m thinking about many different aspects of my life in balance. And I make sure that I am working to bring a better society. It really means a lot of work, and if you don’t have somebody who is totally into it, it doesn’t work. I just haven’t met anybody that is so adamant about the kind of things that I am adamant about. And if I don’t have somebody like that, it would be just a waste of my time. Sex is a different story. But for me it is not separate. Some people might think that it is so old-fashioned, but I don’t want to have sex without a certain mental and spiritual understanding between a person and me. I’m like that. I don’t go for a one-night-stand kind of thing.

HUMANITY: You and John had an “art baby,” where you made music together, and you had an actual baby. You two really had everything together. Not everybody finds that in their lifetime.

YO: Exactly. Well, we didn’t think that that was the kind of relationship we were going to have. John, being a guy, was more practical than me. He said, “To make the relationship last, we have to do something both of us will be involved in.” He said, “I know, a big film! … There’s so many things we have to do for it, there is no time to think.” Well, we never did it, though.

HUMANITY: My favorite quote by you is: “A dream you dream alone is only a dream, but a dream two people dream together is reality.” It’s so beautiful.

YO: Thank you. I was writing many things before that and after, but that one about dreaming was inspired by our relationship. By the 10th year, John was saying a relationship can be very good and we have to tell them that. You know, “After 10 years, it’s gonna be so good!” I agreed.

HUMANITY: What are the messages you want to share with the world right now?

YO: I think that imagining things can really bring reality, and I believe in that. “IMAGINE PEACE” is very important to me, and that’s what I am working for. “Wish Tree” is another one. When I was a little girl and I would go to the temple in Japan, they had bushes with messages. You could buy the printed message and put it on the tree. Messages like “Health” or “Love,” just printed. So it’s not the message of that person. I believe that it is important that the person think about it from their heart. So I did this by believing in audience participation. The first “Wish Tree” I did was in Los Angeles in 1996, and the next one was in 1997 in Alicante, Spain. And then it was a surprise; people who never go to museums were queuing up to put their wish on the “Wish Tree.” So now all the wishes are collected, it’s over a million, and it will be more, but the 1 million wishes are under the IMAGINE PEACE TOWER [in Iceland]. Every year we shoot up the light, and I think it is helping a little.

HUMANITY: Who are some other people who inspire you?

YO: Everybody is an artist in a way, and it’s great that people can open up and create their own thing. Which will help all of us and our world.

HUMANITY: What other projects are you working on now and in the future?

YO: I will be having a beautiful show in NYC from December 11 to January 23. And early 2016 we will release Yes, I’m a Witch Too.

HUMANITY: Are there any current issues you want to comment on?

YO: “Don’t Let Your Eyes Dry” is something I put on IMAGINE PEACE.com. We are getting very nonchalant about the violent situations in the world that are reported every day. So our eyes are getting dry. There is a coffee shop in Jerusalem that, after a big conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians, gave a discount to people who came in together and ate together, Israeli and Palestinian together at the same table. I thought it was so beautiful and I started crying. And I thought, “OK, my eyes are still not dry.” Don’t let your eyes dry.