by Irene Lee and Yuri Tomikawa
A few students began to sniffle. Some began to rub their teary eyes, burying their heads into each other’s shoulders. The rest of the graduating class of 2008 sat huddled on the floor in silence, eyes cast down, absorbing Miyoko Matsubara’s story of surviving the Hiroshima atomic bomb—and her earnest plea for peace.
Each grade in Middle and High School at the International School of the Sacred Heart (ISSH) travels to a different part of Japan for their annual October excursions, with the aim of learning more about the Japanese culture we live in. But the senior excursion to Hiroshima had a special focus. “We want our students to become agents in transforming our society to bring about peace,” says Sr. Masako Egawa, the headmistress of ISSH. For the seniors who have gone through the ISSH curriculum, coming to Hiroshima—the city with peace as its purpose—deepened the meaning of the school’s goal of heightening “a social awareness which impels to action,” one of the five goals of the Sacred Heart schools.
We had all come to Hiroshima for our senior year excursion, solemnly aware of the history of World War II. We had read stories, seen images and video clips about the atomic bomb dropped on this city as well as Nagasaki. Actually going to the Peace Park and the museum, however, gave us a completely different experience from classroom knowledge—it showed us the more personal side of war. As one senior sees it, “in classrooms, the focus is placed on why and how the wars occurred, what each nation was thinking. Coming to these sites gives us a new outlook on history—that it’s not just on paper, that the fear, grief, and suffering are real.” Perhaps, just as moving as the images and stories of suffering were the local elder citizens who talked fervently about the city’s experience to some students at the museum. “Pika- on,” said the man in the yellow-green jacket. “A flash and a bang—and with that the city turned to ashes and ruins, along with the lives of hundreds of thousands of people residing in Hiroshima on August 6, 1945.”
Personally meeting Miyoko Matsubara—a hibakusha, (a survivor of the atomic bomb), reinforced the impact these sites had on us. Each year, Mastubara-san has shared her experience with the senior class, rallying for the abolition of nuclear weapons all over the world and campaigning for peace. As one senior explained, “her story made it easier to understand the hardships the hibakusha have gone through, how so many individuals suffered from the incident’s indirect aftermath such as radiation and the loss of family members.” Despite her physical weakness due to radiation-related diseases, Matusbara-san continues to push for nuclear abolition and reconciliation between people of different nations. As we returned home to Tokyo, we too informed our family and friends of the horrors of the A-bomb. Her sincere desire to prevent future generations from experiencing the tragedy that she and other hibakusha lived through, and to keep the spirit of Hiroshima alive, had transcended to all of us through our one meeting.
As a traditional finale to the senior excursion, just before leaving Hiroshima, we placed our strings of one thousand cranes below the memorial statue of Sadako Sasaki, a victim of the A-bomb radiation who died of leukemia at the age of twelve. Everyday, more cranes arrive at this memorial from children all over the world. As the cranes symbolize the hope for peace, so do we seniors, venturing out into life beyond high school carrying the message of the hibakusha to never repeat such evils. As Matsubara-san said, “the hibakusha are passing along their torch of hope and peace to you.” It is our turn to “keep this torch burning—forever.”
International School of the Sacred Heart