Detours: Magical history tour

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 27 June, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 27 June, 2007, 12:00am

Japan may seem like a strange location for a museum dedicated to the life and work of John Lennon, but remember that line: 'Imagine there's no countries ...' And although the Beatles made only one short visit to Japan, Beatlemania persists here.

The John Lennon Museum, in Saitama prefecture, Tokyo, was opened by his widow, Yoko Ono, on October 9, 2000 - the 60th anniversary of his birth. It's the only Lennon museum to be formally approved by Yoko, and most of the 130 or so items on display were lent by her.

The visit starts with a short biographical film. When your tour group enters the cinema, head for the back row for English- translation earphones (although from August the movie will have English subtitles).

The displays are arranged chronologically into nine zones, which chart the key periods of his life. The exhibits include extensive memorabilia such as musical instruments, clothing, hand-written lyric sheets and other personal belongings. His life story is told through narratives, photos and quotations - the latter from a variety of people who played a part in Lennon's life.

Three of the zones stand out from the rest. Rock'n'Roll, the second zone, takes you into one of the most energetic and important periods of Lennon's development, and includes a great display of old photos, guitars, posters and mementos that reflect the hard-edged style of the early days in Liverpool and Hamburg.

The Imagine zone also stands out. The final zone, House Husband, with its white-wood panelling, piano and other items, recreates the feeling of Lennon's New York apartment, and provides an insight into the musician as a family man.

The walk through Lennon's life ends at a wall that displays, in Japanese minimalist style, the date of his death.

Good as all this is, you may find yourself wondering what hasn't been included. Lennon was married twice and had two sons. Much is made of Ono and Sean, but there's little material about his first wife, Cynthia, or their son, Julian - perhaps not surprising, given Ono's involvement with the museum. Cynthia and Julian appear in just one photograph, with a Japanese caption. (Although the museum's narratives are in Japanese and English, most of the smaller information boards and photo captions are in Japanese only.)

The John Lennon Museum is 25km from central Tokyo, but just three minutes' walk from the Saitama Shin Toshin Railway Station. Getting there entails a 30-minute journey on the JR Keihin Tohoku, Utsunomiya or Takasaki lines. Admission is 1,500 yen for adults (HK$95), 1,000 yen for students and 500 yen for schoolchildren. It's open from Wednesday to Monday, 11am to 6pm. For more information go to