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Hiroshima piano tuner to open 'A-bombed piano' museum for peace education

Mitsunori Yagawa speaks about the construction of the museum in front of a piano that was exposed to the atomic bombing, in Asaminami Ward, Hiroshima, on Feb. 3, 2021. (Mainichi/Naomi Yamamoto)

HIROSHIMA -- A piano tuner who restores "A-bombed pianos" damaged in the U.S. atomic bombing of Hiroshima and takes them to concert halls around Japan, is building a museum to display six donated pianos and other artifacts.

    Mitsunori Yagawa, 68, hopes that the museum will be used for peace education. "I would like to build a museum before I get too old to keep working, so that children can come into contact with the pianos at any time," he said.

    The museum, which is scheduled to open possibly in June, is being built on the grounds of the piano workshop he runs in Asaminami Ward, Hiroshima, at a cost of more than 10 million yen ($91,800), some of it drawn from his own savings. Donated materials telling the story of the city before and after the Aug. 6, 1945 atomic bombing will be arrayed alongside the pianos, and a large screen will be installed to show videos explaining the exhibits for possible use in peace education. Four pianos damaged in conventional air raids in Nagoya and other areas in Japan will also be on display, and available for visitors to touch.

    Yagawa, who also restores used pianos and donates them to welfare facilities, is a second-generation A-bomb survivor. His father, Masayuki, who died in 1997 at the age of 78, rarely spoke about his A-bomb experience, and Yagawa was uninterested in peace activism.

    However, in 1998, a piano was brought in through a group of A-bomb survivors. It was built by piano-maker Yamaha Corp.'s predecessor, and found in a house about 3 kilometers south of the A-bomb hypocenter. The instrument's scars suggested it had been slammed against a wall by the blast. Yagawa was shaken by the stories of the damage done to the piano and how it had been preserved, told by the people connected to the instrument.

    The tuner managed to restore the piano using as many of its original parts as possible and held a concert on the A-bomb anniversary in 2001. The reception was tremendous, and he felt it was his mission to convey the piano's origin as well as to make it sound the way it did before the bombing.

    Since then, he has taken that first piano to more than 2,500 concert venues in Japan and abroad over the past 20 years, getting behind the wheel of a 4-ton truck himself to get the instrument to its domestic destinations. His activities have been reported nationwide, and he has now been entrusted with a total of six A-bombed pianos. In 2017, one of them was flown to Norway, where it was played at a concert to commemorate the Nobel Peace Prize awarded to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), an international NGO.

    The piano museum will be strongly focused on peace education. During Yagawa's activities to make people aware of the horrors inflicted by nuclear attacks, a teacher from one school told him, "I'm worried the piano is radioactive. I want to cancel the concert." Yagawa sometimes gave lectures to change these kinds of misconceptions, but the truck tours, which sometimes lasted over a month, were becoming too hard for him.

    "A-bombed pianos produce sound, but they do not impose any ideas. I hope that children who visit the museum will feel something from the sound of the pianos," he said.

    (Japanese original by Naomi Yamamoto, Hiroshima Bureau)

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