Yes Yoko, Yes Ako
by Chikako Atsuta
I went to the "Yes Yoko Ono" exhibition with my friend
Steve in early January. Featuring Yoko Ono's artwork created during her entire
career, it was held at one of the galleries at MIT. Browsing through her
installations, drawings and more, I found some visitors staring at me, or
sometimes, smiling or nodding at me.
Since I have been in Massachusetts there have been at
least a dozen times that strangers have stopped me on the street and said, "You
know who you look like? Yoko Ono!" Nobody has ever told me that I look like her
in Japan. It has happened only here in Massachusetts.
The week before my visit to the Yoko exhibition, a
plumber came to my Boston apartment to fix a toilet that had stopped flushing.
He was a chunky middle-aged man with a red nose and thin lips. In the doorway
he asked if I was Japanese. When I told him that I was, he raised his voice. He
had a strong Italian accent. "Do you know who you look like?" he asked. I said,
grinned. "A lot of people tell you that, huh? " He squatted in front of the
toilet bowl happy to find evidence on this sharp winter morning that there were
lots of others who thought the same way he did.
It was my day off and only 9:30 in the morning, so I had
time and energy. I decided to challenge him. "How many other Japanese women do
you know except Yoko Ono?" I asked standing next to him. He was on the floor
holding the toilet bowl in his arms. "None," he said, pushing his arm into the
"When I was in Japan nobody ever told me that I look
like Yoko Ono. I assume that you think I look like her because Yoko is the only
Japanese woman you can recognize. What do you think about that?" I asked.
He changed something in the tank and pulled the lever.
The toilet flushed. It had only taken five minutes to fix it.
"Whatever the case is..." he said standing up. "I won't
blame you for breaking up the Beatles!" He laughed and changed the subject to
his son, who had been arrested for drunk driving the previous night. "Having a
16-year old son in America. Can you think of anything worse than this?" He
sighed and shook his head.
Walking through the MIT gallery, I realized that this
was the first time I had ever seen Yoko's artwork, although I had read a couple
of books she wrote. One of the exhibits on display was a film showing a naked
female body (not Yoko's) that had a fly buzzing around it. Yoko's screaming,
singing voice was the soundtrack to the film.
Steve rolled his eyes. "She's got the worst voice that
anyone could have." A man in an oversized overcoat in the corner stared at me.
I began to enjoy the attention. Just because I have long black hair and black
sloppy clothes on, I wondered if the arty people in the gallery might be
thinking that I was related to Yoko. Wow. That would mean I was related to John
A couple - a white male and an Asian female - came into
the gallery. I could immediately tell that she was Japanese. She was type
I have recently started to categorize Japanese women
living in the U.S. into 3 types:
Type 1: The ones who have recently come to the
States for school. They look exactly like the women in Japan right now usually
with dyed light brown hair, tight T-shirt, and impeccable make-up.
Type 2: The ones who have been living here for
more than 5 years under constant contact - either through marriage, work, or
study - with white dominant American society. They often have long black hair
and a monotone style of dress. I belong to this category. It's the Yoko Ono
look of the 1960-70's.
Type 3: The ones who have been living here for
more than 20 years. They become either highly made-up (flaunting their heritage
by wearing kimono-like clothes and drastic eye shade) or they abandon fashion
altogether and act as though their body is nothing more than a dead tree. These
women are so unique they could never fit into Japanese society again. I know a
70-year old dead-tree type woman who lived in the U.S. for more than 40 years.
She told me that when she went back to Japan for a visit and asked directions
in Japanese from a businessman on a street, he replied to her in English.
Back to the Yoko Ono exhibit. Steve and I were watching
a video of the interviews John and Yoko gave from their hotel bed in Montreal.
Do I like to be associated with Yoko? Yes. She is talented, beautiful in her
own way, married to a sensitive and rich husband. What amazes me, however, is
that Yoko is the only icon through which Americans form their concept of
Japanese women. On the other hand, Japanese people are aware of all sorts of
different American women, from Hillary Clinton to Julia Roberts.
Steve was deeply entranced in the video. He sat and
stared at the images of John and Yoko joking on the bed. I asked Steve, "Do you
think I look like Yoko?" Still watching the monitor he said, "Yeah, you do. You
both have high cheekbones."
When the people see you and me..." I began, but Steve
interrupted me and pointed to the monitor. "Look! Timothy Leary! What's he
doing there!...Sorry, what's the question?" he asked.
When the people see you and me, do you expect them to
associate you with John Lennon? As a guy who is sensitive and cool like
Steve said, "I am a
sensitive and cool guy with or without Yoko."
I said, "Yoko? You mean Ako, right?"
"Didn't I say Ako?" he asked and turned back to the
After watching the video, we went out onto Massachusetts
Avenue. It was freezing. The name Yoko means "ocean child". In middle school, I
had a classmate called Yoko. Her parents used a slightly different version of
the name, which would translate into English as "sun child". Her parents
explained that they preferred this variation since the sun is a symbol of
everything that rises. But the ocean is a body in which objects can only sink.
Steve began to complain that he was hungry. We trudged together through the
snow on Massachusetts Avenue. I began to think how much I liked the name Yoko.
The sound is beautiful whatever the meaning. Be it Ocean or Sun.
Chikako Atsuta was a Japanese freelance writer
living in Massachusetts and a regular contributor to Gate 39. For more information see: her memorial page. More selections from
"Ako's East Coast Blues."
The text is the property of the estate of Chikako Atsuta and is not to be reproduced without written permission.