The A-bomb Survivors’ Movement: The Past 50 Years, Part 2 [3]

Part 2: Door to Tomorrow

Article 3: Learning about the atomic bombing

by Kohei Okata, Staff Writer

In August of this year [this series was originally published in July 2006], half a century will have passed since the Japan Confederation of A- and H-bomb Sufferers Organizations was established with the Prefectural Confederations of A-bomb Sufferers Organizations in Hiroshima and Nagasaki as its parent body. What are the challenges and choices facing the vision and efforts for peace based on the A-bomb experience? In the final installment of this series “The A-bomb Survivors’ Movement: The Past 50 Years,” we will seek the “door to tomorrow” for human beings in the nuclear age.

Before the summer break set in, a crowd of 324 first-year students, fresh-faced boys and girls wearing white short-sleeved shirts, sat in the auditorium to hear an A-bomb survivor who had graduated from their school recount her experience of the atomic bombing. It was part of a class being conducted at Funairi High School in downtown Hiroshima. The forerunner of Funairi High School, known as Hiroshima Municipal First Girls' High School, suffered the greatest number of casualties among all schools in the city as a consequence of the blast.

The woman who shared her A-bomb account with the students, Miyako Yano, 75, is a resident of Nishi Ward. At the time of the atomic bombing, she was a second-year student at the school. After entering Hiroshima Municipal First Girls' High School, and donning the school uniform she had long admired, a sailor suit, she was mobilized for the war effort, helping to increase food production. On the day before the bombing, she was assigned to a work site in the vicinity of today's Peace Boulevard, which runs south of Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. There, she was engaged in creating a fire lane in the event of air raids. On the following day, August 6, she did not return to the site, but her second-year classmates and the first-year students who went to work that day, 541 students in total, all perished.

Ms. Yano had been troubled by a stomachache since the night before, and she experienced the atomic bombing at her home in Ujina in Minami Ward. Her parents' house was part of Kanda Shrine and she helped cremate the dead, males and females of all ages, who had been carried to the shrine, one after another, and died there. When the school reopened, she was exposed to the gut-wrenching word: “survivor.” Ms. Yano spoke to the students of Funairi High School for about 50 minutes, at times in a tearful voice. She called on the students to “think of the atomic bombing as your own personal concern.”

Hearing about the horror of the bombing directly from a graduate of the school, the first-year students took the matter to heart, making such comments as “Now I know that what I had heard about our school is true” and “The survivors have faced a lot of hardship in their lives.” Later, they all headed for Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. In anticipation of the memorial service, they tidied up the area around the monument for Hiroshima Municipal First Girls' High School, which stands on the right bank of the Motoyasu River, flowing near the park.

Only first-year students learn about the bombing

However, Yasuaki Ikuta, 57, the assistant principal of Funairi High School, remarked about such efforts to learn about the atomic bombing: “We never feel that these efforts are sufficient.” From the start of this school year, only first-year students will listen to an A-bomb testimony during class. Up until about ten years ago, students at the school also had time to learn about Okinawa's experience of the war in their long homeroom period.

Now, though, all that the school can manage is securing time to teach about the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, which is tied to the school's history.

The Chugoku Shimbun also investigated former middle schools and former girls’ schools whose students were, like those of Hiroshima Municipal First Girls' High School, mobilized to work in the vicinity of Peace Boulevard to create a fire lane and suffered a large number of casualties. Like Funairi High School, Minami High School conducts a class on the atomic bombing only for its first-year students. At Motomachi High School, the students listen to an A-bomb account at the school festival. At Kokutaiji High School and Kanon High School, volunteers from the student council take part in the memorial service, but both schools “do not hold special classes to teach about the atomic bombing.”

A survey on “peace efforts” being made by full-time high schools, evening high schools, and high schools providing correspondence courses, conducted by the Hiroshima Prefectural Board of Education in the last academic year on the 60th anniversary of the atomic bombing, revealed that only 40 percent, or 36 of the 90 schools, held classes about the atomic bombing. Atsushi Hirahara, 59, a teacher at Mukaihara High School in the city of Akitakata and deputy president of the High School Staff Association of Second-Generation A-bomb Survivors in the Hiroshima High School Staff Union, said, “We are bound hand and foot by the teaching syllabus for the year. Even if we want to teach about the atomic bombing, we can’t.”

With the “more relaxed” education policy of a five-day school week, schools are pressed to improve the academic ability of their students. They have no choice but to prioritize career guidance for the future at the expense of time spent learning about the atomic bombing, even in the A-bombed city. In addition, there is little demand from parents for topics that do not appear on exams for higher education and employment.

Only 27% offered the correct answer

There has been disturbing data which shows signs of the influence of this educational trend. A survey on the public's awareness of the atomic bombing, carried out by the NHK Broadcasting Culture Research Institute last year, showed that 60 percent of the respondents in their 20s and 30s in Hiroshima gave the correct answer as to the year and date of the Hiroshima bombing, while only 27 percent of the respondents nationally, of the same age range, gave the correct answer. Even in the A-bombed city, just 22 percent of the young people responded that they “talk about the atomic bombing.” The survey projected that “the memory of the atomic bombings will continue to fade in the future.”

Meanwhile, in the United States, the survey indicated that, as the age of the respondents fell, the number of people who felt the United States was “right” in dropping the atomic bombs also declined. (Forty-two percent of the respondents in their 20s and 30s thought that the United States was right in its decision to drop the atomic bombs.) The survey cited the textual changes in American history textbooks for junior high school and high schools, which occurred in the late 1980s, that enabled students to begin discussing the rights and wrongs of the atomic bombings. In its analysis of the outcome, the survey stated: “One of the factors behind this trend is the form of education that has been provided with regard to the atomic bombings.”

Ms. Yano, who shared her A-bomb account with the students at her alma mater, hopes that children will learn about the atomic bombing in a way oriented to their lifestyles. “Adults have a responsibility to teach about the bombing not only in school but also at home,” she said, believing that the education unique to the A-bombed city of Hiroshima will help prevent the memory of the A-bomb experience from fading away.

(Originally published on July 27, 2006)