Junior Writers Reporting

Peace Seeds: Teens in Hiroshima Sow Seeds of Peace (Part 10)

Part 10: Mobilized students worked hard, unable to study or dream

Have you heard the term “mobilized student”? Near the end of World War II, Japan faced a labor shortage because many men were drafted into the military to address deteriorating war conditions. To make up for this shortage, teenagers that included students at junior high schools and girls’ schools were mobilized to work at military facilities, help dismantle buildings to create fire lanes, and aid farming villages. These were the “mobilized students.”

Such students weren’t able to attend school. Instead, they worked as hard as adults, despite their hunger and their fear of air raids. Many mobilized students lost their lives in the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. What were these students thinking while they did their work? What hardships and anxieties did they experience? Did they have any dreams for the future?

The junior writers interviewed three people who served as mobilized students and endured the atomic bombing. We asked about their daily life during the war to learn about the feelings of teenagers at that time. Their lives were so different from the lives of teenagers today. Through their accounts, we gained a deeper sense of the misery of that war and a better understanding of how precious our everyday lives are, blessed with peace in our homes and schools.

Hard work replaced schooling and studying

Mobilized students were forced to work as hard as adults.

Masanobu Hara worked at the Ozu factory of Chugoku Haiden (now the Chugoku Electric Manufacturing Company in Minami Ward) and used a lathe to process iron bars into bolts. He worked a 12-hour shift every night, from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m.

Taeko Teramae worked as a telephone operator at the Hiroshima Central Telephone Bureau in Naka Ward for eight hours a day. She told us that her supervisor watched over the workers and would scold them severely when they engaged in idle chat.

In the morning, Sumiko Ogata helped clean up the buildings that were torn down to create fire lanes. In the afternoon, she underwent training, such as fighting straw dummies with bamboo spears, or aided farmers in their work.

Ms. Teramae said that she wasn’t so unhappy about her work since she thought it was a way to contribute to her country. However, she said, “Because of the frequent air raid sirens, it was hard to sleep well.” Recalling that time, Ms. Ogata said, “I was always so hungry because our monthly food allotment consisted of rice that lasted only a week.”

All of them agreed that they were unable to study at school or at home. “While I was working, I studied some geography on my own,” said Ms. Teramae. “I wanted to study more, but I didn’t have time.” Ms. Ogata told us that she would crawl under a blanket at night and use a flashlight to read a book so that enemy planes wouldn’t spot her house. “I thought I could study again if Japan won the war,” she said.

Did they have any dreams for the future? Mr. Hara said, “I wanted to become a soldier. But the future looked very bleak because I thought Japan would be defeated.” Ms. Teramae felt that she just had to work hard to help Japan win the war.

Taeko Teramae, 84, resident of Asaminami Ward

She was 15 years old, a third-year student at Shintoku Girls’ High School at the time of the atomic bombing.

I worked really hard and I believed only that Japan would win the war. I was working at the telephone company when the atomic bomb exploded. I jumped into the river to escape, without even realizing that my left eyeball had popped out and disappeared. I continue to talk about my A-bomb experience because I think the tragic days of that time have been forgotten after enjoying years of peace.

Masanobu Hara, 83, resident of Naka Ward

He was 13 years old, a second-year student at Hiroshima Municipal No. 1 Industrial School (now Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial School).

My father died of illness during the war, but people looked down on his death because he didn’t die in battle. It was an insane time. Since I already thought Japan would lose the war and I had no dreams for the future, I was relieved when I heard that the war was over. I hope young people will think about what they can do to create a world where we don’t have to resort to weapons.

Sumiko Ogata, 83, resident of Hatsukaichi City

She was 13 years old, a second-year student at Hiroshima Jogakuin Girls’ High School (now Hiroshima Jogakuin High School).

I remember the students at our school were forced to watch the belongings of our American teacher, who returned home, being burned in the schoolyard. Along with other pieces of metal, I even had to give up my school badge for the war effort. I didn’t think Japan would win the war, but it was impossible to speak your mind. Each day I went to help tear down buildings to create fire lanes and I was always so hungry. It was a very hard time.


Thoughts of the junior writers after the interviews

Seven junior writers took part in the interviews with three A-bomb survivors who were mobilized students at the time. The junior writers reflected on the survivors’ lives back then, comparing the conditions of those lives to their own as teenagers.

