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Pianos for peace: Instruments that survived Hiroshima A-bomb tour north Japan

Mitsunori Yagawa, right, is seen talking to a child while she plays one of the pianos that survived the Hiroshima atomic bombing, in Yamagata, Yamagata Prefecture, on Nov. 9, 2019. (Mainichi/Akane Matono)

YAMAGATA -- Two pianos damaged in Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945, the day the U.S. military dropped an atomic bomb on the city, were played as part of a concert for peace in this northwestern Japan city on Nov. 9.

Mitsunori Yagawa, 67, a tuner at a piano workshop in the city of Hiroshima, western Japan, started traveling across the country in his 4-ton truck carrying the pianos in 2005. On Nov. 1, he came all the way to Yamagata Prefecture, northwestern Japan, with two of the instruments. One is a Yamaha made in 1920, which he calls the Iwata family piano, the other a Horugel referred to as the Kazuko piano.

While in Yamagata Prefecture, his itinerary included visits to 11 elementary and junior high schools for concerts. Takahiro Sato, the mayor of the city of Yamagata, praised the initiative when Yagawa paid him a visit, saying, "For the children to see a real one (a piano affected in the Hiroshima bombing) is a precious experience."

The Kazuko piano was around 2.6 kilometers away from the blast's hypocenter when the atomic bomb exploded over Hiroshima. The Iwata family piano was only around 1.5 kilometers away. Yagawa was entrusted with the pianos by their respective owners in 2009 and 2014.

Yagawa's father, who passed away at age 78 about 20 years ago, also survived the explosion; he was 26 years old when the bomb fell around 800 meters from his location.

"There was talk of exhibiting the pianos in museums, but I think these instruments want people to play them. Through their tones, I want to communicate the importance of peace," Yagawa said. He says that he repaired the instruments, taking care to use as few modern parts as possible to restore them. The pianos still show marks on them from glass shards that were sent flying by the impact of the bomb.

At the piano concert held at the Kajo Central building in Yamagata, there were performances of classical music and choral singing, and opportunities for the children to try playing the pianos themselves were also arranged.

The pianist who played the instruments said, "As I played I could see the marks left by shards that had struck the pianos. It made me feel that these are instruments for conveying peace. I played, feeling conscious to handle it gently with respect to communicate peace."

A 20-year-old resident of Yamagata, who took part in the chorus, said, "A hundred years have passed since the piano was made. The pianos rang with a strong sound I didn't expect from instruments that had been affected by the atomic bomb. I felt the importance of life and peace."

(Japanese original by Akane Matono, Yamagata Bureau)

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