Japan Peace Education!

An opportunity to learn from the past first hand...

 Peace Education

             Dr. Koji Ikeda 

                                                                                                            Hiroshima Atom Bomb Survivor

The very first thing that Dr. Ikeda did when he spoke to us was to describe fondly his time spent in Syracuse New York more than 60 years ago. Dr. Ikeda was the recipient of a Fulbright where he came to the United States to study. He said that Syracuse was his second home and that he loves it. He further stated that not a day goes by where he does not think about his time in Syracuse. Please keep these sentiments in mind as you read Dr. Ikeda’s story.

Dr. Ikeda is now 90 years old and he said his memory is now growing faint about his A-bomb experiences, but he will do his best to recount everything for us. This is what he described to us…

When he was 28 years old he and his wife has just had a son who was then 20 days old. The day of the bomb his wife went out to get a cake of ice for the icebox. Please remember back then that iceboxes were common, people did not use the types of freezers we have today. Soon after she left the explosion came. First he recalls, “the blinding flash, and then the blasting wave, and worst of all the radiation.” He waited for his wife to return with his son, for some thirty minutes or so, when at last she came back her hair was all burned away. Her face was entirely red and covered in blisters. It was a miracle that she was standing before him. Because he had their days old son in his arms with no way to feed him, he handed the baby over to his wife, as even in her condition she wanted to breast feed him. When she opened her shirt her breasts were “all burned down” and covered with blisters. The boy began to feed in spite of all of this. As Dr. Ikeda examined his wife’s condition he found that her chest was covered in these blisters and water was all over her breasts. Some time later the blisters went away and the child was still feeding from her, with his hands grasping her raw flesh and he hurt her. She bore it. Such things where everywhere in Hiroshima at this time…

The blinding flash and then the heat wave… Many people were in the open at that time and they too were covered with burns. Some were in shock as the heat was so severe and It was unbearable. Dr. Ikeda described how many people went into the river to die. One by one they went down the river. He described that in spite of the fact that all of these people were almost naked one could not identify women from men because they were so burned and insane. All they wanted in these moments to have some water and coolness. In those days Hiroshima had branching rivers some were deep and some not so deep. However when the blast came… the rivers went dry. All up and down the river not a drop of water was found. The water did come back… surging water in the river and there many people died. 

Up the river the red rain began to fall. Much dust and debris flew into the sky. It mixed with the water vapor and in some places this dust came down as black rain. This rain burned people’s skin as it made contact. In a day or two the people who suffered from the black rain fell down and died.

The thing that appeared to shock Dr. Ikeda the most was not the carnage he described above but the apparent lack of caring and help the people received after they fell victim to the bomb. Dr. Ikeda described how he was a descendant of the ancient Samurai and how in the Samurai way there was a degree of compassion that he did not see after the destruction laid by the bomb.

“Before the atomic bomb they didn’t notice us. They were unprepared… quite unprepared. The Americans did think in some way how remedy this. But nothing was available. The destruction came. We had other Japanese government medical… began to … carry bodies but the Americans did nothing. When this bomb came to Hiroshima they just collected data… nothing but data. No treatment at all.” 

He asked himself, “Why didn’t the Americans treat us at all?” They just took data... Dr. Ikeda believes that war causes hatred and that they hated the Japanese at that time. He recalled how they referred to them as, “Japs or Nips or something like that”. He lamented that the Japanese were also human beings, even within this hatred. Hatred breeds hatred and at that time he believes that many Hiroshima people came to be hostile to Americans because they didn’t help the wounded people. The didn’t give any information about precautions or information about treatment. He said the Americans came in and were present, but all they did was collect data about the effects of the bomb. “Nothing but data”. Dr. Ikeda spoke about the collection of data and lack of help repeatedly in his presentation. I think this scarred him as much or more than the physical wounds from the bomb. 

