Messages from A-bomb Survivors: Tamae Nakatani, Part 3

Tamae Nakatani, 69, Naka Ward, Hiroshima

Hoping younger generations will show interest in the A-bombing

Note: This series first appeared in the Chugoku Shimbun in 2001.

I feel empty now. I put my heart into peace education, and talked to children about the meaning of happiness, but now here I am. I see no hope for the future. Calling for nuclear weapons to be abolished hasn’t changed anything, and society is cold to this appeal. I know something must be done, but my health is poor. I offer my account of the atomic bombing only once a year these days, at an elementary school in Nara Prefecture. I haven’t been attending the meetings of the hibakusha [A-bomb survivor] teachers’ association, either.

Ms. Nakatani joined the Hiroshima Prefecture Hibakusha Teachers’ Association when it was formed in March 1969. According to the prefectural board of education, there were about 950 teachers involved in the group at that time, many of whom did not hold the Atomic Bomb Survivor’s Certificate.

Not enough consideration given at schools

There wasn’t enough consideration given to teachers who had survived the bombing. Several times a year I developed a fever which had no clear cause. While others could exert 100 percent of their energy, I could give only 60 percent. Around the time I had surgery for skin cancer [in the summer of 1968], I was unable to take time off from work, even when my left leg continued to ooze bloody pus. After I was released from the hospital, I worked myself too hard and I collapsed at school.

I told the principal that I couldn’t teach physical education, so I’d rather not be in charge of the lower grades, but I ended up as a homeroom teacher of second graders. The principal told me, “You should teach at a junior high school,” or “I can prepare a wheelchair for you,” though there weren’t any ramps at the school. To me, it sounded more like, “Why don’t you quit?”

I was reluctant when I was asked to join the teachers’ group. But the members could understand each other, so I was able to speak my mind. Above all, some of the members had a sense of mission. As living witnesses to the atomic bombing, they felt a duty to promote peace education. The group changed me: I came to feel that I mustn’t give up.

In June 1972, the Hiroshima Institute for Peace Education, composed of university professors and teachers, was established. Ms. Nakatani joined the group as a committee member.

Trial and error in developing teaching materials

People used to say that teachers engaged in peace education were “communist” teachers who taught biased lessons. At the institute, we held study sessions with university professors and developed original teaching materials. We started from zero, so it was a process of trial and error.

After I was transferred to Eba Elementary School, I changed completely and worked hard on peace education. But my colleagues weren’t interested. They didn’t want to do any extra work. When I proposed that we do something with roof tiles that were charred by the bomb’s heat rays, no one made suggestions. I was sad. It took more than a decade for the whole school to get involved in peace education.

A peace monument, made of roof tiles excavated from the rivers of Hiroshima, was erected in the school yard of Eba Elementary School in August 1983. Students donated one-yen coins and decided on a design similar to that of the A-bomb Dome. After my students became adults, some of them told me, “I prayed in front of the monument on the anniversary of the atomic bombing.” I was delighted.

I say this with regret, but peace education based on individual A-bomb experiences will disappear. But I hope peace education based on the atomic bombing itself will continue.

Today I’m struck by a sense of helplessness, more often than I feel encouraged. So I want to encourage young people. They don’t have to be perfect, but I hope they will squarely face the issue of the atomic bombing on their own, because the survivors will eventually vanish from this world.

(Originally published on July 28, 2001)