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As Japan prepares to mark the 60th anniversary of the Aug. 15 end of World War II, 24 British high school students are working to promote mutual understanding by holding exchanges on wartime history with Japanese people.

The students from Oxford’s Cheney School began a 10-day tour of war-related sites in Japan on Aug. 2 as part of the “Their Past Your Future” project, organized by the London-based Imperial War Museum.

As part of the tour, the Britons on Aug. 3 discussed historical events with some 70 Japanese students in the Kanto region at Yokohama Eiwa Jogauin High School.

After dividing into 12 groups, they mixed with the Japanese students and together made timelines of modern history that featured wars, other conflicts and acts of terrorism.

“We talked about (Japan’s) bombing (of) Pearl Harbor (in 1941). We need to appreciate the situation in Japan and tensions between Japan and America that already existed rather than looking from just America’s point of view,” said Emily Hewlett, one of the British students. “By talking with Japanese students, we can understand all different perspectives and thoughts.”

She added that activities like this, which promote mutual understanding, will help her generation make the important decisions that will shape the future world.

Jungo Sasaki, a student at Kamakura Gakuen High School in Kanagawa Prefecture who participated in the event, said it was interesting to learn how differently the British students view Japan and its history.

“For instance, I saw Emperor Showa as a (living) god, someone whom the Japanese automatically followed (during the war), but the British students saw the Emperor as the commander” and orchestrator of Japan’s military acts, he said.

During the Japan tour, the British students will also exchange opinions with other Japanese, during visits to locations that include Hiroshima and home-stay stints in Tenryu, Nagano Prefecture, the site of a wartime camp for British and American prisoners of war.

Before coming to Japan, the students visited war sites in Thailand between July 28 and Aug. 1, including the infamous Kanchanaburi, where more than 16,000 Allied POWs and 80,000 Asian laborers are believed to have died in the construction of the 415-km Thailand-Burma railway designed to provide an overland supply route for the Imperial Japanese Army.

Joseph Ginsburg, a Cheney High School student, explained that he participated in the project because he believes young people need to learn the reasons why the war happened, given that they are the last generation that can speak with people who actually took part in or were affected by the war.

“I believe we should seize the opportunity and try to do what we can before it’s too late.”

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