He also spoke to us about the fact that many of the hibakusha are now dying. That several years ago there were about 17,000 hibakusha and now that number is diminishing. After the war he said that they organized their society of hibakusha. He considers himself a “least” survivor, and said there were much “heavier” ones. One of the things that hit them the most after the war was the discrimination against hibakusha. He affirmed that many young people were rejected as spouses and many people’s employment was also destroyed. The effects of the war lingered on well past the time the war was officially over. 

He stated that today they are almost living in normal conditions. That he suffers as his body has many aches and pains and that he still feels the effects of trauma to his brain and the loss of his eye. But he also stated that he feels the Americans are suffering too. He said he thinks America will be greater of they reflect on the events in the past. He says he holds no grudge against America. He quoted Matthew 26:52- “He who lives by the sword dies by the sword.” in a reflection about the war that the United States is in now. 

"In the middle east all over the world… in many places. When they are doing their job in such a way as a dictator things will not go well. After the war everything came on the United States… we know that. And I think that the necessary thing was for the Americans to help something more… for them as for the world. Especially when from the bible we know that those who stood with a sword must die with a sword. So… with the atomic bomb… it may destroy America someday. So… I hope such a thing will not happen to the United States. Since in the minds of men … war is ?? so it is in the minds of men… peace must be constructed. That was first a concept of the UN." 

He closed his speech by saying, "I must live as long as I can live so as long as I live there must be peace. That is what I today… tell you people… Well I must finish here. Thank you.".

Tomoko Yanagi

                Daughter of an Atom Bomb Survivor

Tomoko Yanagi is a high school teacher in western Hiroshima. She introduced herself as a ”hibaku nisei” (second generation atomic bomb survivor). This is the common way of speaking about the sons and daughters of surviors. Likewise, the Japanese have a word for the survivors of the atom bomb, “hibakusha”. Her father was a hibakusha of the bomb that fell in Hiroshima.

Her father was 14 years old when the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. It is a miracle that he survied as he was only one mile from epicenter. Most people were killed instantly this close to the center. The only reason he survived was because he was behind a high wall. After the initial blast he had a very bad head injury and lost consciousness. When he regained consciousness, what he described was hell all around him. He fled to his parents house some thirteen miles away. During his journey he had to pass through downtown which was totally destroyed… many people dead and dying. 

Experiences such as this left very deep mental wounds as well as physical ones in the survivors. These survivors did not want to talk about the experience until much later in their lives. This was due to many reasons. Most did not think they were lucky to have survived, instead they blamed themselves for surviving. 

Ms. Yanagi told us the story of a girl who did not go to school the day the bomb was dropped and this is the only reason why she survived. Most of us would consider her lucky, however, even after more than sixty years she still continues to blame herself for being alive, although most of her friends were killed. To this day still thinks she should have gone to school that day to have died with her friends. 

Another reason why many of the survivors feel they should have died is that just after the bombing many of them were very helpless. They had almost no ability to care for themselves, let alone others. This forced many of them to ignore a multitude of cries for help. These cries continue to haunt them to this day.

I was fortunate enough to purchase a movie called the Mushroom Club. The name mushroom comes from the look of the cloud of the atom bomb. The “club” is formed of hibakusha, survivors of the bomb. The film features five survivors of various generations. The oldest one is a woman who was a newlywed wife and tearfully describes how she had always thought of herself as good person before the war… but until this day she is haunted by the fact that she had to ignore people who were pleading for help. I don’t think any of us can truly imagine what this type of pain is like.

These are some of the reasons why hibakusha’s did not want to discuss their experiences. Additionally, there was deep seeded discrimination of hibakusha and their children. Many people believed that the illness from radiation was contagious. Survivors had difficulty finding and holding down jobs as well as finding places to live. In addition their children were also considered unhealthy or dirty. Ms. Yanagi did not have this experience herself , but she said many second generation survivors had trouble getting married. She said her father did not talk about his experiences for forty year to protect his two daughters so they could get married.

