John Lennon (more popular than Jesus) lives on in Dai Nippon

Trends & Culture - November 3rd, 2000
tokyoweekender_James Bailey

by James Bailey

Sixty years after his birth, 25 after his death, John Lennon continues to make news.

Last month alone saw the wire services carry a slew of Lennon-related stories. On what would have been the ex-Beatle’s 60th birthday, two of his solo LPs were re-released; 200 fans honored his memory by gathering around his star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame, and Rolling Stone released “never-before-heard” audio excerpts from a 1970 interview. Addi­tionally, a 370-page, 350,000-word “autobiography,” The Beatles Anthology, was published; Chelyabinsk, a “smokestack industrial city in the Ural Mountains,” became the first Russian city to have a Lennon Street; pop star George Michael paid $2.1 million for the walnut upright piano on which Lennon composed “Imagine,” and Mark David Chapman, Lennon’s killer, was denied parole.

Of particular interest to Lennon fans in this part of the world was the opening of a John Lennon Museum in Yono, described by Reuters as an “unfashionable town…some 25 km (15 miles) north of Tokyo and at the heart of the urban sprawl that forms Japan’s biggest metropolis.” Located in the corner of “a huge sports arena,” the museum is the “first in the world dedicated solely to Lennon and founded with the bless­ing” of his widow, Yoko Ono, who was on hand for its opening. To the background accompaniment of Beatles music, visitors can view some 130 items that once belonged to Lennon,” including family photos, an old driver’s license and a passport, handwritten lyrics for songs and his trademark wire-rimmed spectacles.”

At a news conference in Yono, Ono observed that “John had so much love for this country,” having visited its capital city on several occasions, along with the resort town of Karuizawa. Lennon famously ob­served that the Beatles were more popular than Jesus, but whereas acolytes of the former regularly traipse to Liverpool like devout Christians on package tours to the strife-torn Holy Land, they rarely come here to retrace the steps of their master and savior. For those of you who’d like to rectify this situation, we offer the following guide to Places in Tokyo Where John Walked (Not to Mention Slept, Ate and Shopped).

When the Lennons came to Tokyo, they almost invariably stayed in the Presidential Suite on the 13th floor of the Hotel Okura’s South Wing. (Currently available for ¥350,000 a night, up ¥140,000 from the rate John & Co. paid). One of Tokyo’s best-known foreign correspondents accidentally ran into John and Yoko near their room and asked to shake the former’s hand, but was told, “I’m not really into handshaking anymore.”

Moments later, the undeterred correspondent spot­ted a room service waiter headed to the Lennons’ suite and gave him a note to pass on to the former Beatle which read, “I appreciate your position regard­ing handshaking. But if you’re still into getting high, give me a call.”

The Lennons would often walk from their hotel to the second-floor coffeeshop located above the Clover confectionery in Roppongi. Seated on a windowside sofa that they reserved before showing up, the family would watch the passing parade below, with John usually ordering two cups of Blue Mountain coffee, which he liked rather weak.

Love of natural foods frequently brought John, Yoko and Sean to Mana, located within a five-minute walk of the south exit of Shinjuku Station, but now sadly out of business. Yours truly used to frequent this establishment, and was told by the proprietor that it was rare for the above-mentioned trio not to show up here more than three days in a row during their Tokyo stays. Indeed, when they couldn’t find natural foods while visiting Karuizawa, they sent personal assistant Fumiya Nishimaru back to the Big Mikan to load up on goodies.

The Lennons’ favorite meal at Mana was a “set menu” consisting of, among other comestibles, gomadofu, umeboshi tempura and gluten burger. A drawing made by former art student Lennon of himself, his wife and son was on display here, along with auto­graphs from other famous Westerners who stopped by.

And speaking of art, Lennon’s appreciation of the traditional Japanese variety knew few (financial) bounds, according to a spokesman at Hamurodo in Yushima, where the millionaire Liverpudlian once dropped ¥20 million during a single visit. Indeed, it seems that the Lennons were born to shop: they once bought every hanger at a boutique, and another time spent ¥800,000 to outfit little Sean.

Alas, despite the infusion of funds, many of the stores patronized by the Lennons are no longer in business, including the above-mentioned Mana and, as far as I know, the Weather Report boutique in Roppongi. But then, as we’ve seen over the past several weeks, the area of the Middle East where once dwelled the second-place finisher to Lennon’s old band in the popularity polls appears to be going down the crapper, too.