What it felt like to play a piano that survived the Hiroshima bombing

Japanese singer Nana Kono shows Seattle teen pianist Amy Pottharst to the stage during a goodwill concert commemorating the 70th anniversary of the Hiroshima Bombing. (Photo by Shiori Usui)
Japanese singer Nana Kono shows Seattle teen pianist Amy Pottharst to the stage during a goodwill concert commemorating the 70th anniversary of the Hiroshima Bombing. (Photo by Shiori Usui)

The airplane glided down to the ground in Hiroshima, and I nervously wrung my fingers, thinking of what lay ahead. I had been invited to perform in a piano concert with the popular Japanese singer Nana Kono.

This concert was significant because August 6th will mark the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima by the United States. The goal of the concert was to demonstrate the goodwill that had been established between the U. S. and Japan by having me, as an American, collaborate with a Japanese singer on songs that were from both of our countries.

I had never really known or learned much about this horrible event in history until now. My family and I went to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum during our visit and learned more about the bombing. The exhibits were moving; I saw images of people whose lives were destroyed by the bombing. Never before had I fully realized that human beings could do something so horrible to each other. I couldn’t understand how anyone could make a decision to do something like that. Even if the bomb ultimately led to the end of the war, the devastation it caused was truly terrible.

“Now… our special guest, Amy Pottharst!” said the emcee. The big moment was here. I walked up to the stage, my hands shaking. I smiled, shook Kono’s hand, and sat down at the piano.

Amy Pottharst, 12, plays a piano that survived the Hiroshima bombing and was later restored. (Photo by Ed Pottharst)
Amy Pottharst, 12, plays a piano that survived the Hiroshima bombing and was later restored. (Photo by Ed Pottharst)

This piano had a fascinating story behind it. Made in Cincinnati, Ohio, it had been owned by a Japanese girl who grew up in Los Angeles. She moved with her family to Japan when she was 6 years old, taking the piano with her. She was killed in the Hiroshima bombing along with her relatives — she was only 19 years old. The piano had been next to a window that shattered from the force of the blast, and I could see shards of glass still embedded in it.

The piano was kept in the house for the next 60 years without being played. Eventually, a group of Japanese people came together and fixed it, believing it was important to preserve the piano’s legacy.

One of the songs I played with Kono at the concert was “Dream,” a Japanese theme song from a musical that Kono had been in. I played the melody with another pianist. After the song was over,with the help of an English translator the emcee asked me what my dream for the world was. I have a lot of dreams, but I answered that I wanted there to be no more wars and peace always.

Amy Pottharst and Nana Kono before their goodwill concert in Hiroshima. (Photo courtesy Nana Kono)
Amy Pottharst and Nana Kono before their goodwill concert in Hiroshima. (Photo courtesy Nana Kono)

The concert ended with the audience of over 100 people joining with Kono in singing “Red Dragonflies,” a traditional Japanese song, while I played on the piano. It gave me a peculiar, happy feeling to play and listen to everyone joining in. It felt like we were all united as a community.

This experience taught me many things, one of which is the evil of war and all the damage and destruction it can cause. I fervently hope one day human beings will have another way of settling arguments rather than using violence. In elementary school, we were taught the importance of using words instead of being physical when we disagreed about something, yet, ironically, in national or worldwide conflicts, we usually resort to violence.

Another thing that struck me was the power of forgiveness. When I was in Hiroshima, I thought that the people in the city would see we were American and give us a dirty look or the cold shoulder. After all, it was our country that bombed theirs.

But that was definitely not the case. I did not receive one unfriendly glance while I was there. In fact, the Japanese people were so kind and hospitable.

The only building that remained standing after the bombing was preserved as a reminder of what happened and became the Hiroshima Peace Memorial. (Photo by Ed Pottharst)
The only building that remained standing after the bombing was preserved as a reminder of what happened and became the Hiroshima Peace Memorial. (Photo by Ed Pottharst)

In the Peace Museum, I read about how after the bombing, Japan didn’t retaliate with anger, but made it a mission to make the world more peaceful. Instead of trying to get revenge on the U.S., Japan resolved to try not to go to war again and to attempt to rid the world of nuclear weapons. That was really powerful to me.

I think that forgiveness is the most powerful weapon that can be used against enemies.

This concert was unforgettable, and I am so glad I had the chance to perform in Japan. It motivated me to help improve the world. One day, I hope that my dream of a peaceful, violence-free world will come true.

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