Japan keeps Lennon’s memory alive
By Duncan Bartlett, BBC News, Tokyo
John Lennon’s widow Yoko Ono is marking the 28th anniversary
of the musician’s death by playing a special memorial concert
Japan is one country where John Lennon’s memory is kept very much
alive. Beatlemania has never really died. Every night in Tokyo, bands
dressed as John, Paul, George and Ringo faithfully reproduce their
sound. Even though many of the musicians would struggle to hold a
conversation in English, they know every word of the entire Beatles
songbook. Fans of all ages sing along, but only the older generation
can remember the momentous occasion when the Beatles performed
in Japan. They played Tokyo’s Budokan Arena for five nights in the
summer of 1966, with each show lasting just thirty minutes.
Thirty-five thousand policemen guarded the group from their fans
and from nationalist protestors who threatened to disrupt the concerts.
They believed a foreign pop group would “desecrate” a hall which had
been built for judo and other “noble” martial arts. In the end, the
concerts passed without incident, but Yoko Ono says that later,
Lennon looked back on the experience with bemusement.
“The Beatles were a little bit concerned because the people were rather
quiet, so they thought maybe the people didn’t like it,” she explains.
“But then the organiser explained that the Japanese are very polite and
they do not want to scream and shout – they just want to applaud.
“In those days it was like that, but now, of course, the Japanese fans
have learned to be expressive,” says Ono.
The Beatles’ 1966 Tokyo shows were part of a gruelling world tour to
promote their records and, of course, to make money.
However, they also became unofficial diplomats for Britain – a point
noted by the then British ambassador to Tokyo, Michael Stewart.
“In sober truth, no recent event connected with the UK – apart from the
sole exception of the British Exhibition of 1965 – has made a comparable
impact on Tokyo,” he wrote in a confidential memo.
He also praised the Beatles’ skill in handling the Japanese media at a
“Most commentators accepted them for what indeed they are – agreeable,
talented and quick-witted young musicians,” wrote the ambassador.
Junichi Mizusawa, who runs the John Lennon museum in Saitama, says the
Beatles received such a warm welcome because they represented the chance
for a fresh start.
“We really felt that they were singing for us. They sounded completely
different to Japanese music or jazz or American pop, so initially it was
rather shocking,” he explains.
“But young people in the 60s had no problems accepting them because they
seemed to be giving voice to our feelings. It was a new sound that
excited a generation which had nothing to do with the war.”
After he married Ono in 1969, John became a frequent visitor to Japan
and even tried to learn the language. He treasured the fact that the
Japanese rarely intruded upon him and his family.
Since his murder on 8 December 1980, Yoko has worked tirelessly to
maintain Lennon’s image as a music icon and peace campaigner.
Now at the age of 75, she’s back in Japan for an anniversary concert at
the same venue where the Beatles played their legendary shows.
“Now I’m getting philosophical about it, I think that my ancestors, the
spirit of my ancestors, is calling to me saying, ‘Yoko, you should come
back to Japan once in a while.’ So I’m now saying okay.”
Ono explains she has always been sensitive to spirits and feels her
husband’s presence keenly when she is in her home country.
“He loved Japan so much. I don’t think it was to do with his wife – well
maybe a little bit!
“But he liked the sensitivity and the quietness that the Japanese have
and the reason is because he was a shy person.
“I’m sure you don’t think that he was a shy person but he was, and he
related to that I think.”
Ono’s concert at the Budokan will raise money to build schools in Asia
and Africa, and will also feature Japanese artists such as Tortoise
Matsumoto and Bonnie Pink.
Some fans of John Lennon, though, are choosing to commemorate the 28th
anniversary of his death in a more intimate way.
Outside the museum in Saitama, visitors place flowers at a memorial
bearing the word Imagine.
And most take a few moments of silence to remember the man they think of
as their closest English friend.
Ono on spiritual link to Lennon
Yoko Ono talks about her spiritual links to ex-Beatle John Lennon who was
murdered in 1980. She says she has always been sensitive to spirits and feels his
presence when in her home country. She also talks about his links to Japan.
Yoko’s Lennon memorial concert
John Lennon’s widow Yoko Ono is marking the anniversary of his 1980 murder
with a memorial concert in Tokyo. The Beatles played in Japan’s Budokan Arena
in the summer of 1966 – each of the five shows lasted 30 minutes. Lennon’s
75-year-old widow tells the BBC’s Duncan Bartlett why she is back in her
homeland to play at the same venue.
Lennon and Ono’s acorn memory
Yoko Ono remembers the Acorn Event where she and John Lennon planted acorns
at Coventry Cathedral in June 1968. Two were placed in white pots beneath a
white wrought-iron bench – in one of their first peace protests. Fans later dug
up the acorns and Yoko Ono tells the BBC’s Duncan Bartlett how the trees were
replaced and about her recent return visit to Coventry which calls itself the
City of Peace and Reconciliation.