Get Some R & R on a Field Trip to Kagoshima

David McMurray, The International University of Kagoshima

The war in Ukraine, Covid-19 pandemic, and the nuclear crisis in Fukushima roused language teachers in Japan to reimagine and redesign the delivery of lessons outside their school’s brick and mortar walls. For example, the president of International Christian University, Shoichiro Iwakiri (2022),tried to instill courage in the graduating cohort from International Christian University by conveying his last “hope that each of you will play your part as a peace-builder in this world.” In his presidential address, he girded graduates by stating, “Abnormal things include natural disasters, nuclear accidents, terrorism, viruses, wars . . .They seem sudden to us, but in fact they may have already been there with their destructive powers, simply invisible to our eyes—only to suddenly and visibly encroach upon our daily lives” (Iwakiri, 2022). This essay suggests that in the last century, pedagogy designed by global peace educators—instructors who teach how to resolve conflicts around the globe and train people for living in peace in the world—can assist language teachers to reset and refit their lessons today (Cates, 1990).


School Excursions

According to Kyodo (2022), school excursions are one of the many educational events that are affected by global issues. Teachers-in-training today face the lingering fallout from war, virus, and meltdown, which will affect school trips for years to come. Overseas study destinations from A to Z—Australia to Zimbabwe—were canceled one after another in 2021—suffering a 98 percent drop. In contrast, domestic study trips to places in Japan that avoided the three Cs (crowds, close contact, and closed spaces) surprisingly persisted.

Junior and senior high school teachers in Japan prepare school excursions one year or more prior to commencement. This is because seniors are pressed to focus their efforts on entrance exams. Second graders in their schools get to embark on five-day-long sightseeing trips—an early gift and a chance for rest and relaxation on the road to senior-year graduation. The pandemic, however, forced travel agents to replace international travel destinations and prefectures in states of emergency with safer domestic locations. Even though students in Tokyo and Kanto region went to Kyoto and Nara, some school buses from Tohoku and Hokkaido headed for Tokyo and Osaka but avoided Disneyland and Universal Studios. Students from Chugoku and Shikoku schools went to Kyushu and vice versa. Surprisingly, Nagasaki became the most popular destination of all high school trips taken in 2020 according to a survey by Japan School Tours Bureau (Nippon Data, 2021). Hiroshima rose eight spots to rank third, and Kagoshima jumped to tenth: peace memorials became top-ten destinations from among Japan’s forty-seven prefectures. This repositioning and redeployment to Hiroshima and Nagasaki’s peace memorial museums avoided coronavirus hotspots and aligned with tourism development policies to promote international peace and Japan’s hinterland (Sharpley, 2020). Concomitantly, the purpose of school excursions changed from a travel reward to fieldwork on historical spots at which students were required to write diary-style reports. I can substantiate this change in aim because schoolteachers assigned the writing of haiku in English following these fieldtrips—over 35,000 haiku in English were submitted by students in Japan to me for judging in the annual Itoen Ocha Shinhaiku, Junior and Senior High School Student English Haiku Contest in Kagoshima, and Setouchi-Matsuyama Photo-Haiku contests in 2021. In previous-year contests, there were far fewer submissions of haiku about visiting historical spots.

See how it hovers

In these streets of yellow fog

A human shadow

This haiku by the celebrated novelist and English teacher in Kumamoto, Soseki Natsume (1867–1916), was penned when he was studying abroad in London. It was cited in the posthumously published memoirs of Shigeo Imamura (1922–1998) in a chapter about studying English at Matsuyama Junior High School (Imamura, 2001, p. 170).


Fieldwork at Chiran Peace Museum

Readers might recall Imamura coined the name “The Japan Association for Language Teaching” while serving as JALT’s president from 1991 to 1993. He was born in California but returned to Japan with his parents when he was ten. After college, at 21 years of age, he volunteered to train with the Imperial Japanese Naval Air Reserve. Not long thereafter, in February 1944, he was ordered to retrain as a fighter pilot for a special attack unit based in Izumi, Kagoshima, located near Chiran—the departure tarmac for hundreds of final sorties by kamikaze pilots. Paradoxically therefore, Imamura was an American kamikaze during World War II. The dust jacket of his 221-page book shows him wearing dashing pilot gear standing in front of a Zero fighter in Kagoshima. Luckily, he never took off on a final mission.


