Yoko Ono (born February 18, 1933) is a Japanese artist and peace activist, known for her marriage to John Lennon (1969–1980) and her work in avant-garde art, music and filmmaking. Ono brought feminism to the forefront in her music (which prefigured New Wave music). She is also known for her philanthropic contributions to arts, peace and AIDS outreach programs. Lennon called her "the most famous unknown artist in the world."
Yoko Ono was born in Tokyo in 1933 to mother Isoko Ono (Ono Isoko), the great-granddaughter of Zenjiro Yasuda (Yasuda Zenjirō) of the Yasuda banking family, and to father Eisuke Ono (Ono Eisuke), a banker and one-time classical pianist who was a descendant of an Emperor of Japan. The name "Yoko" means "ocean child". Two weeks before she was born, her father was transferred to San Francisco by his employer, the Yokohama Specie Bank. The rest of the family followed soon after, and Yoko met her father when she was two. Her younger brother Keisuke was born in December 1936. In 1937, her father was transferred back to Japan and Ono was enrolled at Tokyo's Gakushuin (also known as the Peers School), one of the most exclusive schools in Japan.
In 1940, the family moved to New York City, where Ono's father was working. In 1941, her father was transferred to Hanoi and the family returned to Japan. Ono was then enrolled in Keimei Gakuen, an exclusive Christian primary school run by the Mitsui family. She remained in Tokyo through the great fire-bombing of March 9, 1945. During the fire-bombing, she was sheltered with other members of her family in a special bunker in the Azabu district of Tokyo, far from the heavy bombing. After the bombing, Ono went to the Karuizawa mountain resort with members of her family.
Ono has said that she and her family were forced to beg for food while pulling their belongings in a wheelbarrow; and it was during this period in her life that Ono says she developed her "aggressive" attitude and understanding of "outsider" status when children taunted her and her brother, who were once well-to-do. Other stories have her mother bringing a large number of goods with them to the countryside which they bartered for food. One famous anecdote has her mother bartering a German-made sewing machine for sixty kilograms of rice with which to feed the family. Her father remained in the city and, unbeknownst to them, was believed to have been eventually incarcerated in a prisoner of war camp in China. In an interview by Democracy Now's Amy Goodman on October 16, 2007, Ono explained, "He was in French Indochina which is Vietnam actually... in Saigon. He was in a concentration camp."
By April 1946, Gakushuin was reopened and Ono was enrolled. The school, located near the imperial palace, had not been damaged by the war, and Ono found herself a classmate of Akihito, the future emperor of Japan. She graduated in 1951 and was accepted into the philosophy program of Gakushuin University, the first woman to enter the department. However, after two semesters, she left the school.