While Castro’s hearing loss is hidden, “Japanese Beethoven’s” deafness is feigned

Fidel Castro
Fidel Castro


HAVANA & TOKYO—It appears from two widely reported news stories that Fidel Castro and Mamoru Samuragochi are on the opposite ends of the scale between denying hearing loss and accepting, even embracing, the condition.

Castro, or more likely the government office that manages the public image of Cuba’s frail 88-year-old former president, seems not to want the world to know that he has hearing loss. That came to light on February 10 when the Associated Press (AP) reported discovering that photos of Castro that had been distributed by a Cuban government agency, Estudios Revolucion, had been Photoshopped to remove a BTE hearing aid wire from the former Communist dictator’s left ear. The AP obtained a copy of the original photo in which the wire was visible.

People have been trying to hide their hearing aids as long as they have been wearing the devices, for fear of being seen as old or weak or somehow defective. So, it’s not surprising that Cuba’s PR agency is still trying to protect the image of the man who led that nation’s 1959 revolution and ruled the country for half a century. But the story that made Samuragochi  a legend in his native Japan and now an international disgrace is far more unusual.



Mamoru Samuragochi
Mamoru Samuragochi

Until this February 5, the 50-year-old composer was celebrated in his nation as a latter-day Beethoven. Among the musical compositions that made him famous was Sonatina for Violin, which the Japanese figure skater Daisuke Takahashi selected to perform to in the Sochi Winter Olympics. He also was credited with writing the theme music for the popular video game Resident Evil, and Samuragochi’s Hiroshima symphony, about the atomic bombing of his native city, was enormously popular in Japan.

Beyond the greatness of his music, it was the composer’s compelling personal story that made him such an admired and beloved figure. Like Ludwig von Beethoven when he wrote his Ninth Symphony, said had been deaf in both ears since the age of 35 and never heard the beautiful sounds of his music. While he was best known in Japan, international news media also hailed his remarkable victory over hearing loss. In 2001 Time magazine quoted him as saying in an interview that his loss of hearing was “a gift from God.”

This inspiring story suddenly came crashing down. On February 6, Samuragochi confessed that since the 1990s he had paid a ghost writer to compose most of the music that was published under his name.

He made his admission just as Takashi Niigaki, a 43-year-old lecturer at a music college in Tokyo, was about to reveal that he had written more than 20 pieces attributed to Samuragochi. For that, Niigaki said, he had been paid about $70,000.

What Samuragochi failed to disclose until Niigaki spilled the beans the next day is that not only was he not the composer he claimed to be, he was also far from deaf. Niigaki said he had spoken regularly with Samuragochi, and that the pseudo-composer had listened to and commented on his compositions. The deafness was an act, said Niigaki.

The actual composer said he had planned to go public in the past, but relented when Samuragochi pleaded with him. What made him finally decide to tell the truth, he said, was the fear that the Japanese Olympian Takahashi would be implicated in the scheme.

After his ghost writer’s additional revelations, Samuragochi released a statement on February 12 in which he apologized and said that he really had lost his hearing, but then regained some of it three years ago. Now, he said, he can understand some words if the speaker is close to him and speaks very clearly. However, that description of his hearing did not match that of his former accomplice in the hoax.