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The Cheerful Singing Voices of War Orphans


For two and a half years, from the age of three to over five, I was raised by my mother without my father at home. My father, who worked for a trading company, was sent to the United States alone on business for about two and a half years. As air travel was not yet a common means of transportation, he traveled there by ship and did not return to Japan once during his stay. Since we did not have a phone at home, we spoke to him only once during the two and a half years when the small factory next door let us use their phone. I recall that the principal of my kindergarten, who was a man, played the role of my father at sports events.

When my father returned home, he brought with him a phonograph and TV, which were not yet common items in Japan, and the number of electric appliances in our home suddenly increased. I also remember feeling a sense of pride when friends came over to watch TV.

My father also brought home a phonograph and lots of records. Among the classical records there were also some children's choir music by the Vienna Boys' Choir, (at least, I thought so at the time), and I enjoyed listening to the music over and over. Some of the music was lighthearted, and it made me cheerful to hum along.

Much later, when CDs became popular and I was disposing of LP records, I realized that the choir that I thought was the Vienna Boys' Choir was really the Obernkirchen Children's Choir, and the cheerful song that I had been humming was Der Fröhliche Wanderer (The Happy Wanderer in English).

After World War II, a German woman named Edith Möller established a choir with children who had been left in the care of the church, most of whom were orphans. In 1953, the choir won an award when they sang this song at a choir contest in England, and because it was such a cheerful song, it reached the top of the hit charts in the UK and was sung worldwide. My father, who was in the United States at the time, probably bought this record with the famous song.

The cheerful hiking song that starts with "My father is a happy wanderer" must have been a refreshing tonic to Europeans who had suffered in World War II. In the postwar period, such cheerful songs as "Kougen Ressha Wa Yuku (There Goes the Highland Train)" and "Aoi Sanmyaku (Blue Mountains)" were probably big hits in Japan because their themes gave people courage to face the future.

The chorus was mostly made up of children with cheerful voices, so I was quite shocked to learn that they were war orphans. Although they were living with the difficulty of having lost their parents, their cheerful voices resounded with the message that the cruel war was over.

Their cheerful singing voices made me realize that the view of the peaceful future gave them hope and courage to live.

N.B.- You can hear the Obernkirchen Children's Choir sing "Der Fröhliche Wanderer" on YouTube(

sakakihara_2013.jpg Yoichi Sakakihara
M.D., Ph.D., Professor Emeritus, Ochanomizu University; Director of Child Research Net, Executive Advisor of Benesse Educational Research and Development Institute (BERD), President of Japanese Society of Child Science. Specializes in pediatric neurology, developmental neurology, in particular, treatment of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Asperger's syndrome and other developmental disorders, and neuroscience. Born in 1951. Graduated from the Faculty of Medicine, the University of Tokyo in 1976 and taught as an instructor in the Department of the Pediatrics before working with Ochanomizu University.