Otsuki Award (Japan)
“The Golden Harmonica”
Ogaki City, Gifu Prefecture Michiko Yamamoto (62 years old, housewife, female)
Photo:Michiko Yamamoto

I met him first through Skype, an Internet phone.
He was a really upbeat guy, so cheerful that I thought he would never become depressed in his lifetime.
One day, he called me up on Skype like always and said, “I’ve started learning how to play a harmonica. I bought a 300-yen golden harmonica for start. I’ll play you a phrase.”
I thought to myself, “How can he tell whether his harmonica is gold or silver when he can’t see it? And do they really sell harmonica for 300 yen?” But I asked him what he can play, and he said “I’ll start with Lightly Row. This’ll be easy enough.” Since he just started learning it, I thought that’ll be fit and decided to listen to him.
“Sol-mi-mi, sol-mi-mi, do-re-mi-fa-sol-sol-sol.”
I told him “Hey, that’s wrong. It’s sol-mi-mi, fa-re-re.” But he said, since I haven’t taken any lesson I wouldn’t know and that he played it correctly. So we got into a quarrel. Even though he has just started learning, I had to listen to his squeaking sound like the sound of a cheap electric saw which gave me earache. I wished he will give it up, but without any idea of my feelings, he made me listen to his “sol-mi-mi, sol-mi-mi, do-re-mi-fa-sol-sol-sol” every day.
And one day, I noticed that he was now able to play the full song and the phrase “sol-mi-mi, fa-re-re, do-re-mi-fa-sol-sol-sol” correctly too. When I said to him “I told you, it’s sol-mi-mi, fa-re-re,” he said back to me “I’ve played it that way from the start. You have bad ears. And I heard that cheap harmonica’s sound is bad, so this time I bought a 1,500-yen golden harmonica. Sounds beautiful now don’t you think?” Since he talked with such eagerness, I told him, “Yeah, it’s gotten much better. I guess it is true that practice makes perfect. Keep it up.” Like the phrase “even pigs can fly when flattered,” my little compliment encouraged him and he started performing uniquely arranged music pieces one after another for me.
But one day, he didn’t skype me for about two weeks. Just when I was thinking that he too does catch cold like everyone else, I received a call from him.
His words “it’s been a while” sounded very depressed. It seemed like it was no time for a joke. And just when I was wondering what to say, he said, “I found out that I have cancer. It seems like it’s near the last stage.” “You’re kidding!” “Wish I was.” In a time like this, I couldn’t find the words to say. I felt my face and mouth stiffen and searched hard for the right words and finally told him, “You’ll be fine. The medical science today is really advanced. And they say illness comes from depressed mind, so let’s live cheerfully and positively. I’ll be happy to listen to your harmonica again.” “Yeah, you’re right. It’s not like me to sound gloomy. I probably won’t be able to practice harmonica at the hospital though.” His voice sounded a little lighter. He was probably being considerate of me not knowing what to do with this mood.
He was hospitalized from the next day for a month but came back once. In a cheerful voice, he said, “Anticancer drug was nothing at all. Everyone told me that anticancer drug treatment is really hard so I prepared myself for it, but it was no big deal. I have a strong body. It’s been a while. I’ll play you a new song with my harmonica.”
He played the harmonica amazingly better, even though he probably wasn’t able to practice at the hospital. This golden harmonica made a gentle and warm sound, like it was conveying his feelings directly to me.
This was the last day, and I never got another chance to hear that sound again.
I think this harmonica turned his heart into gentle and warm music when he felt the end of his days approaching. To remember him always, I wrote a poem and his peer set this poem to music. This song is called “The Golden Harmonica.”
I know you’ve added this song to your repertory and practicing it way up there in the sky. Thank you for the warm and iridescent music.


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