toggle the Menu

Yoko Ono: Journeywoman

, 2009/12/16

Yoko Ono’s public persona is one part mercurial, two parts mysterious. She is known for speaking her mind and making bold gestures as an artist and activist. She also has a reputation for being willfully opaque behind her ever-present sunglasses- especially when confronted by the literal minded. Ono has spent a lifetime facing down vitriolic accusations, but no one can accuse her of sitting still. I interviewed her in New York just before she flew to London, where she was due to present a peace prize, give a speech or three, and premiere some of her latest work.

Roland Kelts: I feel like I’ve traveled a lot, but when I look at the many journeys you’ve taken across borders of culture, sex, politics, art and spirit- let alone time and space- I’m humbled.

Yoko Ono: The most interesting journey I have made was not the physical one, but the mental and spiritual. Right now, I am still busy making the journey. It’s not the time yet to summarize it.

R: Maybe the world is finally catching on to your spiritual journey. They are cheering your work in the East and in the West. I’ve heard that you will be featured in the upcoming Shanghai Biennale.

Y: So I’ve heard.

R: But for so many years, you were battling the world’s stereotypes: of women, of Asians, and as John Lennon’s wife. Do you feel that this latest embrace of you and your work is more genuine and complete?

Y: I won’t go that far to say that it is genuine and complete. What are you saying?! As you know, nothing is ever totally genuine or complete.

R: Ah, yes. Nothing is. But you are no longer so easily identified as an “outsider,” and that may pose new challenges.

Y: It may.

R: Leaving Japan and living in Ameirca made you a cultural and racial outsider, at least in the early years.

Y: I have never left Japan. Nor have I decided to limit myself to living in the US. In my mind I live in all the places I’ve been and not been

R: When you spoke at the Japan Society in New York a few years ago, you said that you visited Japan frequently and found the culture changing in a healthy way.

Y: It is changing into a more open society, where people are not afraid to speak out. That’s beautiful.

R: During your student years at Sarah Lawrence College in the Bronx, you were a pianist-turned-composer, attempting t translate bird songs into written music.

Y: The goal was, in a literal sense, impossible to achieve. But the yearning was what mattered.

R: I sense that in your art and music- you’re yearning to challenge lazy ways of seeing, hearing and being.

Y: That’s what artists are supposed to do.

R: It’s something I tend to associate with that era, though- the 60s, experimentation, liberation, seeking realms beyond the dictates of the market. Do you look to other artists today pursuing similar goals?

Y: I don’t know about others. As for me, my artistic search did not start with my life in Sarah Lawrence, nor did it end there.

R: When I read your short article in Rolling Stone following the attacks in New York, I was moved by your memories of the US air raids in Tokyo, precisely what my mother recalled as she drove home in Boston on September 11. She said, “Roland, I thought I’d never feel this way again, especially not in America.”

Y: I have spoken about it…to you, too, I’m sure. Part of the reason I wanted to bring up my experience during the Second World War was because I wanted to remind the American people that other countries have been victimized by terrorism, too- as all military action constitutes terrorism.

R: Do you see hope in the current situation- hope for a new paradigm that eludes the cycle of war, recrimination and vengeance?

Y: It’s not the time to doubt, ponder, and be confused. We don’t have the luxury to have any negative thoughts at this 11th hour. For the human race to survive, we have to come together, initially in thoughts and then in action, to make this world a peaceful place. I trust that we will.

R: You were from a well-to-do household, but you bear memories of hardship during the war- of nearly starving, of having to get by on very little. A lot of your art employs “found” and seemingly mundane objects- umbrellas, rolls of yarn. Is there a connection between the materials you use as an artist and the desires to shave what might disappear tomorrow?

Y: Being creative is using what you have and make the best of it. Nothing more.

R: On one Tokyo to New York flight, I sat beside a 21-year old girl from Setagaya who was headed to Harlem to “hang out” for two weeks. She spoke very little English, but she had the confident nonchalance of a college kid heading home for the holidays.

