Feature: A study in peace

“Hiroshima and Peace” students engage in a group discussion at Hiroshima City University.

Summer usually signifies the start of fun, sun and a break from school.  But, for a group of select university students from over a dozen countries, a sliver of their “time off” is devoted to studying one of the most horrific memories in modern-day history.  Every summer, on the ten days leading up to the annual commemoration of the August 6, 1945 atomic bombing of Hiroshima, 25 college students from Japan and 25 counterparts from around the world meet at Hiroshima City University for an intensive two-week course.

Titled “Hiroshima and Peace,” the course has hosted dozens of University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa students who, since 2004, enroll for class credit in Japan but end up reliving history.  They participate through the Hiroshima and Peace Summer Study Program offered by the Spark M. Matsunaga Institute for Peace & Conflict Resolution.  This summer, four UH Mānoa students—with majors ranging from Asian Studies to Dance & Peace Studies to Secondary Education—will travel to Hiroshima, and totally immerse themselves in the Japanese culture by living with host families.

The goal of the brief but intense stay is to provide enrollees with a general understanding of the nature and attributes of war and peace, by illuminating aspects of wartime experiences, including the historic atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  At the same time, they explore contemporary issues related to world peace in an era of globalization.  Supplementing the class lectures and activities will be outings including a visit to the Radiation Effects Research Foundation, which has been studying the effects of radiation on the hibakusha (the survivors) since 1945; a trip to the Peace Museum, where belongings left by the victims, photos, and other materials that convey the horror of the bombing on Hiroshima can be viewed; and attendance at a Peace Park ceremony on the morning of August 6.  Considered the emotional highlight is hearing testimony from one of the hibakusha, who go back in time when recounting their experiences from that fateful day.  “The calmness of the hibakusha’s voice retelling their personal story of that August day makes atomic bombings both more real and less real at the same time,” recalls Brien Hallett, associate professor and academic advisor at the Spark M. Matsunaga Institute for Peace & Conflict Resolution.

“‘Hiroshima and Peace’ is a course unlike any other,” said Hallett.  “Each summer, it brings together students from all over the world from different backgrounds to confront the great tragedy of the atomic bombings and a selection of other security and social justice issues.”  Added Jase Chun of Kaua‘i, who participated in the program in August 2008 and graduated this past semester, “I’ve taken many courses during my five years at UH Mānoa, but the one that will always stand out is ‘Hiroshima and Peace.’  It was life-changing, to say the least, and placed you at the site of the greatest tragedy ever to befall mankind.”

For more information on “Hiroshima and Peace,” and the Spark M. Matsunaga Institute for Peace & Conflict Resolution, contact Brien Hallett at (808) 956-4236 or bhallett@hawaii.edu.

Top photo: Hiroshima Peace Memorial Dome located at Peace Park.

Lantern Floating Hawaii
A Lantern Floating ceremony at Ala Moana Beach Park every Memorial Day in May honors those who gave their lives in conflict, allows for reflection on the memories of loved ones and dedicates prayers for a peaceful and harmonious future. Photo courtesy of Lantern Floating Hawaii, officiated by Shinnyo-en Buddhist Order. www.lanternfloatinghawaii.com