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WHO Goodwill Ambassador's Newsletter For The Elimination Of Leprosy

‘ECHOES OF SINGING VOICES’

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A song featuring words by Japan’s Emperor Akihito and music by Empress Michiko, inspired by a visit they made to a leprosy sanatorium four decades ago, was performed as a curtain-raiser to this year’s Global Appeal launch ceremony.

It was in July 1975 that the then Crown Prince and Crown Princess visited Okinawa Airakuen, a sanatorium in Nago city in Japan’s southernmost prefecture, Okinawa. After making an offering of flowers at the charnel house, they toured the wards and spent time talking with patients and staff.

As the Imperial couple were leaving, the residents began singing a traditional Okinawan song of gratitude and farewell, called “Danjokareyoshi.” The song is often sung to see off departing ships.

The incident made such an impression on the Emperor that he later commemorated it in a poem written in the traditional “ryuka” style, which he titled “Utagoe no hibiki” (Echoes of Singing Voices).

Danjokareyoshi no utagoe no hibiki
Miokuru egao menido nokoru

[Echoes of singing voices of Danjokareyoshi The smiling faces of those seeing me off still remain in my heart]

The poem was presented to the residents of Airakuen, who set the words to existing Okinawan folk melodies. Learning of their desire for a special melody, the Emperor recommended to the Empress that she compose a piece of music. With the cooperation of composer Naozumi Yamamoto, “Utagoe no hibiki” was completed. At Yamamoto’s suggestion, the Emperor also added a second verse.

Danjokareyoshi no uta ya wakiagatan
Yuuna sakiyuru shima kimo ni nokote

[The island where the singing voices of Danjokareyoshi well up, Where flowers of yuna were blooming, remains in my soul.]

The song was released as a CD last November to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the sanatorium visit. It was recorded by soprano Yumiko Samejima, who kindly agreed to perform at the Global Appeal on a charity basis.

“It is a great honor to sing a song written and composed by Their Majesties the Emperor and Empress. I believe the song demonstrates their warm hearts. They are always on the side of the vulnerable and I respect them very much,” she said.