“Nori” seaweed harvester Yoshiaki Tokunaga is a transcendental pianist. (Katsuyuki Iwaizako)

SAGA--A “nori” seaweed harvester found a better way to spend his spare time after being scolded by his wife over his heavy losses from playing pachinko.

After just six years of practice and self-promotion on YouTube, Yoshiaki Tokunaga, 58, now finds himself in growing demand to give piano performances.

Perhaps his favorite piece is Franz Liszt’s “La Campanella,” a composition considered one of the most difficult to play. Tokunaga could perform it within the first year of practicing.

In late September, Tokunaga, who lives in Saga, was invited to give a performance in front of about 30 students at Hakata High School in Fukuoka.

At the beginning of his gig, Tokunaga softly placed his hands on the piano and started gently hitting the first notes of “La Campanella.” Soon, his hands were darting across the keys as the tempo accelerated.

After the performance, he told the students about his job harvesting nori and livened up the mood by performing magic tricks.

Tokunaga was invited to the school by a teacher, Minoru Kuboi, 54. The two had become acquainted through piano playing.

Kuboi said he chose Tokunaga because his musical talent and work at sea would motivate the students to have aspirations in life.

The teacher said he also thought Tokunaga was the only person who could play “La Campanella” from the get-go.

“It is the most difficult piece,” Kuboi said. “His performance is becoming more and more emotional these days, and some people even shed tears.”

Tokunaga started tickling the ivories in spring 2012.

During the nori off-season, from spring through autumn, he often played pachinko, a kind of pinball game in which players can win prizes and cash.

They can also lose money.

Once, over a two-month period, Tokunaga lost 700,000 yen ($6,150) in pachinko, and was chewed out by his wife, Chieko, 57.

Around that time, he heard “La Campanella” performed by famed pianist Fuzjko Hemming and was inspired to play the piece himself.

It just so happened that Chieko is a piano teacher. But Tokunaga didn’t take lessons from her. Instead, he taught himself at home.

He practiced piano at least six hours a day, sometimes eight.

Tokunaga is about 170 centimeters tall and weighs 90 kilograms.

When he started playing, he couldn’t press some of the white keys because his middle and index fingers and thumbs were too thick to fit through the black keys.

To harvest nori, he used to work with his bare hands. But after he started wearing gloves, “the thick skin became thinner and my fingers became slimmer,” he said.

In about two months, Tokunaga was able to play the piano. He also gained some recognition after performing in a competition.

From his second year, he has been taking piano lessons from an instructor about 10 times a year.

A series of video clips posted by Tokunaga on YouTube titled “La Campanella Oyaji’s Chosen” (La Campanella middle-aged man’s challenge) show how much his skills have improved.

The pianist says his motivation gets recharged whenever he sees viewers’ admiring comments, such as: “Great,” “Effort is rewarded” and “He inspired me.”

Tokunaga has also started receiving more requests to perform.

He has played in Kagoshima and Oita prefectures this year, and has been invited to perform at venues not only in the Kyushu region but also in the Tohoku and Kansai regions next year.

“It hasn’t reached completion yet,” Tokunaga said of his playing. “I practice as I imagine how people would make a fuss about me.”

The nori season has already kicked off, but Tokunaga continues to play the piano for five to six hours every day.