The devastation of the atom bomb begins with heat, then a deep blast and finally with radioactivity. It is this radioactivity that is distinctive to the atom bomb. Its effects are immeasurable. Even now not everything is clear and known about its effects. These effects have tormented the survivors for a long time and have now compelled many of them to speak out about their experiences. The people in Hiroshima did not know that they were hit by an atomic bomb at first. The people had no knowledge or fear of radioactivity, they thought it was just a normal bomb. Ms. Yanagi described that it was not until a doctor saw that his x-ray film was all white that the realization that it was radiation sunk in. If people had been informed that Hiroshima was dangerous to enter… she thinks many who were exposed by entering would have been kept out therebye reducing the number of victims. 350,000 people lived in Hiroshima before the bomb fell, a third of these died by the end of 1945. Approximately 140,000 lives were lost in that city alone.

Still even after sixty years there are many lawsuits for survivors to get accreditation as hibakushas. Some of them did not apply and are now suffering from diseases that may relate back to radiation. Ms. Yanagi described one type of atomic bomb disease that was caused from being exposed to radiation in mother’s wombs. It caused some severe mental defects. In many cases the parents of these children tried to hide them because of discrimination. These are the youngest victims. Most of these children are now 60-62 years old now. The surviving parents are deeply concerned about who will take care of these children after they die, as they are unable to care for themselves. Last year Ms. Yanagi herself suffered from thyroid cance. Thyroid cancer this is a common disease of hibakushas and chernobal accident survivors. Her father is deeply concerned that his being a hibakusha caused her to fall ill. Unfortunately this February the Japanese government made an official announcement that physical effects were not found in children of hibakusha. Many people are saying it is too early for this conclusion. The debate rages on while numerous people are suffering.

Growing up in Japan, and particularly growing up in Hiroshima Ms. Yanagi was only used to seeing one side of the events in Hiroshima – the victim’s perspective, however on a trip to Singapore she saw another perspective. Singapore had been a British territory prior to 1941, however at that time Japan occupied the country. Life was terrible for the people of Singapore under this occupation.This was not something that the Japanese people were exposed to in their education. At the museum Ms. Yanagi visited, there was a whole room dedicated to the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. What shocked her most was that in Singapore atomic bombing was not seen as a tragedy it was seen as a great thing and welcome by the people of Singapore… it brought the occupation to an end and freed the people. This revelation opened her eyes to the actions of her country.

Additionally, Korea has a history of being invaded by Japan. Ms. Yanagi took her students to Korea where they visited a jail that was used to torture Koreans who voiced anti-Japanese sentiment. A history of severe persecution was evident in what they saw there. This shocked her students. Korean pop-culture is very popular in Japan. On the surface it looks like these two countries have a good relationship, however, in some ways Ms. Yanagi feels that Japan is not really forgiven by the Korean people. 

As far as the current practices of education in Japan, when Ms. Yanagi was younger the teachers would teach the negative impact of Japan on other countries, however, if this happens now they are criticized for being too liberal or too unpatriotic. Teachers are required to teach things that cultivate patriotism in the students. This causes her and other fellow teachers some dilemma. Of course this depends where one is living, but as Ms. Yanagi pointed out to teach children the details of the bombing might be considered unpatriotic in United States as well. 

Ms. Yanagi firmly believes that there has to be a way as teachers to agree to want to live in a peaceful world. And further more that we all want our students to live in a peaceful world. For this reason she hopes that teaching students to look at this past is not seen as unpatriotic. What do you, the reader think?

In order to achieve this end there is a lot of peace education in Hiroshima. One such example is the Children’s Peace Summit on August 6th for elementary school students. (August 6th is the day that the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima.) This summit consists of a large speech contest for 6th graders from elementary schools in Hiroshima. The students meet and make speechers on the subject of peace. Each of the boys and girls are delegated to make a commitment to peace. One example is a Japanese girl who has parents of both American and Japanese descent. She pledged to be a go-between for both nations.

