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Friday, April 25, 2008

Education for Peace – Beyond Horrors of War

(This is an article written for Nikkei Voice, to report the May 8th, 2008 Peace Education Event with guest speaker Misako Iwashita. Also look for the report in Japanese and one in Chinese. )

Peace Philosophy Centre, an organization established January 2007 to promote education for peace and sustainability, hosted a peace education event, “Be a Participant in History, not a Bystander” on March 8, 2008 at the Roundhouse Community Centre in Vancouver. Guest speaker Misako Iwashita shared her 35-year experience as a history teacher and peace educator at junior high schools in Japan, and presented a condensed version of one of her special lesson cycle pioneered by her in which she discusses Japanese war resisters active during the Asia Pacific War.

Misako pointed to the growing influence of historical revisionism on youths in Japan, and to misconceived peace education practices that fail to give hope to children by not going beyond teaching the horrors of war, as the primary concerns motivating her work. While it is critical to teach the dark chapter of history, especially Japanese aggression in Asia during the war, Misako argues, children are often left feeling bad about themselves and their ancestors, and become easy targets of a right-wing nationalism that gives children a pseudo-sense of pride in their country. She has also seen her students often trying to detach themselves from the lessons of war, making comments like “I don’t understand why those Japanese people then were so cruel,” and “I am just glad I was born in a peaceful time.”

In order to address these concerns, Misako introduced a three-step peace education course for all grade 9 students at her school. In the first class, students learnt about the realities of Japanese atrocities in China and beyond, including the Nanjing Massacre. In the second class, emphasis was placed on how ordinary citizens were brainwashed by the militaristic education and were made to believe that it was a good thing to fight and die in the name of the Emperor. In the third lesson, she introduced the fact that there were many people in Japan who courageously opposed the war of invasion.

In Japan and for her talk here, Misako used the video “People Who Opposed WWII”(produced by Osaka Education and Culture Centre), which introduces Senji Yamamoto, a congressman who opposed war and was later assassinated, Takiji Kobayashi, a proletariat author who was tortured to death, and a group of one hundred students and faculty members at Osaka Commerce University who formed an anti-war group and were put to prison. They were among the tens of thousands of people who were punished under the Peace Preservation Law. Learning about these brave individuals and groups seemed to give real hope and role models to her students, Misako said. “I saw my students’ eyes sparkle when I talked about Japanese war-resisters. They wanted to become like those people, to make sure that war doesn’t happen again. They even challenged other teachers, asking if they had done anything to stop the emergency defense legislation from passing in the Diet.”

Misako’s event was particularly significant because it took place in Vancouver where immigrants and students from all over Asia live, work and study together. Misako, an ESL student herself during her post-retirement stay in the multicultural city, says she has often observed gaps she wanted to help fill in the disparate historical views held by students from Japan and those from China and Korea. As Japanese students are generally not taught much about modern history, they don’t even know why some of their fellow Asian students don’t like Japan, and don’t know how to respond when confronted by such emotions. Misako invited many of her fellow ESL classmates to the event, believing a glimpse of her history lesson would help them build peaceful collaborations among Asian youths.

This event was blessed with over forty participants of many backgrounds who packed the small event room, including several members of BC ALPHA, an association that promotes the education of WWII history and advocates on behalf of surviving war victims. Thekla Lit, President of BC ALPHA, commented that she felt enlightened by Misako’s talk, and hoped to see Japanese youth develop more emotional connection with war victims and greater interest in taking actions that make a difference. Yuriko Yamashita, a member of a young mothers’ group that has been studying modern history with Misako, said, “I wish I had an inspiring teacher like Misako when I was in school.” Dunc Shields, a retired teacher, said, “Misako's response came across very clearly to me that solutions to problems that divide the peace movement can be found when people or countries establish a mutual friendship and genuine desire for peace.”

For more information on this event and other Peace Philosophy Centre activities, visit

Satoko Norimatsu
Peace Educator

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