Rare piano to return to Yokohama’s Chinatown

by Kaori Watahiki

Kyodo

A rare piano produced in Yokohama’s Chinatown about 100 years ago is about to return home as a donation to Yokohama Yamate Chinese School.

The piano, donated by a 65-year-old woman in Aichi Prefecture, was made by Zhou Xiaosheng, who came to Japan in 1905 from China’s eastern coastal province of Zhejiang and opened a piano factory under the name S. Chew in Chinatown.

Zhou is said to have produced around 300 pianos in the 1910s. The instruments, known for their beautiful tones and decor, were called “Zhou pianos.”

Zhou died in the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923. His son took over the factory but lost it in an air raid in 1945 and decided to pull the plug on the operation.

The owner said she was stunned by the information.

“I didn’t know its history,” said the woman, who asked not to be named. “I’m glad I can return it to its hometown.”

The woman acquired the piano from a neighbor around 40 years ago. When she sought to dispose of it, she consulted a nearby museum that identified it as a Zhou piano. The piano is at the workshop of restorer Makoto Kano, 49, in Iruma, Saitama Prefecture. He will give the final tuning before it goes to Yokohama.

The survival of Zhou pianos was confirmed only recently. One believed to date from the 1910s was found by chance at a museum in Kiryu, Gunma Prefecture, in 2003, and was followed by reports of others in various places, including Hokkaido and Shizuoka Prefecture.

The Zhou piano, expected to be donated in mid-April, is a “living witness” to the history of Japan-based Chinese, said Zeng Deshen, chairman of the board at the Chinese school. “It should be used with care.”