Each school has its own styles and curriculums. Most have some form of peace assembly in the summer, usually on August 6th. The main activity seen at these assemblies is the folding of paper cranes in dedication to children’s peace monument. This is a monument in memory of name a little girl named Sadako Sasaki who died of radiation induced leukemia after folding more than 900 paper cranes. The folding of the cranes is based on the belief that folding 1,000 paper cranes is said to make people’s wishes come true. Many people dedicate paper cranes to this monument. Ms. Yanagi thinks that all children should try to fold a paper crane as it symbolizes the children’s prayer for peace. Many Japanese people find the folding of cranes to be easy, but I found it very difficult! I did bring back some of the special paper used for this, but I am not very good at it! Since Sadako died many people have donated paper cranes to the Children’s Peace Monument. Today the paper cranes dedicated to the moment are now exhibited. 

Part of peace education is listening to hibakushas. This is also done at the elementary level, in middle schools and at the peace memorials. As mentioned before many hibakushas did not want to talk about their experiences until long after the bombing. But many of the hibakushas are nowgrowing very old. As of 2007, the average age is around seventy-five years old. The number of victims who really experienced a true fear of nuclear weapons is now decreasing. Now hibakushas are worried that the tragedy might be being forgetten and thus repeated. They feel it is their duty to pass on their experiences. Sometimes their purpose of speaking about their experiences is misunderstood, especially by foreigners. The do NOT speak because they bear a grudge against the United States, but instead they speak because they want to show their wishes for world peace. They believe that the world will not repeat these mistakes if the people of the world come together with mutual understanding and dialogue.
Today children read memoirs of hibakushas. Children also practice reading them aloud to become the hibakusha’s advocates. Many people recommends that people overseas do the same thing in English. Many are lending the English versions of hibakusha’s memoirs to people overseas to express damage done by atomic bomb. Those of us who were fortunate enough to attend this peace seminar were given copies of some of these memoirs in English and we were given the opportunity to buy some books on the subject as well. I did purchase these and have them available in my classroom for all to read and learn from. Additionally, readers can download some from the internet as well. The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum’s Website has some terrific memoirs and other information. 

The Hiroshima Peace Museum is holding peace lectures to Japanese high school students who travel abroad before they leave so they can explain to others about Hiroshima in English. If you meet any Japanese students from Hiroshima be sure to ask them many questions about Hiroshima. Of course, as Ms. Yanagi pointed out some may not be able to explain well, due to lack of knowledge, but Ms Yanagi believes that if they do realize they do not have enough knowledge they will think they need to study more about Hiroshima and English.. 

Ms. Yanagi continues to teach students that the importance of life will make some change in the world... no matter how small that change may be. Now that she has had the chance to talk to American educators she has also started to feel that perhaps she has also contributed to a very small change. She was very happy to be given the opportunity to speak to us. And she wishes that we will convey her thoughts and ours to our students. And lastly, she thinks it would be wonderful if these wishes for world peace would expand as the grasses grow. I couldn’t agree more and I hope that by building this website I have helped her to spread her message.

The conference was opened by an introduction from JFMF’s David H Satterwhite the moderator of this seminar. Dr. Satterwhite reminded all of us that in the spirit of what Senator Fulbright believed that part of the JFMF program should be in the interest of preventing future wars by deepening understanding of people in different cultures. The moral and ethical issues surrounding the events in Hiroshima and Nagisaki remain with us today. There is no clear cut answer. Debates continue within the scientific communities, among academics and longstanding philosophical debates continue over the ethical implications.

By learning about the events of the past and talking about them we have an opportunity to reflect on these issues, to reflect on peace together as Japanese and Americans. The executive director of Fulbright commission has a direct interest in this. Our nation as a global “peacekeeper” has been at war many times since WWII and many of these have created great division within our country. Perhaps by learning more and educating all of the world’s citizens we can help to prevent such division, pain and suffering in the future.

After the introduction three speakers graciously gave us their knowledge of bombings of Hiroshima and Nagisaki.

​Of the many seminars we attended, people we met and places we visited, the one that will hold the most impact in my life is attending the seminar in Peace Education. I knew walking in that this seminar would be discussing the Japanese perspective of the bombings in Hiroshima and Nagisaki. As an American I fully understood and expected there to be some anger on the parts of the participants towards the United States. I felt a bit uncomfortable walking in under these circumstances.

