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Hiroshima for Global Peace

III Peace Education

This section will cover the restoration of education services and the development of peace education in Hiroshima while tracing the progress of educational reform in Japan. First, this section will investigate the state of education and give historic background of education in Hiroshima and Japan prior to the bombing. Next, it will recount the bombing in Hiroshima and the reopening of schools in its wake. In addition, this section will provide explanations on the adoption of democratic education based on the new constitution; education to develop technology, prompted by the Cold War confrontation; education during the period of high economic growth that saw a rise in the percentage of students proceeding to higher education. Each topic will be addressed, explaining the situation in Hiroshima and the changes in the national curriculum that played a crucial role in the postwar education policy.

1 Hiroshima as the Western Center of Education before and during the War

Japan has striven to advance its society through education since modern times. After the Meiji period began in 1868, the Ministry of Education was soon established in 1871, and an educational system (putting in place laws and regulations on school education) was promulgated in 1872. In other words, the establishment of the Ministry of Education and the educational system predated the proclamation of the Constitution of the Empire of Japan (1889) and the creation of the Imperial Diet (1890). These circumstances give a glimpse into the fervor for education in Japan at that time.

Before and during the war, Japan carried out education based on the Education Rescript (instituted in 1890). The Education Rescript, officially titled the “Imperial Rescript on Education” was an edict on education issued by the emperor.1) Imperial edicts were mandates proclaimed by the emperor. In those days, they possessed more authority than laws and ordinances. First, the Imperial Rescript on Education stated that Japan shall found education on the national views based on the emperor system, or on the concept that Japan was established by the emperor’s ancestors. Second, education shall value Confucian morals, including filial piety, and the morals of modern constitutionalism, such as compliance with the law. Third, it impelled absolute devotion to the emperor system and charged subjects to exert every effort for the emperor in times of emergency. The Ministry of Education at that time distributed copies of the Imperial Rescript on Education and a picture of the emperor (an imperial portrait) to every school and required students to 1) reverentially bow and pay homage to the picture, 2) respectfully read the Imperial Rescript on Education, 3) listen to the principal’s moral discourse, and 4) sing the designated festive songs at ceremonies for national holidays.2) Thus, the Imperial Rescript on Education was regarded as the absolute basic criteria for education and students were obliged to abide by it. 

In this period, Hiroshima became an educational center in Western Japan. Together with the development of a school system, normal schools were established one after another in various major cities from 1872 to provide teacher training. Furthermore, a higher normal school (for training teachers for middle schools) was opened in 1886. After a higher normal school was opened in Tokyo, another higher normal school was opened in Hiroshima in 1902. After this, the specialized course of Hiroshima Higher Normal School was reorganized and the Hiroshima University of Literature and Science was established in 1929, and the higher normal school was made into an attachment of the university. Thus, the Tokyo Higher Normal School and the University of Tokyo of Literature and Science (currently, the University of Tsukuba) served as the core of education to develop human resources in Eastern Japan, while the Hiroshima Higher Normal School and the Hiroshima University of Literature and Science (today’s Hiroshima University) took on that role in Western Japan.3) Along with the establishment of these higher education institutions, various other educational institutions were established in Hiroshima, such as high schools, vocational schools, middle schools, and National Schools (which provided primary education). Hiroshima came to lead Japan’s education as the center of education in Western Japan. 

2 The Atomic Bombing and Resumption of School Education

The city of Hiroshima was instantly destroyed on August 6, 1945 by the atomic bomb dropped by U.S. Forces. According to records on the war damage, 78 schools were damaged in the atomic bombing, including 39 national schools, 30 middle schools, and nine high schools and universities.4) Of them, 34 were either completely destroyed or had burned down, seven were completely destroyed, four had completely burned down, 20 were half-destroyed, one was half-burned, leaving just 12 in usable condition. After the bombing, the majority of those schools were used as temporary relief stations for injured people, so for some time,, it was impossible to conduct lessons at schools. 

For example, Honkawa National School (a primary school, at approx. 350 meters from hypocenter) and Fukuromachi National School (approx. 600 meters from the hypocenter) were severely damaged by fire but their shells of reinforced concrete still stood, so they were used as temporary relief stations to accommodate the injured people brought in one after another. As the injured gradually recovered, they returned home. Or many were found by their family and relatives and taken home. Unfortunately, there were many who died. In this way, the temporary relief stations were gradually scaled down; but classes could not be resumed in a normal way.5)

However, the first action towards resuming classes had already been taken on August 21, 1945. In fact, on that day principals from national schools met and discussed how to restore schools and resume classes.  Based on this discussion, the prefectural government ordered schools to reopen starting on September 15, and schools in Hiroshima City gradually resumed classes between September and November.6) In other words, within about two weeks of the atomic bombing (and less than a week after the war ended), efforts were already under way in Hiroshima to the restore schools and resume classes. 

