By Kazue Suzuki Asahi Weekly
When 12-year-old Tadatoshi Akiba picked up an NHK radio English textbook at a local bookstore in March 1955, he was curious about a new language.
"I was anxious to study English at junior high school," recalled Akiba, now the Hiroshima mayor and leader of the Mayors for Peace effort. "I took a look at an English conversation textbook, which looked too difficult for a first-year English student. I bought instead 'Kiso Eigo' (English for beginners), placed next to the conversation book."
Starting on April 1, 1955, Akiba listened to the program, broadcast from 6 to 6:15 a.m., Mondays through Saturdays.
"I missed the program only once or twice throughout the year," he said. "I made my own 'clock radio' by combining an alarm clock and a radio so that I would not have to bother my mother."
Takeo Shibazaki, professor of English literature at Nihon Women's University, taught the course.
"It was well organized so that you could learn fundamentals of three years' worth of junior high school English within a year," Akiba said. "His voice was attractive, example sentences chosen from literature sounded elegant, and poems and tips on holidays in the United States were informative.
"I liked the opening songs very much. By the time the lyrics printed in the last page were explained at the end of the month, I knew them by heart."◆いい文章を暗記
The first songs in English he learned included "Old Black Joe," "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" and "Silent Night." Akiba learned an important lesson through Shibazaki's program -- the importance of memorizing good sentences.
At Elmwood Park Community High School (now Elmwood Park High School) near Chicago, which he attended as an American Field Service exchange student from 1959-60, occasional vocabulary tests and quizzes were common.
"I had to study hard to keep up with the class, but day-to-day reading assignments helped my linguistic skill to improve."
Classmates and teachers spoke slowly and taught him new words and expressions when necessary. "I brought a small dictionary so that I could ask a friend to point the word out when I couldn't catch what a teacher said. But the dictionary became unnecessary soon."
Tad, as Tadatoshi was called by his peers, quickly made friends through mathematics -- the subject he was strongest at -- and through sports.
He studied hard with a friend and passed an exam on the U.S. Constitution and Illinois State Constitution -- part of the graduation requirement for seniors in the state of Illinois. He placed second on the examination overall, while his friend placed first.
However, even though his spoken English improved dramatically to where he would also win an intramural debating competition, it was still not comparable to his native speaker friends.
He was frustrated when he was unable to rebut a history teacher and his classmates who justified dropping the atomic bomb on Hiroshima on the grounds it saved numerous American lives and that Japan deserved it, for starting the war.
"It was homework I had to answer someday," Akiba said. More than 40 years after the class discussion, Akiba could respond by talking about hibakusha (A-bomb survivors) and Hiroshima's effort to stop another tragedy from occurring.
"I was invited to talk at DePaul University in Chicago as it was to start the Hiroshima-Nagasaki lecture series. My former classmates at Elmwood Park Community High came to listen to me. It took me 40 years to explain the facts about atomic bombing and the message of hibakusha."◆終わらない宿題
Has his homework been accomplished?
Akiba said not yet.
"It will be done when Mayors for Peace's goal -- to eliminate all the nuclear weapons from the earth -- is achieved by the year 2020. We call it the Vision 2020 campaign."
Akiba's involvement in this campaign also stems from his love of and proficiency in English.
When he was a freshman at the University of Tokyo, he got a summer job as an interpreter at the annual World Conference against A & H Bombs.
Later, the idea for the Hibakusha Travel Grant (Akiba Project), which invites reporters from around the world, including the United States, to visit Hiroshima and Nagasaki to see first-hand the effects of the A-bomb, came as he taught at Tufts University near Boston.
"A radio talk show reported that eight or nine out of 10 Boston residents said that it was right to drop the A-bomb on Hiroshima," Akiba said. "I thought the best way would be to let their fellow reporters of local newspapers write about Hiroshima as they saw it."
He and his interpreter friends worked quickly to start the travel project, which has become a major effort of the Hiroshima International Cultural Foundation. Along with changing U.S. opinion, there was a personal reason as well.
"My son was born in 1975. I thought I needed to add something special from Japan to the reservoir of choices my son would make someday," Akiba said. "After eliminating what were readily available, I came up with the peace spirit of Hiroshima and Japan: hibakusha sought reconciliation, not retaliation. I thought he would read reports in English when he grew up."
When he was a child, Akiba had been affected by seeing in school the 1952 movie "Genbaku no Ko" (Children of the A-Bomb).
"I was not able to go to school for two days," he recalled.
When I interviewed Akiba recently, he was preparing a draft of his Peace Declaration, which he would read on Aug. 6 on Hiroshima Peace Memorial Day. He and his team were brainstorming for strong words and memorable expressions.
Last month, to a group of Hiroshima high school students who were studying in the United States, Akiba gave advice that spoke of his wisdom gained over the years.
"Be prepared," he told them. "You will be asked questions about Hiroshima. Write your answers in English beforehand and learn them by heart. This process will help internalize your thoughts. It would be difficult to utter a sentence which had never occurred to you before."
Asahi Weekly, August 13, 2006より
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