Although I really like many tunes by The Beatles and John Lennon I’m probably not what could be classed as a fan as I have never really listened to their music by choice. Despite this claim, I did visit the John Lennon Museum up in Saitama prefecture eleven years ago.
It was located on the fourth and fifth floors of the Saitama Super Arena which is next to Saitama Shintoshin station. One has to wonder why the museum was in Omiya rather than Liverpool, London, New York or Hamburg which all played significant roles in the Beatles story. Lennon never even went to Omiya but during the stadium planning stages it was thought that a daily attraction was needed to entice people there beyond the regular concert and sporting events. The end result was the establishment of this museum to preserve knowledge of his life and musical career. Lennon’s widow Yoko Ono wanted to pass on his spirit to the next generation and help bring peace to the world.
Construction began in 1998 and it opened on 9th October 2000; the date of what would’ve been Lennon’s 60th birthday. The museum attracted over 35,000 visitors a year, of which 5% were overseas tourists which sounds quite impressive given the extreme lack of foreigners at that time compared to the present. A Dutch guy I met in the museum told me that Ono visited at least once a year and would sometimes ring an old white phone placed alongside her artwork where she would speak to whoever happened to answer it.
Museums can be fairly expensive places in Japan and this one was no different with a 1500 yen entrance cost. It consisted of nine zones including Childhood History, Through The Beatles, Imagine, The Lost Weekend (an 18-month period when John and Yoko were separated) and House Husband. Ono contributed well over 100 items of her collection of his memorabilia such as guitars, handwritten lyrics, articles of clothing and a variety of other personal effects. One of the sections included a reconstruction of his bedroom from where he grew up which was interesting as I guess I’m always one of those who likes to see through the keyhole and how other people live or lived.
A fair amount of of the museum was devoted to Lennon’s solo work but of course there were some prized Beatles-related items including a display of Cavern Club memorabilia, his Sgt. Pepper uniform and his Rickenbacker 325 JG with a set list taped to its side.
The last zone, which I think was even named Final Room, was an arty farty one with light pouring through the ceiling windows and Lennon’s lyrics written on clear plastic panels for people to ponder on whilst sitting on clear plastic chairs. Not really for me but I have no doubt many fans loved the hippiness of this area!
After this there was a large room for lounging about and relaxing in that included CDs to listen to, DVDs to watch and a good selection of Lennon/Beatles books. As ever in Japan, the exit was through the ubiquitous souvenir shop and this one offered a wide range of items including postcards, T-shirts, Rickenbacker key rings, watches, books, coffee cups and so on.
Lennon’s name lives on in less conventional ways in my life as whenever I play the ‘Who am I?/Guess who?’ game in my English lessons I nearly always choose Lennon due to the assurance that the student(s) will know who he is. He had a Japanese wife a long, long time before many of us jumped on that bandwagon! Also, each and every festive season gives me the chance to use Lennon & Yoko Ono’s Christmas classic ‘Happy Xmas (War Is Over)‘ as a gap-fill listening exercise in some lessons.
The John Lennon Museum closed in 2010 on September 30th when its exhibit contract with Yoko Ono expired. She felt it was time to move on and didn’t want the museum to be a shrine as his life was all about movement and without it, it dies and becomes a grave instead. When he died she never held a funeral for him as she knew his spirit would live forever.
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