World War II was the bloodiest conflict in recorded history. It’s estimated that somewhere between 70-85 million people died, about 3% of the global population at the time. That number is too big to comprehend. I don’t think anyone can truly grasp or understand that level of loss and suffering. So today we’ll talk about just one young woman and her piano.
Akiko Kawamoto was born in Los Angeles to Japanese parents in 1926. The relationship between the United States and Japan was quite good during the roaring 20’s. Akiko’s parents bought their daughter a Baldwin, upright piano made in Cincinnati, Ohio. The Kawamoto family took the piano with them when they went back to Japan and settled in Hiroshima in 1932.
Akiko practiced on her Baldwin, upright all the way through school. She kept a diary and often wrote about how much she loved playing that piano. War broke out when she was a teenager. Akiko was 19 and working as a mobilized student when the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. After the blast, she was determined to find her parents. She walked through the rumble and the fallout and ended up swimming across a river, because the bridge to her home had been destroyed. Akiko’s parents were waiting for her. The house had been spared, but Akiko grew very sick. She died the next day in her parent’s arms. Her last words were, “Mom, I want to have a red tomato.”
Akiko’s parents buried her cremated remains under the persimmon tree in their garden. The tree is still there today. Akiko also left behind her beloved piano, which her parents didn’t play or even touch for almost 60 years.
In 2004, the family gave the piano to a friend who hired a piano tuner Hiroshi Sakaibara. Sakaibara set about restoring the instrument using as much of the original parts as possible. He stated, “My mother was exposed to radiation. And just like Akiko, my uncle died the day after the city was… bombed. Their fate was similar to Akiko’s.”
It took a year, but on August 3, 2005 Akiko Kawamoto’s beloved piano premiered in concert. It wouldn’t be the last. Every year since, the piano has been played in early August, near the anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima. These recitals have attracted many notable pianists like Peter Serkin and Martha Argerich to come and perform on this 100 year-old upright, Baldwin.
In 2018, the guest performer was university student, Miyu Nakamura. At the time of her performance Nakamura was 19 years old, the same age as Akiko when she died. Nakamura said, “I would like to spread peace by playing Akiko’s piano.”