One day 45 years ago in Japan, 6-year-old Seiichiro Takahashi was marching from a school assembly to the tune of a marvelous piece of American music he had never heard before.

It began with brass, drums and crashing cymbals, and it skipped into an irresistible beat that was borne along by a thumping tuba. It was John Philip Sousa's famous "Washington Post" march, and the sound reached into Takahashi's soul and changed him forever.

Now 51 and a businessman from Tokyo, he was happily telling this story yesterday as he stood a few steps from Sousa's grave in Washington's Congressional Cemetery in Southeast Washington, having traveled with other members of the Japan Sousa Society to salute the "March King" on his 150th birthday.

Takahashi was wearing a red tie that bore the society's crest -- a picture of Sousa -- and a white shirt that read "President, Research Institute for Sousa."

He was also humming the march as he related his tale, which, in the company of the old maestro's ghost and 30 members of the red-clad United States Marine Band yesterday, was awfully hard to avoid.

Almost from the moment Drum Major Thomas D. Kohl strode down a cemetery walk at 9:55 a.m. with his black bearskin hat, white leather gauntlets and gold-headed mace, there was Sousa music that sparked some form of humming, foot-tapping or hand-clapping.

As Takahashi said, gripping his chest with his hand, it got inside you.

The Marine Band, which Sousa made famous during his 12 years as director in the 1880s and '90s, saluted him with superb march renditions in sunny but chilly weather.

With the clear fall sky reflected in the band's silver sousaphones, the musicians were joined by other Sousa music lovers and many Sousa descendants who assembled around the graves of Sousa, his wife and their three children.

Great-grandson Thomas D. Abert, 42, of Stoddard, N.H., had come to remind people that Sousa was more than just a bearded little man from the Gilded Age in pince-nez. "I just want people to see him as the living spirit that you hear in the music, not as a picture on the wall or just a statue," he said.

John Philip Sousa Pugh, a retired banker from St. Mary's County who is a great-grandnephew, said he visits the grave every year. Often, it is cold and rainy, he said. "Heaven is with us, because of the sunshine and the blue sky," he said.

After the cemetery salute yesterday, many participants reassembled for the Marine Corps' dedication of the state-of-the-art John Philip Sousa Band Hall, part of a new $28 million Marine Barracks Annex at Seventh and K streets SE, not far from where Sousa was raised.

One of 10 children of a Portuguese father and a German mother, Sousa grew up in a house near Sixth and G streets SE, a few blocks from the Marine Barracks at Eighth and I streets. His father, Antonio, was a trombonist in the Marine Band.

Born in 1854, Sousa was a boy when the streets of Civil War-era Washington were filled with soldiers and martial music, according to Master Gunnery Sgt. Michael Ressler, the Marine Band's chief librarian.

Sousa studied music at a local conservatory, and when he was 13 his father got him a job as an apprentice musician with the Marine Band.

Then, as now, no direct military training was required for Marine Band musicians, Ressler said.

"The logic then was the same as it is now," he said. "They are fully trained to do what they were brought into the Marine Corps to do: a very specialized and unique job, with no other specific responsibilities."

Sousa became a full-fledged member of the band at age 17 and stayed until he was 20. He then went out on his own for several years, but in 1880 he was invited back to Washington to become the Marine Band director.

He accepted, and over the next 12 years he transformed the band and American music.

He left the Marines again in 1892 but organized his own bands and continued writing and performing through the first three decades of the 20th century.

All during his career, he wrote music. He wrote songs, operettas, suites, waltzes and dances, according to Marine Band records.

He also wrote three novels, an autobiography and, perhaps most famously, his 137 marches.

He wrote "The Stars and Stripes Forever," by law the nation's official march, in 1896. He wrote his famous salute to the Marine Corps, "Semper Fidelis," in 1888.

He wrote "The Washington Post" for the June 15, 1889, awards ceremony of a children's essay contest sponsored by this newspaper.

Sousa wrote marches in honor of the Boy Scouts, the Liberty Bell, Mother Goose and the Salvation Army.

He wrote a march for President James A. Garfield's inauguration in 1881 and one for the president's funeral after he was assassinated a few months later.

He wrote a patriotic World War I march, "The Volunteers," in 1918 with imitation shipyard sounds that included an ear-splitting, simulated rivet gun.

Sousa died, probably of a heart attack, on March 6, 1932, at the Abraham Lincoln Hotel in Reading, Pa., where he was to conduct the town's band. He was 77.

His body, clad in a Navy uniform, was brought to Washington and lay in state in the Marine Barracks, where he had practiced as a boy.

And as they carried his body out to the cemetery, past the crowds that lined the streets, Ressler said, the Marine Band played "Semper Fidelis" in dirge time.

After a wreath-laying ceremony at the grave of John Philip Sousa in Southeast Washington, Lt. Col. Michael J. Colburn, right, director of the United States Marine Band, leads the musicians in a few of Sousa's works. Sousa was director of the Marine Band for 12 years.Hamilton Thomas Abert, 4, stands on his great-great-grandfather's grave while he waits for the United States Marine Band to arrive.