Yoko's parents forbade her from watching TV, reading manga, or listening to anything other than classical music.
Kanno went to a catholic kindergarten. She started playing the piano and composing music at the age of three, hymns being the first music she ever played. Little Yoko was attracted to the image of Christ she saw in books and liked singing praising songs. This childhood experience may have influenced her future music style, called be many people 'vast' and 'religious'.
As a child, Yoko took part in various music competitions, trying to impress adults with techniques they liked. That was when she met Yasushi Akutagawa (a son of literary master Ryunosuke Akutagawa, a talented composer and creator of famous movie scores and children’s songs) who was one of the judges and inspired her to create what she herself liked.
Yoko Kanno never had a musical education; she mostly learned from teach-yourself books and experience. By the end of high school, she was a well-established musician. Apart from piano she mastered several more musical instruments, such as grand piano and tube.
After finishing school, Yoko Kanno went on to Waseda University to major in literature, but quitted quite soon. Turning the thoughts that were oozing out of her into writing, he was thinking of becoming a novelist. As a freshman, she was often asked by senior students to write and transcribe sheet music for them. At that time, she was only familiar with classical music and had little understanding of rhythm. She was fascinated to see a friend's drum set and ended up joining the band 'Tetsu 100%' as keyboardist and songwriter. Kanno was able to learn through trial and error what a beat was by putting herself in that environment. Here she learned the fundamentals of pop music. The band fell apart some three years after and Kanno started composing for companies.
Kick-starting her career at the age of 22, Kanno built on her childhood talent and fondness for the piano and became lead player for a band called Testu in 1986. While she was still in the university, Koei Tecmo Games approached her to ask to create the game music for Nobunaga’s Ambition. This was the first job where you created music to a set environment or plot. Kanno mentioned, that game music back then only had three sounds, so you can really only do counterpoint, a bit like Bach.
She became interested in composing her own scores, producing collections for a video game called Romance of the Three Kingdoms. The first years of her career also sought to focus on producing scores for other video games and films with her husband, Hajime Mizoguchi. In this period, she worked on video games such as Nobunaga’s Ambition (1994) and movies like Asalto (1996). However, what really gave Konno’s career a massive push was an earlier production of an anime score for Vision of Escaflowne (1996), after which several offers came pouring in the anime sphere of things. For the next ten years, she thus decided to channel all her potential and skill in to making hit anime sound tracks for Record of Lodoss War: Chronicles of the Heroic Knight (1998), Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex (2002) and Macross Frontier (2008), amongst 30 other series. Not long after though, she returned to making scores for video games such as Cowboy Bebop (2001) and films such as Kamikaze Girls (2004) and Honey and Clover (2006). An interesting development in her ovationary music career also seems to have taken shape at the same time she became interested in the anime scene. Her first solo album came out in 1998, titled Songs to Fly after which she released several other popular albums such as CM Yoko (2008) and Space Bio Charge (2009).
Besides making several outstanding films, video games and advertisement scores in her far-famed career, Yoko Kanno has also occasionally enjoyed writing jingles for large Multi-National Companies such as Microsoft, IBM, Nintendo, Sony and Toyota among others. A close observation of how fast and far Kanno’s influence has spread in the music world simply proves the magnificence this great artiste possesses. Penetrating several different realms in the music industry and leaving a perpetual mark in the hearts of the audience, as done by Kanno, cannot be done by many these days.
There is some speculation that one of her frequently hired vocalists, Gabriela Robin, is Kanno herself under a pseudonym.
Her music often borrows heavily from other pieces, from a wide variety of sources. Often the entire backing will be used, and only the melody changed. This has lead to some of her listeners to accuse her of plagiarism, but so far no legal action has been taken against her. Examples can be found here varying in the level of similarity. This has led to some fans thinking of her as more of an arranger or orchestrator than as a composer.
Yoko Kanno considers herself non-religious. Although she was raised in much of Catholic influence, she is part of Japanese culture, not believing in one God but in gos everywhere in plants and animals.
Musicians who are familiar with her work often give polarized characterizations of Kanno as either being witch-like or extremely innocent. These descriptions are both accurate, as it speaks to the complex and multi-faceted nature of the sounds which she creates.
Yoko Kanno is attracted to the concept of life and death: what it means to live and what it means to die; she mentions she liked church because life and death had such a draw for her.
She speaks very little English and some French.