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'Beethoven of Japan' says he can hear again

TOKYO (Reuters) - A composer known as the "Beethoven of Japan" said on Wednesday he had regained some of his hearing ability, a week after setting off a furor by admitting he had used a ghost writer for his popular symphonies and other music.

Mamoru Samuragochi, a classical musician, became known as an inspirational genius for composing despite losing his hearing.

Samuragochi said on Wednesday that he had suffered hearing loss and was not able to hear when he began paying a part-time university professor to write music under his name, a collaboration that went on for 18 years.

But the situation had improved.

"The truth is that recently I have begun to hear a little again," he said in a statement reported by Japanese media, adding that for the last three years he has been able to follow conversations under certain conditions.

Samuragochi, 50, apologized to fans last week for paying Takashi Niigaki to write compositions under his name. Niigaki told reporters that he had also wondered about the extent of the composer's hearing loss.

On Wednesday, Samuragochi acknowledged he had not been truthful about his hearing when the scandal emerged.

"I was thinking only of what would happen after news broke about Mr. Niigaki writing my music, and was unable to tell the truth due to fear," he said.

He said he would appear in public soon to apologize and offered to have his hearing tested by experts.

German composer Ludwig van Beethoven began suffering hearing loss from about age 30 and withdrew from public performances while continuing to write music. He was almost totally deaf for the last decade of his life.

Samuragochi gained international fame for his "Hiroshima Symphony", a tribute to the victims of the 1945 atomic bombing of the Japanese city.

Niigaki said last week that he received more than 7 million yen ($68,000) for over 20 songs he wrote for Samuragochi.

That includes music being used by Japanese figure skater Daisuke Takahashi for his short program at the Sochi Olympics. Takahashi has said he was "surprised" to hear the news, but had no intention of changing his music.

Observers say that part of Samuragochi's popularity was due to promotion by an industry eager to put a human face to classical music and hang on to a shrinking market share as Japanese society rapidly ages. ($1 = 102.3800 Japanese yen)

(Reporting by Elaine Lies, editing by Ron Popeski)

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