Ms. Teramae told us that she felt sad when she saw some cake because she wished her family members and friends who died could eat even a small piece, which was so sweet and tasty. I want to keep Ms. Teramae’s sadness and kindness in mind and do what I can to help preserve the peace we have now. (Kotoori Kawagishi, 12)

Ms. Ogata said that she didn’t always get to eat dinner when she came home after her work as a mobilized student, and she sometimes suffered from malnutrition. She didn’t have time to study, either. But she still felt she had to endure these things until Japan won the war. I think the patience she showed then is beyond our imagination because we have so much food now. (Yoshiko Hirata, 13)

Mr. Hara mentioned that younger generations shouldn’t forget the fact that the sacrifice and suffering of many people in the past underlie the peaceful lives we can live today. I think all of us must consider what we can do to help realize a world without war. (Hisashi Iwata, 14)

Ms. Ogata told us that she never thought about having dreams for the future because, during that time, winning the war was always the most important thing. It was a hard time for her, with no freedom. Today, we live in a peaceful country. The interview made me think about many things. (Kaoru Kobayashi, 15)

As I listened to Mr. Hara’s story, I realized that I take many things for granted about my life now. I’m thankful for the fact that Japan hasn’t been at war for 70 years, and I made up my mind to do what I can so that we’ll never again create the conditions where children are forced to work and can’t study. (Chiaki Yamada, 15)

I was surprised when Ms. Teramae said she was happy about becoming a mobilized student because she then had the chance to serve her country. She saw off soldiers heading for the battlefields, and visited and comforted wounded soldiers. She didn’t have time to study, and caught clams at the river because of a lack of food. I could understand clearly how difficult that time was. (Mei Morimoto, 17)

When Ms. Ogata was our age, she worked hard for the country and didn’t have much time to study. She gave up her own dreams and her memories of a happy life at school. Her story made me realize how blessed I am in my situation today, where I can think about my future after I graduate from high school and pursue my dreams. I also learned that these conditions did not come easily and were built on the sacrifices from that time. (Harumi Okada, 16)


7,200 students were killed in A-bombing

In one corner of Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, near the Atomic Bomb Dome, is the Memorial Tower to the Mobilized Students. The tower was raised after the war with donations from their bereaved families. About 7,200 teenagers, who were about the same age as junior high school and high school students today, lost their lives in the atomic bombing while engaged in work for the war effort.

The system of mobilizing students was implemented on a full scale in 1944 as military conditions deteriorated for Japan. Classes were canceled at schools and students were assigned to work at a variety of locations, including military factories, sites where buildings were torn down to create fire lanes, and farming villages. They became replacements for adults workers because many men were drafted to serve as soldiers. There was even an instance where a school was turned into a factory. Across Japan, it is said that there were a total of 3.4 million mobilized students. (Arata Kouno, 17)

More impressions from the junior writers

It was the second time for me to interview A-bomb survivors. I was really nervous because I’m still not used to conducting interviews and I didn’t want to be impolite to them. But when they smiled, it relaxed me. I thought that the people I interviewed were so kind and strong. (Kotoori Kawagishi)

I believe Japan has been trying not to wage war again, viewing the loss of so many lives in World War II as a precious lesson. However, when I see the news lately, I get worried that we could become involved in another war. At the interview, I realized that, if a war breaks out, men will be forced to fight and students could be mobilized and face many inconveniences. (Yoshiko Hirata)

I took part in the interview with Mr. Hara. As I had only learned about the mobilized students from reading a textbook, I was able to gain a better understanding of the situation through this interview. Listening to Mr. Hata’s account, I got a sense of the reality he experienced, the poverty and other hardships. (Hisashi Iwata)

After listening to the stories of two survivors, I again thought that we have to take over the wishes of the A-bomb survivors because they’re getting older. To help prevent innocent people from again getting dragged into war, I’ll continue doing my best as a junior writer. (Chiaki Yamada)

As this was my first interview, I was really nervous. I also felt anxious because I wasn’t very familiar with this topic. But Ms. Ogata told us all about it and I easily understood. Through this interview, I again saw the importance of a peaceful world. I now want to continue thinking about peace. (Kaoru Kobayashi)

Since I had few chances to hear stories about mobilized students, at first I couldn’t fully imagine the fact that children of our age were once involved in such hard work. But as I listened to their stories in detail, I could compare the mobilized students back then with myself, and I realized how fortunate my life really is. Although I had been taking things for granted before, from now on I’ll be more grateful for the life I’m living. (Harumi Okada)

Through this interview, I was able to see that today we have a very privileged way of life. In particular, I realized that I’m happy because I can live each day in peace without worrying about the future. Because of the war, many young people in the past weren’t able to play or study, so I think today’s youth should live life well for their sake. (Mei Morimoto)

School is an important place for children to study so they can lead the next generation. Despite this, a war started by adults turned a school into a factory and forced children to work instead of studying. I felt furious about how irrational all this was. I promised myself that I would study hard and realize my dreams for the sake of the young people from that time who weren’t able to study or pursue their dreams during the war. (Arata Kouno)

What is Peace Seeds?
Peace Seeds are the seeds of smiles which can be spread around the world by thinking about peace and the preciousness of life from various viewpoints. To fill this world with flowering smiles, 49 junior writers, from the sixth grade of elementary school to the last year of high school, choose themes, gather information, and write articles.

(Originally published on May 28, 2015)