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Yoko Ono: An Experimental TCK

A Busy Beginning

Yoko Ono is widely known for her multimedia artistry, music, and peace activism; however, her rich background also makes her one of the most famous TCKs in today’s world.

Ono was born in Tokyo, Japan on February 18th, 1933 to Isoko and Eisuke Ono. Isoko Ono, a Buddhist, was from the family Yasuda, a family name associated with the industrial worlds that fueled Japan’s business empire. Eisuke Ono’s family hailed from a long line of famous samurai warriors and was a Christian.

Yoko Ono as a child

A prestigious banker, Eisuke was posted to work overseas in San Francisco, California, two weeks before Ono was to be born. The rest of the family followed soon after, and Ono and her father finally met face-to-face when she was two- years-old.

The Ono family did not stay in the United States long, as they moved back to Tokyo in 1937. Ono enrolled at the elite and exclusive Gakushuin School in Tokyo and stayed there for three more years.

In 1940, the Ono family moved briefly back across the ocean to New York City until the results of the Pearl Harbor bombing forced Eisuke to be transferred to Hanoi, Vietnam, where he became a prisoner of war.

From there the family returned back to Tokyo, Japan, and Ono enrolled in the highly prestigious Christian Keimei Gakuen primary school. She stayed in Japan through the rest of World War II, where she experienced firsthand the attacks on Japan.

At the age of 18, Ono and her parents moved back to the United States and settled in Scarsdale, New York. She studied at Sarah Lawrence College for a few semesters until she left to elope with her first husband, Toshi Ichiyanagi in Japan.

After filing for divorce in 1962, Ono returned home to her family and to focus on her art.

Musical Career

Ono’s discography explores elements of funk, psych rock, and glam rock. As an activist Ono’s music is extremely political and touches on various subjects like feminism, war, power dynamics, and spirituality.

When Ono moved to Scarsdale, New York she started touring the city and immersing herself in the artistic scene of New York. With John Cage, a legendary experimental musician, as her mentor, Ono grew into her own and developed her own style.

Ono then became involved in a relationship with John Lennon of the Beatles. They started collaborating and released their first album Live Peace in Toronto 1969. This album explored themes of protesting the Vietnam War and greed. The album was a lot more rockabilly than any other Ono album.

Ono then released her first solo album Plastic Ono Band in 1970. This album is one of Ono’s most experimental albums, deriving influence from experimental free jazz artists such as Frank Zappa and vocal performances similar to CAN.

One of Ono’s most acclaimed albums was Fly which was released in 1971. It was accompanied by a film directed by Ono, which consists of a closeup of a fly travelling around a woman’s body. Fly is considered to be Ono’s best album.

Later on Ono released Approximately Infinite Universe in 1973. Mark Masters of pitchfork.com describes the album as “mixed with slow rockers, funky workouts, and show-tune style numbers.”

Within Ono’s more recent music she continues to protest systemic oppression and war. Her 2018 release Warzone consists of re-imagined songs from her discography.

Ono revolutionized experimental music and gave a voice to a peace-loving, renegade, spiritual generation.

Religious Views

Ono stated in an interview with Ray Connolly that she was taught that “God was always watching and that I should confess all my wrongdoings to my mother.”

During her high school years, she felt she identified more with Buddhism but never devoted herself to just one religion.  During this time, she also began exploring mysticism of many world religions, astrology and eastern philosophy, eventually loosely defining herself as “meta-religious” and deeply spiritual.

Ono has stated that she was inspired to be more spiritual after she visited India in the 1960s with her then husband, John Lennon.  She met with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi to study transcendental meditation and was also educated in Indian philosophy.

John Lennon was notoriously atheist, with lyrics of one of his most famous songs, “Imagine”, saying “Imagine there’s no heaven // It’s easy if you try // No hell below us // Above us only sky” followed by the controversial lyrics “And no religion too.”

Despite her husband’s views, Yoko Ono respects the atheist community as well as the religious. Religious groups begged her to sanitize the lyrics to “Imagine” but refused out of respect for her husband’s beliefs as it would misconstrue the message and would undermine his legacy.

While Yoko Ono doesn’t identify with one religious group, she instead blends multiple world religions, ideas and mysticism to create her own personal faith that she’s happy with while also respecting the beliefs and practices of others.

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