Y: In the 60s, we had a vision of the word as a global village. You can say that that vision is now becoming a reality. But we who had the vision have never stopped living in that visionary world as our reality. We simply find more people joining us as time goes by.

This story originally appeared in Paper Sky No. 11. Shanghai, 2004.


papersky store

Around the World Pants|PAPERSKY STORE

‘Around the World Pants’ a collaboration be […]

papersky store

Speedo Sack

Any traveler will surely be flying high with this light […]

papersky store

Sunglass Bag

After a day in extreme sun we usually hit the sack exha […]

papersky store

Reflector + Tipi-Carabiner

Reflectors are a low cost but high impact safety travel […]

papersky store

Small Pocket Knife

The husband wife painting unit Hitotzuki painted a mura […]

papersky store

Nara 3 year Organic Bancha

Papersky has selected two of Japan’s best tasting […]

papersky store

Light Towel & Scarf

This ‘made in japan’ towel & scarf is […]

papersky store

Japan Travel Towel

An exciting series of ‘tenuguis’ inspired by Papersky’s […]

papersky store

Traveler’s Coffee

These compact ‘Traveler’s Coffee’ cof […]

papersky store


We teamed up with the incredibly talented stationary de […]

papersky store

Dry Bag

Whether you’re on foot, on your bike or in your kayak, […]

papersky store

Trip Case

We’ve made a functional bag that also looks aweso […]

papersky store

Key & Card Holder

A play on words and the story begins. In Japanese ‘Ki’ […]

papersky store

Zip & Squeezer

This product functions as a kitchen clip and a tube squ […]

papersky store

Pegs & Pens Case

Papersky & garage brand Hariyama Productions teame […]

papersky store

Tote Bag made with Love

In Japan Indigo Dying, aizome often called ‘Japan […]

papersky store


Mackerel or saba was delivered to Kyoto from the Japan […]

papersky store

Insect Repellent Soy Candle

This soy candle is a natural traveling companion. It&#8 […]

papersky store

Travel On! | Klean Kanteen Bottle

This Fresh Pine green colored Klean Kanteen original Pa […]

papersky store

PAPERSKY All-Weather Sticker

These Papersky icon airplane stickers are built to last […]

papersky store

NAGA | Nao Tsuda

“NAGA” is the second publication following “SAMELAND”, […]

papersky store

NOTEBOOK-06 | mirror mirror

Photographer, Miho Kakuta, has put together a beautiful […]

papersky store

HELLO SANDWICH | tokyo guide | Ebony Bizys

Ebony Bizys is a Tokyo Insider from the inside and out. […]

papersky store

Ise & Toba Travel Towel

An exciting series of ‘tenuguis’ inspired by Papersky’s […]

papersky store

Porlex Mini Coffee Mill

Porlex is a Japanese company known for it’s compa […]

papersky store

Flat Pouch

Simple and clear these pouches come in three sizes and […]

papersky store

Kiya Nail Clipper

This travel sized nail clipper is made by the famous kn […]

papersky store


We’ve got you covered from A-Z thanks to one of our fav […]

papersky store

Tooth Brush “BRILLO”

The Brillo Folding Toothbrush is one of the best travel […]


Paper Plane Key Holder

Ojaga Design, a Japanese leather goods maker, creativel […]


Smartphone Stand Keyprop

Keyprop is always on you, and it’s the perfect st […]


NIL | Mt. Fuji Badge

Mount Fuji is Japan’s ‘Mother Mountain’ both for it’s e […]


Papersky Tote Bag

This eco friendly Papersky Airplane logo tote is offici […]


Nalgene Bottle (500ml)

A light weight virtually indestructible drinking bottle […]


Ikeuchi Organic Papersky Hiker’s Towel

Made with organic cotton and bamboo this towel feels li […]

Papersky ‘So Cool!’ Water Bottle

Papersky ‘So Cool!’ Water Bottle

Papersky teamed up with artist Dustin Klein, founder of […]


