My Life: Interview with Sunao Tsuboi, Chairperson of the Japan Confederation of A- and H-Bomb Sufferers Organizations, Part 10

“Mr. Pikadon”

by Sakiko Masuda, Staff Writer

Teaching how to live by recounting his A-bomb experiences

In 1957 Mr. Tsuboi went to work at Kumano Junior High School in the town of Kumano in Hiroshima Prefecture. After taking an employment examination, in 1960 he began teaching at junior high schools in the city of Hiroshima.

I wanted to know how kids felt – not just kids who lived near the sea but also those who lived in the mountains and in the city. After teaching at various schools I felt I finally understood what education was all about. I got my training as a teacher by working in different places.

Years ago I was nicknamed “Mr. Pikadon” [a word that combines expressions for the flash (“pika”) and boom (“don”) of the atomic bomb]. I always mentioned my A-bombing experience when I introduced myself. Leading up to August 6 I would take time during my math classes to talk about the atomic bombing. Sometimes I talked about my experiences in front of the entire student body.

After teaching at Futaba Junior High School in Higashi Ward, Mr. Tsuboi was transferred to Midorimachi Junior High School in Minami Ward. While he was serving as vice-principal, the school found a register of students who had been killed in the A-bombing, when the school was known as Hiroshima Municipal Third National School. This prompted an effort led by the student council to interview family members of the victims and former students and teachers who had survived. In 1980 they produced a booklet entitled “Blank School Register.” It is still used as a supplemental reader for peace education classes at the school.

I felt it was my duty as a survivor of the A-bombing, so I accompanied students on the interviews. Some of the students who were killed in the A-bombing were Koreans living in Japan. The A-bomb was dropped while they were out dismantling buildings to create firebreaks. One of them was a girl who died in September. Apparently her parents in Korea could not be reached, and her ashes were never returned to them. Most of the Koreans were forcibly brought to Japan and suffered discrimination. They were made to work for Japan and then experienced the A-bombing. They were hit with a double or triple whammy. I felt we needed to preserve a record of the lives of the Korean as well as the Japanese victims.

Hisaharu Matsui, 58, who is now a teacher at Ozu Junior High School (Minami Ward), was then a hard-working new teacher at my school. He has carried on my ideas, is still committed to teaching peace education and is training the next generation.

After serving as principal of Kamezaki Junior High School in Asa Kita Ward and Jonan Junior High School in Asa Minami Ward, Mr. Tsuboi retired in 1986 upon reaching the mandatory retirement age.

The students said I was the most fun but also the scariest teacher. Looking back over my teaching career, I was in and out of the hospital for anemia and took leaves of absence three times. I really felt bad for my students.

In 2010 I visited the United States to talk about my A-bombing experiences. I got together with a former student who was living there. When he was a student at Midorimachi Junior High School he suffered from a fear of other people, but he was doing really well in his work in the U.S. When he was a student I talked about how I had almost died in the A-bombing and the importance of not giving up. In hindsight, perhaps I was teaching how to live. Seeing the person he had become, I was really happy.

(Originally published on January 29, 2013)