CD of symphony composed by deaf second-generation A-bomb survivor reaps attention in Japan

by Yoko Yamamoto, Staff Writer

A CD titled “First Symphony HIROSHIMA” has become a favorite among classical music CDs sold in Japan. The music was composed by Mamoru Samuragochi, 49, a resident of Yokohama. Mr. Samuragochi, originally from Saeki Ward, Hiroshima, is a second-generation A-bomb survivor. After losing his hearing at the age of 35, he spent three years composing the 80-minute-long symphony, of three movements, by relying on his sense of perfect pitch and memory. A documentary program on his life, complete with the despair he has endured and his activities with disabled children, has attracted widespread attention.

In early November, NHK, Japan’s public broadcaster, aired the story on Mr. Samuragochi and was met by a score of inquiries. At one point, his CD was ranked number one in sales at a leading mail order site. Prior to the broadcast, only 7,000 copies of the CD had been sold, but its distributor, Tokyo-based Nippon Columbia, said that the total number of CDs shipped has swiftly topped 50,000 since the program aired.

One staff member of a music store in Ginza, Tokyo, commented, “The melodies are beautiful and seem to inspire people. Buyers, in particular, have been older people, those over 50.”

Mr. Samuragochi believes he understands his music’s appeal, saying, “All of us have darkness inside ourselves, and we seek the light. I think the theme of the darkness of despair, and the light of hope, has connected with people in this age.”

Unable to function without medication to quell migraine headaches and a fierce roaring in his ears, Mr. Samuragochi sits in a dimly-lit room, to avoid stimulation, and produces his music by recording onto sheets of staff paper the melodies he has methodically composed in his mind.

“The light I have found comes through my encounters with others,” he said. Through a teacher of his during his days as a student at Itsukaichi Junior High School, Mr. Samuragochi met a boy suffering from bone cancer and stood beside him until his last day of life. “I was the one redeemed by his strength and good cheer,” he said. Mr. Samuragochi has continued such efforts to lend support to children with disabilities, including making donations from the proceeds of his music.

The media often draws parallels between his life and his music, but Mr. Samuragochi declared simply, “I have no need to be in the limelight.” He added, however, “I would be happy if my story can inspire young people to show an interest in the A-bombed city of Hiroshima.”

When he was producing the CD of his piece, he subtitled the composition “HIROSHIMA.” This decision was spurred by the city’s experience of the atomic bombing, which he heard about from his parents, both of whom are A-bomb survivors. Mr. Samuragochi mentioned that he has been contacted by orchestras overseas, inquiring about performing his symphony. “If music entitled ‘Hiroshima’ can find its place in the world,” he said, “then the hardships I’ve faced will have been worth it.”


Mamoru Samuragochi
Under the tutelage of his mother, Mr. Samuragochi began playing the piano at the age of four and taught himself to compose music. After becoming homeless, and enduring other hardships, he gained acclaim for music he created for video games, including “Biohazard.” It was during this time that he lost his hearing. He composed “First Symphony” in 2003, and in 2008, the Hiroshima Symphony Orchestra, led by Kazuyoshi Akiyama, performed the first and third movements, its maiden performance. In July 2011, the CD of the entire symphony, performed by the Tokyo Symphony Orchestra, was released.

  (Originally published on December 11, 2012)