When the war ended, many children who had left their parents and evacuated to the countryside to escape air raids returned to Hiroshima. Efforts to reopen schools were redoubled for these children. However, many children had also lost their families and teachers in the atomic bombing. In fact, there were very few students who attended the day schools reopened. Although schools were reopened, classrooms and teaching materials were practically nonexistent. Teachers brought their own ink stones, ink sticks, and brushes. They collected pieces of wooden boards, painted them with black ink and pounded burned nails with stones to create blackboards. Coal boxes were put on straw mats and used as desks. Textbooks and school supplies were borrowed from relatives and from communities the schoolchildren had evacuated to. Teachers visited their acquaintances and asked them to provide teaching materials. A single textbook was shared by a group of children. In addition, pieces of used paper were bound together to be used as notebooks if the backside of the paper was not used. Of course, in such circumstances it was impossible to conduct normal lessons.7) In fact, because of the dire shortage of food, at some schools children worked together with teachers to clear out the burned school grounds and grew vegetables.8)

3 Reconstruction of Hiroshima and Education to Prevent Being Misled by Leaders

Japan was placed under the control of the General Headquarters of the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers (GHQ) after the war ended, and it was made to shift from militarism to democracy. The United States dispatched an education mission to Japan in 1946, which wrote a comprehensive report on Japanese education, including educational aims and content, administration, and teacher training systems. Based on the report, the Ministry of Education issued a “Guide for the New Education” in 1946, and a new school system (six years of primary school, three years of junior high school and three years of senior high school system) was implemented in April 1947.

The Ministry of Education’s “Guide for the New Education” stated that, “In Japan, it is said that although the state and families exist, the society does not exist. This means that although Japanese people are loyal to the state and are good family members, when they are among the crowd and away from home, they lack a sense of public morality, have a weak sense of responsibility and are not trained appropriately to keep rules and to collaborate with others. That is because individuality is not well developed.”9) Therefore, “The new education of Japan must fully develop each person’s individuality so that people become qualified to be full-fledged members of the society and that they will contribute to bringing peace to the world and to the state, and happiness to their families and themselves.”10) The guide also stated, “Japanese people are weak in rational ways of thinking and are low in scientific standards.” Therefore, “Militarists and ultranationalists can easily take advantage of these weaknesses.”11) “Thus, the spirit to love truth, in other words, the attitude to seek truth, to speak of truth and to act on truth is necessary so that people would not be misled by leaders.”12) The postwar education in Japan sought to establish students’ individuality, their capacity for rational and scientific thinking and to build up their personalities so that they would not be misled by leaders. This was the objective of education proposed by the Guide.

At the same time, in 1946 the new constitution (the Constitution of Japan) was promulgated. Under the former constitution (the Constitution of the Empire of Japan) enforced before and during the war, education was a “duty” for people (subjects) to fulfil, but in the new constitution, education is one of people’s “rights.” In keeping with the spirit of the new constitution, the Fundamental Law of Education was enacted in 1947 to establish a new basis of education in Japan. Article 1 states, “Education shall aim for the full development of personalities, striving to nurture people, sound in mind and body, who shall love truth and justice, respect individual values, respect labor, have a deep sense of responsibility, and be imbued with an independent spirit, as builders of a peaceful state and society.” 13)

To achieve education based on such a principle, the first Courses of Study were published in Japan in 1947 as the standard for curricula throughout the school system. With this, morals, civics, history and geography were removed from the subjects taught at school, and social studies, home economics and free studies were newly included. The Courses of Study were created by referencing the curricula of the United States (courses of study). The Courses of Study at that time were announced as a tentative proposal to offer a guideline for teachers. The Courses of Study were influenced by the student-centered education in the United States, focusing on children’s interests.14) There are basically two approaches when formulating a curriculum: one focusing on teaching knowledge in a systematic way and the other focusing on what students are interested in. In that sense, the first Courses of Study were oriented toward the latter. 

