Australian news, and some related international items

Mini-storytellers’: Japanese children pass on horror of Nagasaki bombings

As more and more survivors who directly witnessed the nuclear attack die, students are taking on responsibility for telling their stories, Guardian    Daniel Hurst in Nagasaki, 2 August 18 

The 500 students at Shiroyama Elementary School gather in the assembly hall on the ninth day of every month to sing a song. This is no ordinary school anthem, however.

Dear Children’s Souls deals with the most traumatic chapter in the school’s long history: the moment 1,400 students and 28 staff members died when the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the southern Japanese city of Nagasaki in the closing stages of the second world war.

Nearly 73 years have passed since the bombing of Nagasaki on 9 August 1945 – and Hiroshima three days earlier – but the school feels a special responsibility to keep the memories alive.

“Shiroyama Elementary School is situated closest to the ground zero of the A-bombing compared to other municipal elementary schools in Nagasaki,” explains the softly spoken principal, Hiroaki Takemura, adding that the hypo-centre was just 500m away.

“The feelings for peace are very strong here.”The task is becoming increasingly vital as more and more of the survivors who directly witnessed the events pass away. The ranks of these survivors, known as hibakusha, have halved over the past two decades and their average age is now 82. As they become less mobile, they find it more difficult to travel and give first-hand accounts of the horrors of nuclear war in the hope of preventing any repeat amid growing global tensions.

Hiroshima: I had family members among the dead – George Takei
The year-six students at Shiroyama, therefore, are taking on more responsibility and being trained as “mini-storytellers”.

Each year, about 400 schools from across Japan send thousands of students on field trips to Shiroyama to learn about the A-bomb. After passing the school gate etched with pictures of doves, the visiting children hear the song lyrics describing how students and teachers’ lives were snuffed out “in a brief flash … expiring meaninglessly”.

Then the sixth-graders host the visitors on a tour around the school, including the old building ruins, in an activity called “Peace Navi (navigation)”. The junior storytellers tell their peers what happened and convey an overarching message of peace, says Takemura.

These sorts of activities give hope to A-bomb survivors such as Setsuo Uchino, 74. Uchino was just one year and nine months old when Nagasaki was attacked, but fared better than many others because he had been placed in an air raid shelter at the time.

Unfortunately I don’t think I will see nuclear weapons eradicated while I’m still alive, but I’m hoping that during the next generation’s time something will improve,” Uchino says.

“That’s why I feel that it’s a responsibility and duty for me to talk about the stories and my own experience to the children, to the young generation – so that they understand how dangerous and horrific and inhumane the A-bombing was, and how scary and horrible nuclear arms are.”

It may be a confronting topic for children, but Uchino himself had to come to terms with the horrors of the Nagasaki bombing at a very young age. Although he doesn’t have many direct memories of the day, Uchino says his parents spoke to him for the first time about the family’s experiences when he was in the fourth grade of elementary school.

His mother, who had seen the burnt remains of many victims including some bodies without heads, told him the post-bombing scene was like “hell on earth”. People clinging to life were desperately crying out for water on that hot summer day.

Uchino urges the children who hear his story to start conversations with their peers. “I get so many letters of gratitude from students and young people who said they’re determined to share the stories with their families,” he says proudly.

In Hiroshima, too, local authorities are working to preserve the memories.

To date, 117 adults have successfully completed three years of training to become “A-bomb legacy successors”, with a further 250 set to join their ranks soon. These volunteers “inherit” hibakusha’s experiences and share their message of peace to students on field trips and foreign visitors.

“It is a fact that young people in Japan don’t know much about the A-bombings,” admits Hirotaka Matsushima from Hiroshima City’s peace promotion division……..

on at least one front, there’s reason to be positive, according to Fumihiko Yoshida, a professor at the Research Centre for Nuclear Weapons Abolition at Nagasaki University. Many young people and middle-aged people are taking the survivors’ stories very seriously and trying to prepare “for the new stage when we will not be able to listen to hibakusha anymore”.

“So, yes, we will lose many real voices from hibakusha in coming years,” Yoshida says, “but also we are seeing increasing new messengers who can talk about what happened 73 years ago.”

August 3, 2018 - Posted by | General News

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