Juniper Ridge -Wilderness Perfume | Big Sur

Big Sur in a 1 ounce bottle. Perfect for home or trail […]


Harding & Wilson Papersky Original Bowties

Harding & Wilson, a Portland brand, blends a high […]


RIO & BOSSA NOVA NIGHT / live music & talk

Papersky and Osklen present a special Rio de Janeiro ev […]

Traveling Stripes

ALOYE x G.F.G.S. x PAPERSKY Traveling Stripes

We took the classic boarder shirt and made it just a bi […]

Cushion Globe

Cushion Globe

A ‘real’ globe that’s soft! You’ll improve your geograp […]



We teamed up with our favorite Kyoto Carpenter, Yoshiro […]

papersky store

Hand-shaped Skateboard | OKA ‘Natural Traveler’

A sleek mid-sized skateboard with a distinctive fishtai […]

papersky store

JIN’s Cup | Ultra Light Wood Cup

These wooden cups are hand crafted in Kagoshima by the […]


Yama to Michi Outdoor Sacoche

The ultimate hiking Sacoshe bag; weighing in at a measl […]


Chico Bag | Eco Travel Bag

The Chico Bag ‘Orignial’ is the compact reusable bag th […]

papersky store


Japan made Diagnl camera straps are the smart traveller […]

papersky store

Traveler’s Coffee | On The Road Blend

These compact ‘Traveler’s Coffee’ cof […]

papersky store

Stussy Rain Shoes

Stussy Livin’ GENERAL STORE has teamed up with Japan&#8 […]

papersky store

Classic “Paper Logo”-T

In 2002 Papersky teamed up with good friend Benjiman So […]

papersky store

Tour de Nippon Official Jetcap

The official riding cap of Papersky’s Tour de Nippon pr […]

papersky store

Skateboard | OKA ‘Natural Traveler’

A sleek mid-sized skateboard with a distinctive fishtai […]

papersky store

Natural Travel Tshirt “OKA”

After making two awesome skateboards together; Papersky […]

Cameron Allan Mckean

A flood of green, light blue, and smoky brown | Asagao 3

Tokyo’s rivers used to flood almost every year an […]

papersky store

Nalgene Bottle

A light weight virtually indestructible drinking bottle […]

Cameron Allan Mckean

Flowers after a great fire | Asagao 2

There was nothing left after the March 1945 firebombing […]

papersky store

Backpacker’ s Cutlery

Lue from Okayama, Japan hand crafted this beautiful bra […]

Cameron Allan Mckean

The seeds of obsession | Asagao 1 Tokyo Morning Glory

Every year In Iriya, downtown Tokyo, the Japanese Asaga […]

papersky store

Stussy Sacoche

This exclusive Papersky Sacoche was designed by the kin […]

papersky store

Traveler’s Coffee “On The Road” Blend

These compact ‘Traveler’s Coffee’ cof […]

Photography:Cameron Allan Mckean

Saburo Hatakeyama: Keep your back to the outside

“My name is Shonosuke Kimura, but the name I was […]

Photography:Cameron Allan Mckean

Yasushi Nishimura: Binding a tradition together everyday with string

It’s just after lunchtime on a hot day during Tok […]

Photography:Cameron Allan Mckean

Hiroko Ichige: Bento boxes, green tea, sweets and Sumo.