“Unit learning” was introduced to school education based on the principles of the Courses of Study.15) In unit learning, students find issues that they are interested in, by drawing from their experiences and topics in their own lives. Students then explore these issues to find answers to their questions. The subject of social studies was newly introduced as a core subject for unit learning. Social studies served as a key subject, based on the new postwar principles. Not only did it teach the contents directly related to the subject, but it also actively incorporated knowledge from other subjects and nurtured children’s skills in life and work.

Meanwhile, there were signs of reconstruction in Hiroshima. In 1946, teachers who survived the calamity of the atomic bombing formed the Hiroshima Association for Cultural Promotion for Children and carried out cultural activities for children. Through the cooperation of many, Hiroshima Children’s Cultural Hall was opened in 1948 as the first cultural facility in Hiroshima, and the Hiroshima City Children’s Library was opened in 1952. The occupation of Japan by GHQ ended with the signing of the Treaty of Peace with Japan at San Francisco, and just as the restrictions on the freedom of speech was gradually eased, Genbaku no Ko (Children of the A-bomb), a collection of essays by children, was compiled to present their A-bomb experiences,16) demonstrating that hope for the future and for reconstruction lied with the children. Of course, there were many children who had lost their parents and relatives. They were working hard to survive on their own by shining shoes and doing other chores, and so many could not study at all.

4 Passing Down A-bomb Experiences, and Education to Advance Science and Technology

Soon after the war ended, the Japanese education system made a fresh start under the strong influence of the United States. One of the major goals of education was to build up the personalities of children so that they would not be misled by leaders in the future. Therefore, the Courses of Study focused on children’s interests rather than teaching knowledge systematically. School education adopted a method of unit learning that encouraged students to find issues that they are interested in, from their experiences and topics in their own lives, and explore thee issues to learn more about them. However, Japan was compelled to make a major change in its education policy around 1958. The Courses of Study issues in 1958 and in 1968 differed significantly from previous issues.

Revisions in the 1958 Courses of Study did not adopt unit learning that focused on children’s interests. This was decided as the evaluations of students’ achievements were not high. The focus was shifted to learning subjects in a systematic way, and education was going to be conducted according to children’s abilities, in order to support scientific and technological development.17) Until that time, the Courses of Study had been a tentative proposal (a proposed guideline for teachers), but from this revision, the Courses of Study became the national standard for curricula with legally binding force.18) The Courses of Study was revised because of a decline in children’s academic facilities and the escalation of the ideological confrontation in the Cold War.

In fact, in the latter half of the 1950s, the Ministry of Education and various research institutes conducted surveys on children’s academic abilities, and compared the results with those of before and during the war. The outcomes revealed that the basic scholastic abilities of children after the war had obviously declined from the prewar level.19) For example, when it came to the four basic operations of arithmetic, the sixth graders of around 1951 only had abilities equivalent to the fourth graders of around 1928. 

Meanwhile, on the international front, the Korean War began in 1950, and the Cold War between the East and the West was intensifying over the ideological confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union. After the 1957 Sputnik crisis, Japan modernized its curricula to strengthen math and science education.20) When the Soviet Union in the Eastern camp succeeded in launching the world’s first artificial satellite, the Western nations, including the United States, were greatly stocked, and in Japan, too, it was decided to make more efforts to improve education for advancing science and technology. 

Just around that time, a movement spearheaded by university researchers was seen in Hiroshima to construct facilities to house and exhibit materials related to the atomic bombings and the war in order to present the tragedy of the atomic bombings widely to the world. At the time, the Peace Memorial Park was being developed in central Hiroshima City. It was decided that a memorial museum was to be built in the park, and the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum was opened in 1955.21) Today, the museum continues to serve as a core facility to share the facts of the atomic bombing to future generations. 

At the citizen level, the Japan Council against Atomic and Hydrogen Bombs (Gensuikyo) was  formed in 1955 as an anti-nuclear peace organization, which conducted a signature-collecting campaign seeking the total abolition of nuclear weapons. In the same year, the first World Conference against A and H Bombs was held in Hiroshima:22) and with it, peace movements calling for the total abolition nuclear weapons spread throughout Japan. These movements also led to a peace movement initiated by children after Sadako Sasaki’s death, to pray for peace by folding paper cranes, and to establish a symbolic monument for children. Sadako Sasaki was two years old at the time of the bombing and developed leukemia when she was in the sixth grade. She continued folding paper cranes from medicine wrappers and other paper to pray for her recovery but passed away the following year (1955). After her death, her classmates began a campaign to build a memorial monument for Sadako and other children who died from the atomic bombing. Children’s Peace Monument was build in 1958 with donations contributed from all over Japan.23) The story of Sadako and her paper cranes spread throughout the world, and paper cranes folded by children from around the world have continued to be sent in to the monument with their prayers for peace. 

