Photo/IllutrationAleksandr Sklyar's Nagasaki Atomic History and the Present (Rie Yamada)

  • Photo/Illustraion

It was through a trip to Nagasaki that American student Aleksandr Sklyar came to grips with the full horror of the city's atomic bombing.

The experience led the 28-year-old to start a website detailing the catastrophe that befell the city to help Americans grasp what happened on Aug. 9, 1945.

Sklyar, a doctoral candidate in anthropology at the University of Michigan, hopes that videos posted on his site of hibakusha atomic bomb survivors recalling their experiences will prove useful as education material at high schools and universities in the United States.

In 2008, Sklyar visited Nagasaki and Hiroshima, a city leveled by an atomic bomb three days before.

He was particularly struck by the irony of Nagasaki, with its sizable Christian population and many churches, being targeted.

Sklyar wanted to help other students learn more about the bombings.

“I knew nothing about what happened under the mushroom cloud,” he said, recalling his lack of knowledge before visiting Japan.

Two years after his first visit, Sklyar returned to Nagasaki with a friend. They stayed for six weeks to interview eight hibakusha, a peace activist, the mayor of Nagasaki and others. The interviews were recorded in video format.

Few details of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are typically taught at schools in the United States. Students are often taught that the nuclear attacks helped bring World War II to an early end.

As Sklyar studied the Japanese language at university, he got the opportunity to hear hibakusha from Hiroshima giving accounts of their own experiences. Sklyar was impressed because they ended their stories by expressing a desire for peace, not with words of resentment.

“In discussions at university classes on how to build peace, national interests are prioritized over other things, and affairs discussed there are mere political games,” Sklyar said. “I found hope in hibakusha as they were working toward peace on their own.”

His videos of hibakusha speaking in Japanese of their experiences total 40 hours. English subtitles were essential to introduce the footage in the United States.

In the summer, Sklyar found supporters in the United States, and a university offered to fund the project. When he started recruiting volunteers through friends and others to make transcripts of victims’ stories and to translate their words into English, almost 30 people applied.

Junko Shibuya, one of the volunteers who works as an English teacher in Kyoto, translated a story of a male hibakusha who has long surveyed photos of the atomic bombings.

“American citizens may want to ignore hibakusha’s stories, but I will be happy if the website provides a good opportunity for both Japanese and Americans to speak of their true feelings for each other,” Shibuya said.

Skylar’s website suggests how its content could be used to teach the atomic bombing of Nagasaki at classes. A mapping program is also available for users to simulate what would happen if an atomic bomb was dropped on their own town.

“I hope the website will help students imagine what it would be like if their hometown experienced an atomic bombing and urge them to think of the issue,” Sklyar said.

Titled Nagasaki Atomic History and the Present, the website is: (http://nagasaki.colgate.edu/)