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Hiroshima Peace Education Journey

Dr. Takanori Mita
Doctor of Education
Minnesota State University, Moorhead

Having completed a journey that lasted from March 10 to 18, 2006, I will take a look back at the trip and some journals entries by the students.

Tour of Hiroshima

Professor Ananda Shastri (Ph.D. in physics) and I toured Hiroshima from May 31 to June 4, 2005. During that time, we met with the staff of the Hiroshima Peace Culture Foundation and developed a plan for the trip. We then visited the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, the Hiroshima PeaceMemorial Museum, the Hiroshima National Peace Memorial Hall for the Atomic Bomb Victims, and the Radiation Effects Research Foundation.

Pre-travel study

As preparation for this trip, we held a total of six workshops, a total of 8 hours. During the first workshop on January 23, 2006, we saw the movie named “Hiroshima” directed by Mr. Roger Spottiswoode and Koreyoshi Kurahara. In the workshops, we stimulated discussion with the help of literature written by leading scholars who have criticized or supported the dropping of a nuclear weapon.

Purpose of the trip

Professor Shastri wanted to communicate objectively to the students the physical effects of the nuclear bomb as seen from the discipline of physics. Because I was teaching Japanese language and culture, I was added to this peace study trip for the following reasons.

The nuclear bomb dropped by the US is described in American schools almost exclusively as a tool used to hasten the end of the war. The standard explanation is that the A-bomb was dropped not only to reduce the number of American soldiers sacrificed but also to reduce the number of Japanese victims. The effects of the nuclear bomb on human bodies, the destruction of the natural environment, the indiscriminate attack on non-combatants, the possibility that the bombings were war crimes-all of these are not even mentioned in textbooks. Thus, Americans are not properly taught about the horror of nuclear weapons. Today, with the number of nuclear-weapon states and the probability that a nuclear weapon might be used by a terrorist state increasing, I believe that education regarding the horror of nuclear weapons is useful for cultivating politicians and citizens who will stop the development, possession, and use of nuclear weapons by their own and other countries. It was with this in mind that I took part in this peace study trip. In the realm of peace education is, I believe the education of the citizens of the country that used nuclear weapons will have the greatest impact on the future of the global peace movement. I do not approach this issue from any special political viewpoint. I simply want people to objectively study the tragedies of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Reasons students participated in the peace study trip

Although the plan was framed from the beginning as a Hiroshima Peace Study Trip, most students saw it primarily as a relatively easily way to visit Japan. This trip to explore the events of 61 years earlier was considered much like a trip to the Smithsonian Museum. Their parents would have been quite hesitant to take this trip, but most of the young people in America now don’t learn the truth about America’s war record, even if the tragedies of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are blemishes on America’s history. The only images the students had of Japan related to its reputation as an economic or manufacturing or animation superpower. They had no idea about the darker aspects of its past. By the time they arrived home after this week-long journey, a major change had taken place in the hearts of most of the students.

Backstage planning for the trip

Our superiors who assumed there would be few participants were shocked that over 30 applicants expressed interest in going, and by the fact that we were forced to limit participants to 20. The belief was that very few students at a college in this conservative part of the country would be interested in this sort of peace trip. And frankly, I’m not sure our superiors were really eager to support this trip. If I had been the lead planner of this trip, and if I had gone to my immediate superior, he might have told me the trip would be too difficult. Luckily, Professor Shastri, an American, stepped fully into the lead, and the trip proceeded with no objections whatsoever. I am grateful for his enthusiasm.

Assignments to the students

Those who wanted to earn college credits (3 credits) for this peace studies trip would have to submit a journal (covering the time from the first pre-departure discussion until the end of the trip) and a formal report. Of the 20 participants, 10 chose to pursue college credit.

Changes in student attitudes

Of the ten participants seeking college credit, only 2 had any real interest in visiting Hiroshima for the purposes stated by the trip planners. Below I will summarize pre- and post-trip attitudes as stated by four of the students in their journals or reports.

Student A

I want to learn about a page of history that is almost completely ignored in the textbooks. Because I never had a chance to hear about World War II from my grandparents, I think this trip will help me understand my grandparents better. By studying this history, I want to deepen my knowledge of Japanand the Japanese people.

