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Peace education: Special classes narrating reality of A-bomb proving popular at schools

Masanori Ikeda explains to children how the atomic bomb was dropped, as part of a new form of peace education in Tokyo, on June 18, 2018. (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- Special classes held by a 67-year-old director of an incorporated nonprofit organization that narrate the story of a child soldier based on his father's experience as an atomic bomb survivor have gained a growing reputation among elementary schools across Japan as a new form of peace education.

With the chances of hearing testimonies directly from those who experienced war decreasing, Masanori Ikeda hopes for people "to become interested in the actual consequences of the atomic bombing, not just the principles and claims (surrounding it)," and avoids telling the message that "atomic bombs are wrong."

"'Please help us, Heitai-san (Mr. Soldier),' people whose entire body had been scorched red desperately screamed out to us for help," said Ikeda at a special class at an elementary school in Tokyo. About 40 sixth graders gasped as they listened to Ikeda's narrative based on the experience of his father who lived through the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. Ikeda captured the attention of the students for as long as 90 minutes, by telling a first-person story that provides an emotional connection, while also having the children answer his questions.

Ikeda's father Yoshizo joined the Imperial Japanese Army at 17, and experienced the atomic bombing of Hiroshima in an area he had visited to obtain military goods, just three kilometers away from the hypocenter. Yoshizo was uninjured in the blast because he was hidden behind a barrel of heavy oil, and was later involved in searching and incinerating the dead, under orders from the military.

Ikeda received a collection of notes from his father around 2005, when he was running a software company, and learned about Yoshizo's war experience in depth for the first time. He rewrote some parts, and published a non-fiction novel about a child soldier and his friends struggling in an unknown world. He delivered a speech on his father's experience on the request, to "lecture in place of an atomic bomb survivor," by an official of the Tochigi Prefecture city of Utsunomiya, who read the novel. This became a motive to establish the incorporated NPO "Genbaku Sensei (Atomic bomb teacher)" in Tokyo, and to deliver special classes at schools.

The lessons take place mainly in elementary schools in Tokyo. Classes were held 215 times last academic year, and at least 60 percent of them were at schools that repeatedly requested for his lectures. Ikeda mainly focuses on the story of the child soldier, using data on the temperature of heat rays, shock waves and radiation, including testimonies from other people.

"I think about 'how to effectively convey' rather than just 'convey.' Lectures become interesting with new knowledge and a narrative. Children will learn and understand by themselves, if they find it interesting," Ikeda stated. He also hopes to pass on his speaking skills.

Toshifumi Murakami, professor of peace education at Kyoto University of Education, commented, "He (Ikeda) plays both the role of a 'successor,' lecturing experiences, and a 'guide for peace,' educating knowledge. There should be high demand from places far from the bombed areas having difficulties in getting testimonies directly from atomic bombing survivors."

(Japanese original by Asako Takeuchi, City News Department)

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