One of the most telling things about the Japanese was the utter lack of anger or hostility towards today's America as well as the Americans that dropped those bombs. Instead there was a deep sense of sadness and apology for the actions of the Japanese that led to these events.

The main emotion that I witnessed was a deep seeded need, even compulsion to share their experiences so that others can learn from what happened in the past so that no matter what happens in the future these events will never be repeated.

Migiwa Ishitani 

                 Daughter of a Nagasaki Atom Bomb Survivor

Ms. Ishitani apologized that she was not used to speaking to so many people. She admitted to being was very nervous. Ms. Ishitani’s father, a survivor of Nagasaki, was a regular presenter at this conference but he fell very ill five years ago and passed away shortly before my JFMF session was schedule. He developed a very rare form of bladder cancer, a type so raer that doctors believed it was likely due to radiation. Even after he became ill he really enjoyed speaking about his experiences at these sessions that he would even go so far as to use an artificial bladder so that he could continue giving presentations to American educators. Mr. Susumu Ishitani was a Nagasaki survivor. He was a professor who taught English and ethics. He stressed peace education in his ethics classes. Since then we found some of this English writings. These were given to us. I have copies of the handouts from this conference in my classroom and am happy to share them.

In his sessions before he started talking, Mr. Ishitani always used to apologize to the American teachers about what the Japanese have done during the war. He was also a victim of the war as a survivor and later with his cancer, but he was very aware that the Japanese had done a lot of harm to many countries, including the American people and many Asian countries. Mr. Ishitani felt he could not start talking about peace until he asked for an apology and beg for firgiveness. So on behalf of her father … Ms. Ishitanki tearfully apologized and asked for forgiveness for what the Japanese did during the war. She very much wants us to convey her father’s words of apology when we return home.

Mr. Ishitani was 13 years old when the bomb was dropped. His class was scheduled to work on machines that day because most of the adult men who usually did such work were sent to war, so at that time even junior high students were work horses. He was frightened to go to work on the machines because older students told him that some of the other older students had lost their fingers because they mishandled the machines. It was with some trepidation that he awaited going to work that die. Thankfully, however, the school changed their schedule and the students were allowed to go home early, rather than work. He and his sister both headed home and since it was shortly before lunch they began to prepare lunch. As they started doing so they heard a plane flying overhead. Now, this was not unusual, as bombs were to be expected but no one had any idea that an atomic bomb would be dropped that day. Because they heard the plane they wanted to run out of the house, but at that very moment the flash and the heat came. Parts of the house were destroyed. Even though they were inside their house when the bomb was dropped and thereby avoided direct contact, they still developed large purple blisters all over their bodies. They had swollen glands and felt sick for several years. They were very lucky to have survived. 

After the war ended Mr. Ishitani was very surprised what teachers taught to youngsters. When he went to school it was always taught that Japanese did the right thing in fighting, and the Americans were evil and they had to be punished. Furthermore they were taught that Japan was a country of God and for this reason that would definitely win. There was no chance of losing. Because of these teachings he thought they would definitely win and even considered becoming a soldier. 

After the war and the way things totally changed students had to take out black ink and erase what was in the textbooks. What they taught after the war was totally different. After the war her father learned that trusting adults, even teachers is not always correct. He firmly believed that one has to always think by themselves what is right, and what is not right. These events were a huge impact on her father and upon the direction he took later in life. Do you the reader see any parallels in what you have just read to other circumstances in history? What do you think about Mr. Ishitani’s conclusions? 

Mr. Ishitani later was awarded a Fulbright where he traveled to the United States and studied in Pennsylvania. He dedicated his life to educating others about the need for peace and the costs of war. He even took students to other countries such as Korea and the United States to further educate them and promote peace. I am very saddened by the passing of such a great man and I really wish I could have had the opportunity to meet a man such as him. I just hope that I have been at least partially successful in passing on his message.