A song dedicated to Hansen’s disease patients in Okinawa Prefecture written and composed by Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko will be released on CD in November, 40 years after their first visit to the island prefecture.
The song, titled “Utagoe no Hibiki” (Echoes of singing voices), commemorates the imperial couple’s exchanges with patients at the Okinawa Airakuen national sanitarium in Nago in July 1975.
“It is the one and only song written and composed by the imperial couple, and I would like as many people as possible to get to know this precious song,” said soprano Yumiko Samejima, who sings “Utagoe no Hibiki” on the CD booklet to be released Nov. 6.
Despite the stigma attached to the disease and discrimination against patients at the time, the imperial couple visited the sanitarium at their own desire during their first visit to the prefecture as crown prince and princess.
At the facility, Akihito and Michiko tried to talk to and hear from each patient, and their positive attitude apparently struck a chord.
At the couple’s departure, patients spontaneously sang in chorus a traditional Okinawan farewell song, titled “Danjokareyoshi,” which has been sung to see off departing ships, to express their gratitude.
The emperor was moved by the patients’ gesture as well and later wrote a poem in the format of an Okinawan traditional “ryuka” short poem to describe the scene of the emotional farewell.
The poem was later presented to the sanitarium and patients widely sang the words set to Okinawan folk melodies. Hearing patients’ desire for an original melody for the song, Akihito asked Michiko to compose a musical arrangement for the poem.
With help from composer Naozumi Yamamoto, a friend of hers, Michiko composed the melody for “Utagoe no Hibiki.” Based on a suggestion from Yamamoto, Akihito also wrote another ryuka poem for the second verse.
A recording of the song was again presented to the sanitarium, and patients still sing it on special occasions four decades later.
The new CD booklet was produced in cooperation with the Imperial Household Agency. On it, Yoshiharu Nishie, a living national treasure, plays the “sanshin,” a traditional Okinawan three-stringed instrument, while Kazuki Sawa, dean of the Tokyo University of the Arts' music faculty, plays the violin.
The CD booklet will be released by Asahi Shimbun Publications Inc. at the tax-included price of 1,188 yen ($9.9).