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Piano of peace & Himawari choir

November 12, 2015


Atomic bomb survivor plays 'piano of peace' that also survived blast



By TAKAKO ISHIDA/ Staff Writer

Toshihiko Yoshii performs across Japan with his "hibaku piano," an instrument that survived the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, just like he did--although he was in his mother's womb when the bomb exploded.

On Aug. 6, 70 years to the day after the bomb was dropped, Yoshii was the final performer at a concert at Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park.

"Whether it's 70 years or 71 years after the bombing, that changes nothing," said Yoshii, 69. "I want to tell people who don't know about it. Playing the piano is my peace movement."

Hibakusha is the term used to describe survivors of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, while "hibaku" alone means to have been "atomic bombed."

Yoshii's mother was 2.4 kilometers from ground zero when the atomic bomb detonated over the city. Futon mattresses hanging out to dry shielded the four-month pregnant woman from the blast.

When Yoshii was a child, he was examined annually by the Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission--established by the United States--to gauge the effects of the atomic bomb on fetuses in the womb.

At Hiroshima University, Yoshii belonged to a music club, and he secured a part-time job playing the piano. After graduation he worked as a jazz pianist in Tokyo, but never spoke about his circumstances regarding the atomic bombing because he feared discrimination. Before turning 50 he moved to Sakaide, Kagawa Prefecture, his parents' hometown.

He first played the hibaku piano when he was 62, at a gathering of hibakusha in Kagawa. The instrument is a Yamaha, built in 1932. It was damaged in the blast, sitting in a private home 1.8 kilometers from the epicenter. Flying glass shards left gashes in the piano.

"I was moved, because like me, it survived the atomic bombing," said Yoshii.

He thought he had found his calling, both as a pianist and as someone who went through the bombing while in the womb. Yoshii describes his playing of the piano at that time as "a cicada coming out of the ground in its 62nd year." Since then he has given more than 100 performances throughout the country.

Last year, Yoshii and former classmates founded the Genbaku Tainai Hibakusha Zenkoku Renrakukai (National liaison conference for hibakusha in the womb when the atomic bomb exploded). Yoshii sees its role as connecting aging atomic bomb survivors with the next generation.



November 11, 2015


Hibakusha’ choir uses power of song to promote nuclear-free world



By SHOHEI OKADA/ Staff Writer

NAGASAKI--When Yoshiko Hirahara joined a choir comprising fellow “hibakusha” (atomic-bomb survivors), she doubted songs could convey the horrors of nuclear warfare.

But cheers and a student’s note in the country that dropped two atomic bombs on Japan in 1945 have cemented her belief that her activities could someday lead to a nuclear-free world.

On Aug. 9, six years after joining the “Himawari” (sunflower) choir, Hirahara, 86, led a performance by the 50-strong group at this year’s Nagasaki Peace Memorial Ceremony to pay tribute to victims of the atomic bombing of the city 70 years ago. The song called for humanity not to repeat the tragedy of nuclear weapons.

During World War II, Hirahara worked as a teacher at an elementary school on an island off the coast of Nagasaki.

Hirahara and a co-worker were in Nagasaki early in the morning of Aug. 9, 1945. The pair split up, promising to meet later that evening to take the ferry back to their island. Her friend headed toward what would be ground zero of the nuclear blast from the weapon dropped by a U.S. B-29 bomber around 11 a.m.

Hirahara never saw her friend again.

Now, she sings to remember her friend and honor the thousands who were killed or injured by the bomb.

In spring this year, Himawari held a concert in New York, the group’s first overseas performance. After hearing the extended applause from the concertgoers, Hirahara realized that a growing number of Americans feel sympathy for the hibakusha and their experiences.

After the concert, an American high school student wrote in a questionnaire that it was doubtful the entire world would ever become peaceful but vowed to continue efforts toward the impossible “dream.”

Hirahara said she was moved and encouraged by the message.

“I will continue singing as long as I am physically able to do so,” she says.


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