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, "Yoko Ono?"
He 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 bowl.
"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 Lennon?
A couple - a white male and an Asian female - came into the gallery. I could immediately tell that she was Japanese. She was type 1.
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.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.
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.
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 him?"
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 monitor.
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.
(2002/2/12. This essay is on Gate39.com)