A harmonica band founded 70 years ago by people with impaired vision at a sanatorium for Hansen's disease patients in Okayama Prefecture ended its activities decades ago. The melodies played by the band, however, still live on in people’s hearts as symbols of their quest for freedom and equality.

The band, called Aoi-tori Gakudan (the Bluebird Band), was founded in 1953 at a time when prejudice against the disease was still strong. It was led by late Koichi Kondo (1926-2009), one of the residents at the Nagashima Aisei-en sanatorium on the island of Nagashima, who read braille scores with his tongue and also composed music.

The name of the band was derived from the shape in which chairs were arranged, in a reverse “V,” in the corner of a meeting hall. Band members thought the shape resembled a bird with its wings stretched out, with one calling it a “bluebird of happiness.” The Bluebird Band started out with 13 members, including players of the harmonica, the drums, the guitar and the triangle.