Sensei no piano ga utta: Futatsu no
piano monogatari (The teacher's piano sang: Story of two pianos)
by Setsuo Yazaki
Popurasha, 1996, 174 pages
This book for middle and upper elementary students tells one of the most
famous stories in Japan about kamikaze pilots. One day two young pilots from
Metabaru Airfield (Saga Prefecture), where they were training for kamikaze
attacks, made an unscheduled visit to a nearby elementary school that had a Hupfer
grand piano. One of them asked Utako Ueno , the
teacher who had the key to the prized piano, whether she would open the piano so
he could play it one
last time prior to departing for his death. He played a beautiful rendition of
Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata while his companion and Ms. Ueno listened. As the
two pilots were leaving the school, another teacher gave them white lilies that
she and her students had brought to school that day to decorate their classroom.
Although the story of the two kamikaze pilots begins the book, the author
focuses on Ms. Ueno as an ideal teacher. In high school she loved music and
English, but she had to give up both of them during the war since the
militaristic government prohibited the study of the enemy's language and
considered music to be an unnecessary school subject. She soon become known as
the "diary teacher" at Tosu Elementary School, where she encouraged
her students to write down their ideas and experiences. The school's Hupfer
grand piano from Germany made beautiful music, and Ms. Ueno had responsibility
for the piano. She loved the piano so much that even during nighttime bombing
raids during the war she would be near it with buckets of water to try to stop
any fire from getting close.
For many years after the war, Ms. Ueno kept the story of the school visit by
the two kamikaze pilots hidden in her heart. However, one day in November 1989
she heard that Tosu Elementary School planned to get rid of the piano, which had
been neglected over the years in a corner of the gymnasium. She rushed to the
school to explain why it meant so much to her and asked school officials to
preserve it. At a school assembly attended also by parents, she told the story
of the two kamikaze pilots who came to visit before their final mission in order
to play the piano one last time. A local newspaper article about the story
generated many letters and phone calls to the Tosu Board of Education and to
Tosu Elementary School from people who wanted the piano to be repaired so it
could again make beautiful music.
Ms. Ueno discovered that within Japan one other Hupfer grand piano existed in
Kochi Prefecture. She contacted the owner Masaru Hamaguchi, a singer who dearly
loved his piano, and he came to Tosu to visit. He knew an expert piano
repairman, who restored the original sound to Tosu Elementary School's piano. After that, Ms. Ueno kept very busy for
two years by visiting many places to tell the story of the piano and to talk
about the preciousness of life and peace. However, probably due to overwork with
a busy schedule of speeches, she passed away in February 1992.
After Ms. Ueno's death, Tosu Elementary School lent its Hupfer grand piano
for two years to the Chiran Peace Museum for Kamikaze
Pilots, where it was displayed there in the front lobby. "The teacher's
piano began singing in Chiran about the preciousness of life and peace" (p.
167). Some people who had known Ms. Ueno wanted this piano to remain at Chiran
as a symbol of peace, but they could not extend the two-year loan agreement.
They then decided to contact Mr. Hamaguchi, who agreed to donate the sister
Hupfer piano to the Chiran Peace Museum, where even now it is displayed
prominently in the lobby. In April 1995, Mr. Hamaguchi's piano once more began
to sing the song of life and peace.
Utako Ueno (left) and
Masaru Hamaguchi (right)
This children's book has a good combination of pencil sketches and photos to
visualize the story. Readers never learn details about the two kamikaze pilots,
including their names, but the author probably intended this since the story's
focus is Ms. Ueno. The author strongly stresses the theme of the preciousness of
life and peace throughout the book, which was one of Ms. Ueno's firm beliefs
that she emphasized to her students and to others when she gave talks about the
piano in her retirement.
1. Her maiden name was actually Matsuda, but the
author uses the name Ueno throughout the book.