After coming home, this student wrote the following:

For people who are taught only the cheerful side of history, learning about the dark side is extremely meaningful. On studying the darker parts, I was moved to be gaining a more balanced view of history. I doubt that people really want to know the dark aspects. Nevertheless, we have a responsibility to teach the dark parts of history correctly to future generations. If I had not visited Hiroshima, I would never have experienced this great shock.

Student B

I want to enjoy this trip. I’ve been practicing Japanese, but have not been very serious. I am participating because I think I will be able to get along pretty well in Japan.

This student got along quite well with a young Japanese woman who worked in a gift shop in Hiroshima. They went to sing karaoke. A completely unexpected comment from this young woman during a night out turned out to be the most meaningful learning of the entire trip.

Maki, a girl about my age, said this to me. “Though people look different, we are all the same. We have to make the effort to understand each other’s cultures and take those first steps toward living together in peace. This is something even one person can do.” This sounds obvious, but it touched me deep in my heart. Because a girl my own age had moved me like this, I thought there must be something I can do, too. There is something I can do as a human being.

Student C

I don’t want my student life to end without doing something special. That’s why I joined the trip. I have no idea about the atomic bomb. As someone who majored in sociology and education, I want to know more about World War II. Also, I do not want to look at the problem of the atomic bombing only from our point of view. I want to learn what the Japanese think about it. Americans tend to look at things from our own side and don’t try to understand the Japanese side. I want to learn a wider way of looking at things. Also, I want to deepen the knowledge I can convey to my students in the future.

After returning home, this student offered the following opinions.

What we are taught about war as young children stays with us when we are adults. War and peace is not an easy problem. Before the war, the Japanese were taught to be patriotic and militaristic. After the war they changed to peace and democracy. What does the US teach its children? All it teaches is glorification of war. When I start my career, I will do my best to know the nature of peace in world history. I will think about the fact that Japan exists as a non-nuclear-weapon state.

Student D

When I decided to participate in this trip, I was thinking, “Sweet, a week in a foreign country.” At the same time, I was a bit fearful. I had heard that Americans who visit Japan are welcomed, but I had also heard some negative things. I had heard that the Japanese say Americans are “arrogant, ignorant, and stupid.” I want to give Japanese a good impression of Americans. We look on the atomic bombing simply as an event of the past. I thought the movie I saw yesterday would break my heart. At the same time, I realized the tremendous power of the military. I sort of sympathized with President Truman. He had to make that decision alone.

After returning home, this student said:

It is not what the staff at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum told us but the things that a Japanese girl our own age told us about peace that really stays in my heart. She had no particular reason to hang around with us, and she had no reason to talk about that problem, but she spoke in a very friendly way about the problem of peace. She said that peace starts with international understanding. Because this girl who was our same age said that, I realized even more strongly the tremendous importance of peace. The words written on Professor Tanaka’s business card also struck me hard. “There can be no progress through hate.” I want to incorporate this idea in my own life. I don’t think it will be easy to abandon nuclear weapons, but it is possible if we are not afraid to be seen as weak for abandoning nuclear weapons. We should not be proud of possessing such dangerous weapons. We should be proud of resisting them.


North Dakota, a state very close to our college, has many silos that hold missiles with nuclear warheads. Many people do not know this. There are many nuclear power plants on Lake Michigan. Japanese, who are sensitive to the nuclear weapons, immediately understand that these are not ordinary power plants because of the shapes of the buildings. Ten years ago, in a shopping mall on Lake Michigan in Indiana I asked an elderly gentleman sitting near me what a certain building was. He said he didn’t know. A friend of that man sitting nearby answered that it was an ordinary power plant.

The students on this trip departed all excited about a fun visit to the land of anime. Though the trip was only a week, by the time they returned home, they had changed significantly. I think that makes this a meaningful trip. We have had numerous inquiries regarding a trip in 2007. I tell them we have no plan for 2007, but we will for 2008.

On this trip, we received generous assistance and cooperation from the people of the Hiroshima Peace Culture Foundation. Thanks to them, the first Peace Study Trip of the Minnesota State University, Moorhead was a great success. I close offering them my deep gratitude.