5 Improving Academic Abilities Associated with Rapid Economic Growth and Hiroshima as a Base for Promoting Peace Education

Japan saw rapid economic growth in the 1960s. The Olympic Games were held in Tokyo in 1964, and the World Exposition was held in Osaka in 1970. Bullet trains and expressways were constructed one after another in association with these events. Also, in 1968, Japan’s gross national product (GNP) surpassed that of West Germany and ranked the second in the world, making Japan the second biggest economic power after the United States.24) It was truly the “Miracle of the Orient.” Household appliances such as televisions, washing machines and refrigerators appeared one after another and rapidly spread to people’s homes to be used in their daily lives. People found that if they studied hard, they could enter good universities, and then they could find good jobs at good companies. Then, if they worked hard in these companies, they could get higher salaries. Then the living conditions in the communities would become increasingly affluent. It was a period of constant growth. 

In this situation, the Courses of Study were once again revised in 1968, and the systematic approach of teaching became emphasized even more than before. Accordingly, the content of each subject increased and became more advance. For instance, the number of math lessons increased, and such content of modern mathematics as sets, functions, and probability were introduced.25) The academic abilities of Japanese children improved remarkably as a result of the educational policies introduced in 1958 to promote the systematic approach of teaching. In fact, according to an international comparative study of scholastic abilities conducted in 1964 by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA), Japan ranked the second in math, after Israel (a survey on eighth graders in 12 countries).26) In a later study on science conducted in 1969 (on fifth and ninth graders in 18 countries), both the fifth graders and ninth graders in Japan ranked the top in the world.27) After these survey results were published, education in Japan became a focus of international attention. It was believed that education was a factor that enabled Japan’s miraculous recovery from the tragedy of the war.

With the rapid economic growth, the ratio of students going to high schools and universities also rose. In fact, during the decade of the 1960s, the ratio of students enrolling in high schools rose from approximately 60% to 80%, and those enrolling in universities rose from approximately 10% to 30%.28) In connection to that trend, student movements also showed a nationwide upsurge. For example, there was a movement against revising the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty in 1960, followed by the movement against the Vietnam War. Moreover, university disputes occurred from around 1968 due to the confrontation between students and universities. These movements all started with students. According to Eiji Oguma, the generation that participated in these movements was brought up on the values of peace and democracy. At elementary schools, they learned that democracy meant freedom and equality, and at junior and senior high school, they were made to defeat others in the competitive university entrance examinations. They persevered and studied until they entered university, but instead of being able to pursue academic research at university, they were made to listen to boring lectures. Eventually they would graduate to become cogwheels for their companies/ “Is university a tool of capitalism?” To challenge such deception in postwar democracy, students attempted to express this view by blocking off universities with barricades.29) Student movements spread to universities nationwide; and in Hiroshima, a university was temporarily blocked by barricades build by students as well. 

Just around that time, teachers in Hiroshima began movement promoting peace education. Despite the fact that Japan had renounced was in the postwar constitution, in reality Japan supported the Unites States in the Korean War and the Vietnam War, and even created self-defense forces and intended to expand armaments. Alarmed by these circumstances, the teachers of Hiroshima formed the Hiroshima Prefecture Hibakusha Teacher’s Association in 1969 with the aim of passing on knowledge of their experiences following the A-bombing to children so that Japan would not revert to prewar circumstances. In 1971, the National Liaison Committee of the Hibakusha Teachers’ Associations (Japan Hibakusha Teachers’ Association) was established with the support of the Japan Teachers’ Union (JTU), and in 1972 the Hiroshima Institute for Peace Education was established to conduct research on teaching materials for peace education and to share information. In 1973, the JTU and the Japan Hibakusha Teachers’ Association held the first National Peace Education Symposium in Hiroshima City, and in 1974, the Japan Council for Peace Education Research was established.30)

In 1976, a general meeting of the Japan Hibakusha Teachers’ Association was held and adopted a resolution to promote school trips to visit the A-bombed cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.31) Thus, starting from 1979, the number of schools to visit Hiroshima rapidly increased and the movement expanded across the nation in the 1980s. In 1985, the number of students visiting the Peace Memorial Museum on school trips accounted for approximately 40% of all visitors to the museum.32) Hence, Hiroshima came to be positioned as the base for promoting peace education in Japan. 