Six in the morning in the old part of Tokyo. The Septem […]

Photography: Lee Basford

Life Cycles, a Tokyo bike story

If you lock your bike in the wrong place for too long i […]


BNE: The BNE Water Organization

After fifteen years as a street artist, American-roots […]

Toshiko Tomita

Toshihiko Tomita: Keirin Ambassador

“Those were the golden years of Keirin you know, you co […]

Ryue Nishizawa

Ryue Nishizawa: Travel from Places to Spaces

Architect Ryue Nishizawa (b. 1966) has become one of th […]

Hitoshi Kawabuchi

Buchi: Skateboard File VII

Hirotoshi Kawabuchi is a young amateur skater living in […]

Motoyuki Shibata

Motoyuki Shibata: All Stories About Travel

I met Motoyuki Shibata several years ago in New York Ci […]


Otaki (T-19): Skateboard File VI

“The idea for T-19 was always in my head. What I saw wh […]

Elein Fleiss

Elein Fleiss: Change Again

There comes a magazine that changes all the rules. In 1 […]

Chiori Yamamoto

Chiori Yamamoto: Japanese Soul Food

Gatemo Tabum is the neighborhood joint we all wish we l […]

Daido Moriyama

Daido Moriyama: Perspective Reach

The second in a new series taking a closer look at Japa […]

Daisuke Tanaka

Daisuke Tanaka: Skateboard File V

Skateboarding needs art as much as it needs skaters. On […]

Senn Ozawa

Senn Ozawa: Skateboard File IV

The current issue of Sb, The 2010 Photo Annual, bears a […]


Hitozuki: 15 Years in Paint

The first day of painting was the coldest but instead o […]

Yuri Shibuya

Yuri Shibuya: Perspective Reach

The first in a new series taking a closer look at Japan […]

Akiko Mera

Akiko Mera: Oxfam Trailwalker

What’s the farthest you’ve ever walked? To the bus stop […]

Tomoko Yamane

Tomoko Yamane: Bento in Berlin

Tomoko Yamane thoughtfully recalls growing up cooking w […]


Deshi: Skateboard File III

“I grew up in nature- my house was surrounded by it, I […]

Wim Wenders

Wim Wenders: Photography of Place

“All my films start with places- cities, deserts. But t […]

Koji Asada

Koji Asada (Lesque): Skateboard File II

For Koji Asada and the Lesque (les-ke) team, skateboard […]

Haruomi Hosono

Haruomi Hosono: Planet of sound

Haruomi Hosono’s early discography contains the band Ha […]

Taro Hirano

Taro Hirano: Skateboard File I

Taro Hirano is better known as the photo editor of skat […]

Shinobu Machida

Shinobu Machida: The Myojin Sento

The final of our three-part series on The Japanese Sent […]

Katsuhiro Kawazu

Katsuhiro Kawazu: Antiques in Nezu

There are many hidden treasures tucked away in the slee […]

Hiroshi Miura

Hiroshi Miura: Wood Philosophy

Japan has an overwhelming tradition of carpentry. It’s […]

Kiyoto Maruyama

Kiyoto Maruyama: Holy Mountain Painting

The second of our three-part series on The Japanese Sen […]


Yoyo: Kitchen Revolution

“I started cooking when I started VEGE Shokudo” – said […]

Yuichiro Miura

Yuichiro Miura: Climbing Everest at 70

“I want to stand atop Mt. Everest when I am 70 years ol […]

Brit Matt Rogers

Brit Matt Rogers: Keirin Dreams

Their colored helmets are a blur as they spin around th […]

Yuji Hirayama

Hirayama Yuji: Professional Free Climber

I first tried rock climbing when I was fifteen- I was o […]


Matohu: How Pottery Becomes Clothes

Hiroyuki Horihata and Makiko Sekiguchi, the design duo […]

Shusetsu Tachibana

Shusetsu Tachibana: The Last Sansuke

With wrinkled and nimble hands Shusetsu Tachibana washe […]

Yoko Ono
  • Advert Slides

  • world & japan maps



  • Papersky Mobile

  • soundtrack


  • URD Craftsman Series


  • Lee Riders


  • Tour de Nippon


  • aandf


  • Bicycle Maps


  • HH working fisherman


  • globe walker OLD JAPANESE HIGHWAY


  • JVC Old Japanese Highway




  • le coq sportif


  • Keen good people town shoes


  • HOUDINI Traveling Clothes


  • TOYOTA small


  • brunobiketrip