Seventy-four years after the end of World War II, high school students in Aichi Prefecture are working to pass down stories of students who lived through wartime air raids.
Through the activities, they have come to think that the war is not something just in the past.
At Toyohashi-Chuo High School in the city of Toyohashi, members of the school council and others have been collecting stories related to the U.S. air raid on the Toyokawa Naval Arsenal on Aug. 7, 1945.
The arsenal used to be located in the city of Toyokawa, 10 kilometers north of the high school, which was a girls school at the time.
Many female students had been mobilized to work at the facility to produce machine guns and bullets, and 29 students and alumnae of the school were killed in the air raid.
Toyohashi-Chuo High School students began asking elderly people about their wartime experiences in 2015 and giving presentations at the school assembly every March. This year, 14 students are taking part in the activities.
“What’s the meaning of bringing up stories of the past now? We can’t save anyone by doing that,” said Kaisei Ueta, 16, a second-year student, recalling how he felt when he first joined the activities at the request of others.
But when he saw the bullets made by students around his age during the war and found the name of the girls school engraved on a cenotaph, he said his feelings began to change.
“The students were forced to have a part in killing people. There was no way to refuse that and they ended up dying,” Ueta said. “What would I have done if it was happening to me? Suddenly I felt the issues as something close to me.”
According to education ministry statistics, some 3.4 million students across the nation were working at arms factories at the end of the war, and more than 10,000 lost their lives in those facilities.
More than 2,500 people — out of which 1,278 were age between 10 and 19 — were killed in the air raid of the Toyokawa arsenal, which was considered the top munitions factory in East Asia at the time.
Saki Inoue, 17, a third-year student, felt distressed seeing the school uniforms of the girls who died. “I believe this pain is the first step for us,” she said. “Now that we have learned the past, we have a responsibility to hand that down to other students.”
Students of Toho High School in Nagoya’s Meito Ward started shooting videos this summer of alumni talking about their wartime experiences.
U.S. aircraft bombed Nagoya 63 times between April 1942 and July 26, 1945, killing or wounding more than 18,000 people.
On Dec. 13, 1944, some 260 people, including 20 students and teachers of the high school, died in an air raid targeting a Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. factory in Nagoya.
Last November, Toho High School’s student council submitted a petition to the Nagoya Municipal Assembly asking for creation of a memorial day to mark the bombing of Nagoya.
Shoma Isobe, 17, a third-year student who leads the project, was born in Hiroshima. He grew up listening to his great-grandfather talk about how he barely escaped from becoming a member of a special naval kamikaze corps that made suicidal crashes into enemy targets, as the war ended shortly after the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.
After entering Toho, Isobe learned that there are only two living alumni who could speak about their experiences of the Nagoya air raid. Since both are in their 90s, he said, “It’s now or never.”
The students started shooting videos of the two alumni’s interviews in July with plans to show them at a memorial ceremony to be held at the school in December.
“In Hiroshima, people learn about the atomic bombing since childhood, but in Nagoya you don’t have chances to learn about the war,” Isobe said.
“We want to create this video not only to convey the experiences of the Nagoya bombings but also to make students think war could happen close to them.”
This section features topics and issues from the Chubu region covered by the Chunichi Shimbun. The original article was published on Aug. 2.