(Masashi Urabe)


1. Saito, Toshihiko. “Kindai Nihon Kyoiku Seido no Seiritsu” The Formation of the Modern Education System in Japan). In Shibata, Yoshimatsu. and Toshihiko, Saito (co-authored and Ed.). Kingendai Kyoikushi (The History of Modern Education). Gakubunsha, 2000: p. 135.

2. Ibid., p. 136.

3. City of Hiroshima (Ed.). Hiroshima Genbaku Sensaishi: Dai Ni Hen, Kakusetsu Dai Yon kan (Record of the Hiroshima A-bomb War Disaster, Part II: Various Views, Vol.4). City of Hiroshima, 1971: p. 1.

4. Ibid., p. 6.

5. Ibid., p. 6.

6. Ibid., pp. 6-7.

7. Ibid., pp. 65-66.

8. Ibid., p. 7.

9. Ministry of Education. “Shinkyoiku Shishin: Dai Ichi Bu Zenpen” (Guide for the New Education: Section 1, Part 1). 1946. In Sengo Kyoiku Kaikaku Koso I ki 2: Shinkyoiku Shishin (Fu, Eibun) (Phase I of the Plan to Reform Postwar Education 2: New Education

Guidelines [English language version included]). Nihon Tosho Center, 2000: p. 27.

10. Ibid., p. 28.

11. Ibid., p. 29.

12. Ibid., p. 29.

13. Shibata, Yoshimatsu. “Sengo Nihon no Kyoiku Kaikaku no Tenkai” (The Development of Postwar Education Reform in Japan). In Shibata, Yoshimatsu. and Toshihiko, Saito (co-authored and Ed.). Kingendai Kyoikushi (The History of Modern Education). Gakubunsha, 2000: p. 160.

14. Mizuhara, Katsutoshi. “Gendai Nihon no Kyoiku Katei no Ayumi” (Curriculum Development in Modern Japan). In Tanaka, Koji; Mizuhara, Katsutoshi; Mitsuishi, Hatsuo; and Nishioka, Kanae. Atarashii Jidai no Kyoiku Katei, Kaiteiban (Curriculum in a New Period). Yuhikaku. 2nd Ed., 2009: p. 46.

15. Ebihara, Haruyoshi. Minshu Kyoiku Jissenshi, Shinban (A History of the Practice of Democratic Education). Sanseido, New Edition,1977: p. 38–39.

16. Osada, Arata (Ed.). Genbaku no Ko (Children of the A-Bomb). Iwanami Shoten, 1951.

17. Mizuhara, Katsutoshi. op. cit., p. 56.

18. Shibata, Yoshimatsu. op. cit., p. 162.

19. Kubo, Shunichi. Sansu Gakuryoku: Gakuryoku Teika to Sono Jikken (Academic Ability in Mathematics: Declining academic ability and experiments). University of Tokyo Press, 1952: p. 18.

20. Tsuda, Toru. “Sengo no Kyoiku Seisaku” (Postwar Educational Policies). In Hirooka, Yoshiyuki (Ed.). Kingendai Kyoikushi (The History of Modern Education). Gakubunsha, 2007: p. 164.

21. Matsumoto, Hiroshi. Shinpan/Hiroshima Nagasaki Shugakuryoko Annai―Ganbaku no Ato o Tazuneru (A Guide to School Trips to Hiroshima & Nagasaki: Visiting the vestiges of the atomic bombings). Iwanami Junior Shinsho, New Edition, 1998: pp. 72-76.

22. Ibid., pp. 44-45.

23. Kosakai, Yoshimitsu. Hiroshima Dokuhon (Hiroshima Peace Reader). Hiroshima Peace Culture Foundation, 1978: pp. 50-51.

24. Hosaka, Masayasu. Kodo Seicho: Showa ga Moeta Mo Hitotsu no Senso (Rapid Economic Growth: The other war when the Showa period was ablaze). Asahi Shinsho, 2013: p. 148.

25. Shibata, Yoshimatsu. op. cit., p. 63.

26. National Institute for Educational Policy Research. Sugaku Kyoiku, Rika Kyoiku no Kokusai Hikaku (An International Comparison of Education in Mathematics and Sciences). Gyosei, 2001: p. 26.

27. Ibid., p. 88.

28. Hosaka, Masayasu. op. cit., p. 140.

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