Dispatches from Nagasaki No.2

All elementary and junior high school students in Nagasaki learn about peace and the atomic bombing for nine years

(August 30, 2012) At most elementary and junior high schools in Japan, summer vacation begins on July 20 and ends on August 31. On the day of August ninth this year, however, approximately 32,000 elementary and junior high school students (with one specific group exempted) attended school. This was so they could study about the atomic bombing of 67 years ago and reflect on peace. Exempted were the 150 representatives who had been selected from some 20 schools for participation in the peace memorial ceremony organized by Nagasaki City. Along with 6,000 other attendees, some of whom were guests from foreign countries, these students listened to the appeals of atomic bombing survivors, the peace declaration by the mayor, and the pledge delivered by the prime minister.

According to the City Board of Education, it was in 1971 that the day of August ninth was first designated an official school day for all schools. Since then, at every public elementary and junior high school efforts have been made to hold peace assemblies or related functions in order to mourn the victims of the bombing and teach about the facts of the disaster. At present, most high schools in the city also conduct similar programs.

On this day a peace memorial ceremony was held at Shiroyama Municipal Elementary School, where over 1,400 students and staff members became victims of the atomic bombing. A sixth grade girl on the students’ peace committee said, “I realized once again just how many people lost their lives in the atomic bombing. I want to let other people know about the horror of nuclear weapons.” A similar ceremony was held at Yamazato Municipal Elementary School, which was approximately 700 meters away from the bombing hypocenter. Those in attendance joined their voices forcefully to issue the vow, “We pledge to keep on preserving the peace!” Over at Ebira Municipal Junior High School, students marched 1.2 kilometers from the school to the atomic bombing hypocenter in a “Peace Walk” designed to let them experience the atmosphere there on the memorial day of the bombing. A third-grade boy who took part said, “This was the first time I have walked around the hypocenter area on August ninth and I saw just how many people show up to campaign for peace.” (All quotes by students were taken from the August 10 edition of Nagasaki Shinbun.)

It is not only on August ninth that students in Nagasaki City learn about peace through studies focused on the atomic bombing.

When students at public elementary schools across the city enter fifth grade they are taken on field trips to the Atomic Bombing Museum. The expenses related to the trip are allocated from the budget of Nagasaki City. The fifth grade was selected after taking into consideration the age at which students would be mature enough to view the many horrific scenes depicted in the displays. In addition to this, each year a travelling photographic panel exhibition on the atomic bombing makes the rounds of all junior high schools. Nagasaki City also supports peace education through the distribution of a volume of peace-study materials called Heiwa Nagasaki (Peace in Nagasaki), the arranging of talks by atomic bombing survivors and the staging of public presentations on peace studies undertaken by school children themselves. These projects are carried out in accordance with the passage from The Nagasaki Citizens Peace Charter that reads, “We will strive to enhance peace education in order to convey to our children, on whose shoulders the future lies, the horrors of war and the experience of the atomic bombing.” This charter was enacted on March 27, 1989, in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the inauguration of the municipal administration.

During the nine years they spend at elementary and junior high school, students in Nagasaki City are blessed with the opportunity to receive this valuable peace education, which quite possibly is not duplicated in any other city. The history behind the enacting of such a system, however, is one of the efforts and struggles of many fervent teachers. In 1978, when the City Board of Education released a proposal entitled Instructional Materials Related to Peace, the first of the Three Fundamental Principles on Peace Education included the stipulation that “The atomic bombing is not to be made the primary issue.” In December of 2000, this provision was at long last taken out and the first of the Three Principle was finalized to state, “The fundamental basis for education related to peace should be that which is stipulated in the Constitution of Japan, the Fundamental Law on Education and other documents that call for ‘minds desirous of peace’.”

The Global Forum on Disarmament and Non-proliferation Education, an event co-hosted by United Nations University and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, was held at the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum over the two days of August 10 and 11. The themes of the forum were the cultivation of a new generation of disarmament specialists and the state of peace education, but at one point the efforts of Nagasaki City were showcased as progressive examples of peace education. An opinion was put forward that if this progressive model is to spread to other municipalities it will be necessary to not only have the involvement of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but also active participation from the Ministry of Education. 

In Nagasaki City, efforts put into peace studies are matched by those accorded to education for international understanding. This is because the ability to understand the perspective of others is something that is absolutely essential for international peace.

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