Six Japanese students recently visited the United States as part of a study tour on the experiences of American prisoners of war and the use of the atomic bombs during World War II. Kinue Tokudome, founder and director of the US-Japan Dialogue on POWs and a member of AHF’s Advisory Committee, organized the trip. The students, from Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto, visited museums and engaged with former POWs and experts on World War II.
The students are members of an honors course taught by Yukio Okamoto, a former Special Advisor to Japanese Prime Ministers Ryutaro Hashimoto and Junichiro Koizumi. Okamoto is an outside board member of Mitsubishi Materials, which in 2015 issued a historic apology to former American POWs for the company’s use of forced labor during World War II. Tokudome, Daiki Nishikawa, a member of Okamoto Associates, and Professor Kimio Yakushiji from Ritsumeikan University accompanied the group.
The students began by visiting the National American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor Museum in Wellsburg, West Virginia, where they met with former POWs and their family members. They also toured the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum in Independence, Missouri, where they considered President Truman’s role in the atomic bombing of Japan. Clifton Truman Daniel, President Truman’s grandson, organized the visit. In Los Angeles, they visited the Museum of Tolerance and the Japanese American Museum. In addition, they received a lecture from Professor Michael Bazyler, a leading authority on the use of American and European courts to redress genocide and other historical wrongs.
They also met with 96-year-old veteran Lester Tenney, who survived the Bataan Death March and endured years of slave labor in a coal mine. They also met with former civilian POWs of the Japanese in the Philippines, whose wartime experience is not well known in Japan.
On August 29, the group visited retired physicist and AHF Advisory Committee member Clay Perkins. Perkins showed them a full-scale replica of the “Little Boy” atomic bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima and described the technical details behind the atomic bombs. The students then participated in what Perkins called a “serious discussion” about the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the implications of nuclear weapons today.
“I hope this kind of study tour, where Japanese young people can learn the American perspective of the Pacific War on a human level, will help them better understand the history of the dropping of the atomic bombs,” Tokudome stated. The study tour was covered by several media outlets, including the Daily Breeze, the Rancho Santa Fe Review, and the Steubenville, Ohio Herald-Star.
By all accounts, the students returned home impressed by their experiences and eager to continue their studies. We hope the tour will inspire more student exchanges and spark further dialogue between the U.S. and Japan on our shared World War II history.