dateline japan

‘Peace education’
is gaining momentum
in Japan

Published Thursday, Aug. 30, 1979, in the Corsicana (Texas) Daily Sun.

By JOHN SPRAGENS Jr.
Sun Staff Writer


School children visit a Hiroshima peace memorial covered with chains of folded paper cranes.

HIROSHIMA, Japan — Invader has taken Japan by storm. Amid the brightlycolored flashing signs of the country’s entertainment districts, an increasing number announce the presence of this electronic space battlefield game.

Even here in Hiroshima, even as the city prepares to commemorate the 1945 atomic bombing, many of the city’s young people are drawn to these multi-hued miniature battlegrounds of a fantasy future. It has been 34 years since the atomic age began here — 34 years in which Japan has been at peace. A full generation has grown up and a second has begun with no knowledge of war except what they read, see on TV or hear from their elders.

History of the World War II period gets shortchanged in the schools. By the time classes reach that point in their textbooks it Is late In they year, time to begin preparing for entrance exams for the next level of school.

In any case, the experiences of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during and after the atomic bombings are tossed off in a short paragraph. The question of who was responsible for the war is avoided altogether. Here in Hiroshima, at least, and in Nagasaki there is an effort to fill this void. Some call it peace education. Others call it “education for survival.” There is evidence of this effort in Hiroshima’s Peace Memorial Park on Aug. 5, the day before the anniversary of the bombing.

Several classes of students from a school on nearby Ninoshima Island, clad in their blue and white school uniforms, are busy cleaning the grounds for the Aug. 6 commemoration. Membersof a seventh grade class from Ujina Middle School are accosting people passing through the park, asking them, “What do you think of nuclear weapons?”

‘You will like peace’

Japanese students use their high school English to appeal to American students:

“Hi! My name is Mika Masumoto. I like peace very much. Do you like peace? Let’s think about peace with us to be happier.”

“Hello! My name is Keiko Chigimatsu. I like peace. And you will like peace. Peace is maken by people. But peace may be broken by someone. So, now, let’s make truth people with us.”

This is part of their summer vacation homework. In the fall, they will assemble the results into a wall newspaper.

Eighth graders from another local middle school are seeking answers to a six-item questionaire on war, peace and nuclear weapons. The results will go on display during the school’s annual cultural festival.

In Nagasaki, students at all levels mark the Aug. 9 anniversary of the atomic bomb which fell there with special assemblies and classes.

Teachers hope the message will take root and grow.

“The most important thing is not to focus on the past,” says Akira Ishida, a junior high school teacher and himself a survivor of the Hiroshima bomb.

“We need to place the history of Hiroshima in the context of the present threat from nuclear weapons and what we must do to survive,” he continues. “So you can say we have moved from a time when we taught Hiroshima to a time when we teach peace through Hiroshima.”

At least some high school students have taken that message to heart. For several years they have been promoting “Heiwa Seminar” — peace seminar — meetings three times a year.

The meetings have drawn participants from more than a dozen schools. They are trying now to reach out to students in other parts of Japan and around the world.

Among the most active in the group are three students whose own lives were touched, if indirectly, by the bomb.

Norio Inoue is a junior at Sanyo High School.

“When I was in the eighth grade, a friend of mine who was a second generation hibakusha — the daughter of a survivor of the bomb — died.” he says.

“I just saw her a few times. She was thin and didn’t have much hair. She often quarreled with other students because they teased her. I heard her say her condition was inevitable because she had an atomic disease. She was two years younger than me, but she looked like an adult.”

Mika Masumoto is a junior at Suzugamine High School. From her mother and grand mother she heard stories of the survivors who fled to the family home in nearby Chiyoda and of the devastation they had seen when they came into the city to search for relatives.

“Since I was three or four years old, when I passed the Peace Park at night I was afraid of the bomb, so I closed my eyes and ears,” she says. “I could feel the victims’ ghosts.”

Keiko Chigimatsu is a senior at Yasuda High School.

“When I was in the fifth or sixth grade, just before Aug 6 a classmate was saying how fantastic the atomic bomb was,” she says. “My teacher heard him and wept. She explained that the atomic bomb was like hell on earth.

“She was a hibakusha herself. It was the first time I had heard the story from a survivor. Before, I had just felt afraid when I heard about the bomb. But after the teacher’s story I felt I couldn’t just be afraid; I had to do something.”

Noboyuki Ohkame, a science teacher who works with the group says the Heiwa Seminar students show considerable maturity in their understanding of the war.

“They are beginning to notice that the Japanese were not just victims, but aggressors,” he says. This realization has been given new life by the stories just now being told about the thousands of Korean victims of the bomb — Koreans brought to Japan to work after the Japanese took over their country.

Reaching out from the other end of the age spectrum are the hibakusha themselves. As their numbers dwindle, they feel an added urgency in the task of passing on their message to younger generations.

Now 70, the Rev. Kiyoshi Tanimoto plans to retire from his pastorate in half a year to concentrate his energy on peace work.

“Modem nuclear war would destroy the whole world,” the spry, white-haired protestant minister says. “It would be total war — the spirit of demons let loose in the world.”

He and his wife Chisa have been telling their story since 1946, when they were featured in John Hersey’s classic book “Hiroshima,” now in its 47th printing.

Their eldest daughter, Koko, recalls telling her mother she was tired of people’s constant questions about the bomb. “Someone has to tell the story,” her mother replied.

The survivors see even Japanese losing the aimost instinctive fear of nuclear weapons they felt just after the war. This makes them feel that the task of recording their message for future generations is doubly urgent.


Photo copyright © 1979 John Spragens, Jr.
Text copyright © 1979 Corsicana Daily Sun
Reporting for this series was supported by a grant from the Hiroshima International Cultural Foundation.


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