Students of Hiroshima junior high school move the world with video of A-bomb victim and her A-bombed piano

by Ana Nishimura, Staff Writer

An effort by Hiroshima students to tell the story of an A-bombed piano that had been owned by Akiko Kawamoto, a young woman who was killed by the atomic bomb at the age of 19, is gradually making waves in the world. On January 9, three journalists from overseas visited Ushita Junior High School, located in Higashi Ward, and interviewed students of the school’s broadcasting club, which has made a video about the piano in English. Martha Argerich, a world-renowned pianist, has also been involved in the students’ work.

Last year, the broadcasting club created a nine-minute video entitled “The Piano That Loved Chopin,” which features diary entries in which Akiko wrote about the days she was practicing hard on her piano as well as interviews that the junior high school students recorded with people connected to Akiko and the piano. The video went on to win the Grand Prize at NHK National Middle School Broadcasting Contest in 2017. At the end of last year, the English version of the video was produced and released via YouTube.

The visitors to Ushita Junior High School were music journalists from Europe who are in Japan at the invitation of the Hiroshima Symphony Orchestra. Peter Durrfeld, a journalist from a newspaper in Denmark, said that he was deeply moved by the sound of the piano, which seems to convey a strong message. Sai Murata, a second-year student at the school, said, “Through Akiko’s piano, I would like to think about peace with people all over the world.”

The English version of the video contains the narrated comments and images of Ms. Argerich, who played the piano in Hiroshima three years ago. In response to the students’ request, made through people in the music field, Ms. Argerich quickly recorded her comments last November while in Vienna, Austria, where she was performing, and her voiceover was then emailed to the school.

In addition, a CD of Peter Serkin, a leading American pianist, performing on the A-bombed piano will be released worldwide at the end of February. His performance with the Hiroshima Symphony Orchestra was recorded last summer during his appearance in Hiroshima. Mr. Serkin lauded the piano by saying that the sounds it makes can help heal people and kindle their gratitude for living. The proceeds from sales of this CD will be used to maintain the piano.

The Hiroshima Symphony Orchestra has been developing the idea of using the piano at the concerts they perform, both in Japan and overseas. The piano, which had long been held by Akiko’s family, is now in possession of a citizens’ group called the HOPE Project. Tomie Futakuchi, the head of the group, says that she hopes the piano will send out to the world the music and the message that Akiko would have liked to convey.


Akiko’s piano
Akiko’s upright piano, which was made in the United States around 100 years ago, was purchased by her parents when they were living there before war broke out between the United States and Japan. It was later brought to Japan. Akiko was 19 and a third-year student at Hiroshima Jogakuin Semmon Gakko (now Hiroshima Jogakuin University), when Hiroshima was attacked with the atomic bomb. She experienced the bombing in Naka Ward and passed away at her home in Mitaki, Nishi Ward, on the following day. Her A-bombed piano had long been cherished by her parents, but in 2005, the HOPE Project took over ownership of the piano and repaired it. Akiko’s life story is featured in peace education materials, called “Hiroshima Peace Notes,” that are used at public schools in the city.

(Originally published on January 10, 2018)