Yoko Ono has an idea for her -disaster-scarred country Japan — abandon nuclear energy for renewables and tap the geothermal energy beneath the unstable ground of the volcanic island nation.
The artist and widow of John Lennon is in Japan for the first time since the March 11 quake and tsunami sparked a nuclear crisis, and as the country remembers the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
With her new exhibition, The Road of Hope, she says she wants to stress that Japan, having rebuilt itself after World War II and the atomic bombings, can also emerge stronger from the quake and Fukushima radiation disaster.
“Japan suffered the Hiroshima and Nagasaki situations, and now this,” she said in an interview.
“Right now it’s horrible and of course we have to abolish it,” she said of Japan’s atomic energy program. “This is not just something that happened to Japan, it happened to the world. We’re all in it together, not just Japan.”
Like a growing number of Japanese, Ono favors a shift toward renewable energy such as wind, solar and geothermal power, which she said she became familiar with in another tectonically unstable country, Iceland.
One of Ono’s projects is the Imagine Peace Tower near Iceland’s capital, Reykjavik, a memorial to Lennon, who was gunned down outside their New York apartment in 1980.
The stone monument — which has the words “Imagine Peace” carved into it in 24 languages — sends a column of light far into the sky using electricity from Iceland’s geothermal energy grid.
Iceland produces more than 80 percent of its energy from geothermal and hydro-power, and it uses the hot steam from the earth for 90 percent of indoor and water heating. The country aims to be fossil-fuel free by 2050.
“I’ve been all for geothermal for a long time,” said Ono, 78.
Japan, Ono said, is dotted with onsen, or hot spring baths, where steam billows out of the ground. She said that although geothermal energy would be only part of the solution, it would be a clean, safe and obvious option.
“Geothermal — you can just do it, it’s there,” she said. “I think it’s the safest. Japan has so many spas, it’s just made for it.”
“In Iceland in the 1930s, they were using coal and the whole place was dirty ... They started to not have the money to buy coal because of the depression, so then they discovered geothermal. In the 1930s! When I went there, I realized the place is not only beautiful, but it’s also very much independent from the oil people, which is very good. I think all of us can do that really,” she said.
Speaking of Japan’s wider disaster recovery, she said that this time, unlike after World War II, the country has the goodwill of the world on its side.
“After 3/11, I was in New York and I noticed an incredible respect and warmth toward Japan from the West,” she said. “People felt they know Japan by now, they’re friends.”
Ono, an artist, musician and long-time peace activist, was this week awarded the Hiroshima Art Prize. She visited the city, which was bombed on Aug. 6, 1945, and Nagasaki, which was attacked three days later.
Ono, who was a child in Japan during the war, remembered how those cities and the rest of the country recovered.
“It was very hard. Most people didn’t even have a house in Tokyo. Everything was destroyed. But Japan recovered into a normal country and, business-wise, into a very prominent country,” she said. “They did not complain, they just did it. That’s a very Japanese way of doing it ... I say [to Japan]: That’s what you did. You should take pride in it and you should know that you can do it again.”