Japanese language teacher at Obama alma mater attends Hiroshima Peace Memorial Ceremony

by Toshiko Bajo, Staff Writer

Hiromi Peterson, 60, who works as a Japanese language teacher at Punahou School in Honolulu, Hawaii, accompanied two students of the school on a visit to Hiroshima. The trip marks the first time she has brought students from Hawaii to the Peace Memorial Ceremony. With a friendly smile and soft voice, Ms. Peterson said, “I hope the students will become a bridge spreading the reality of the devastation caused by the atomic bombing of Hiroshima to our community in Hawaii.”

The students are visiting Japan as part of a peace program run by the school and funded by an endowment from the royalties on Japanese textbooks that Ms. Peterson and her colleagues have been creating over the past 20 years.

Punahou School is the school U.S. President Barack Obama attended when he was growing up in Hawaii. Ms. Peterson, whose maiden name is Nakai, is originally from Hiroshima City and is a second generation A-bomb survivor. She moved to Hawaii in 1972.

Ms. Peterson lent her support to a project initiated by Hiroshima Koku, designed to encourage Mr. Obama to visit Hiroshima. Hiroshima Koku, called “Peace Seeds” in English, is a peace newspaper produced by Hiroshima teens which appears twice a month as an insert in the Chugoku Shimbun. A total of 74 students at Punahou responded to the call of Hiroshima Koku’s junior writers and translated into English 100 letters encouraging the president to visit Hiroshima, written by Hiroshima Koku readers. Ms. Peterson found the students’ attitude heartening when they told her: “It’s our responsibility to understand the thoughts of people who live in the A-bombed city of Hiroshima.”

The Japanese textbooks Ms. Peterson and her colleagues have made incorporate the history of Japanese immigration to Hawaii, as well as the A-bomb experiences of her family members. The textbook series now has four volumes. As a class assignment, Ms. Peterson asks her students to interview family members about their experiences of World War II. For her, this assignment underscored her awareness of the fact that the Japanese are not the only victims of the war, since the family members of her students have told of suffering attacks by the former Japanese military. “As Hawaii is a place where many immigrants live, they hold a variety of different views and ideas,” she said. “In this setting, I hope to help my students consider what they can do as free-thinking human beings.”

After returning to the United States, the students who visited Hiroshima will make presentations about their experiences to 450 fellow students. “I hope they take action based on the thoughts and feelings they experienced while in Hiroshima,” Ms. Peterson said. “One of these students from Punahou might become our second American president in the future. If the experiences of Hiroshima are conveyed, even a little, this will surely have an impact.” She intends to continue bringing students from Hawaii to Hiroshima in the future.

(Originally published on August 10, 2009)