Figure 1

Photograph of Shigeo Imamura, Former JALT President, on the Cover of His Memoir

Today, Chiran is a farming village in Minamikyushu City, encircled by mountains and ocean at the tip of Kyushu. The village is renowned for its green tea, sweet potatoes, and its connection to the kamikaze pilots of World War II. The Chiran Peace Museum for Kamikaze Pilots (Chiran Tokko Heiwa Kaikan) is a popular memorial site for school trips. Real and replica airplanes are curated and a touch-panel media system with headphones displays photos of the young men who mounted suicide attacks. Museum-goers I have observed are most attracted to the pilots’ final letters, poems, and songs. I have read their English translations by Takeshi Kawatoko (2008), a museum official and retired Japanese Army Colonel. His English guidebook Mind of the Kamikaze explains the feelings of kamikaze pilots and why the Imperial army started suicide attacks. To help students understand archaic kanji terms, the Japanese transcriptions are accompanied by kana notations to indicate pronunciation.


Figure 2

Photograph of Chiran City High School Students Cheering a Kamikaze Pilot

Note: On April 12, 1945, Chiran Municipal High School’s Nadeshiko Corps waved cherry blossoms to cheer a fighter pilot. This photo is in the public domain (Wikimedia Commons, 2020, Jan. 27).


Global Education

Global education methodology grew from the study of three global issues reminiscent to those of today: nuclear disaster (the 1986 Chernobyl meltdown), contagion (the 1981 HIV/AIDS pandemic), and a world at war (the 1990-91 Gulf War). In response, language teachers began to incorporate global issues into their classroom content. Cates (1990) called upon English language teachers to rethink and respond to this question: “Global education, what’s it all for?” Peaty (2004) cautioned, “There are certain risks inherent in global education. These include inadequate teacher knowledge of the subject, tension between the traditional curriculum and the more progressive elements of global education, and the risk of indoctrination.”

Practicing teachers can sidestep indoctrination concerns by heeding UNESCO’s (2015) agenda for sustainable development aims, “By 2030, [to] ensure that all learners acquire the knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development, including, among others . . . promotion of a culture of peace and non-violence.” To achieve this goal, a world program providing education for youth is currently in the final phase of implementation. School excursions are covered by the United Nations’ (2015) Declaration on Human Rights Education and Training adopted in 2011 to define human rights education and training as comprising “all educational, training, informational, awareness-raising and learning activities aimed at promoting universal respect for and observance of all human rights . . .”


Evaluation of the Chiran Museum for High School Excursions

Public opinion of the kamikaze pilots remains diverse and divided. Controversy surrounding Japan’s military role in the Pacific War, specifically how the kamikaze phenomenon is commemorated and interpreted reveals a significant degree of dissonance. Sharpley (2020) suggested that “one objective of Japan’s recent tourism development policy is the enhancement of mutual understanding and the promotion of international peace” (p. 1). Referring to Chiran Peace Museum as a heritage site saddled with difficulties, he concluded that a meaningful opportunity to enhance international understanding had been missed because only a “selective narrative of heroic sacrifice [is] presented within a wider revisionist history of the Pacific War, but also no attempt is made to acknowledge the prevailing cultural context that might underpin a more nuanced understanding of the kamikaze.” Inazuka (2016) claimed that the militaristic ideas promoted by the museum “are coupled with ambiguous pacifist discourse, presumably for pragmatic reasons” (p. 1). Political and economic considerations play important roles in the establishment and maintenance of commemorative sites. For example, memorial services for the war dead regularly held at Chiran Special Attack Peace Kannon-do attract over 800 people, including the town mayor, local businessmen, and bereaved families from all over the country.

Imamura (2001) likely felt relief but not regret for defending Japan when he wrote, “In war, we fight for our country; in peace, we all work together” (p. 144). After the war he became an English translator and interpreter. He studied linguistics at the University of Michigan, taught in the Michigan State English Department, and directed its English Language Center (ELC) before returning to Japan to teach English at Himeji Dokkyo University until his death. Three years later in 2001, sales of “Shig: The True Story of an American Kamikaze” did not have much time to take off before the September 11 suicidal airplane attacks against the US by militant al-Qaeda Islamist terrorists. Prospective book buyers may have questioned whether the kamikaze pilots were dedicated samurai or deluded fanatics little different from modern-day terrorists who flew planes into buildings. The author’s wife Isako established the Shigeo and Isako Imamura Graduate Fellowship in English Language Teaching to provide graduate assistantship support for teaching English to international students, which the benefactors believe will nurture cultural empathy and ultimately peace (Paff, 2010).

In 2022, the reference to “special attack missions,” brings to mind the euphemism “special military operation” that Russian newspaper editors use to describe the invasion of Ukraine (Bubola, 2022). Teachers in European schools are on the frontline in their classrooms, such as a seventh-grade teacher in Norway who summarized the war as simply a question of right and wrong. Answering questions after a lesson is also tough, such as this one by an eleven-year-old: “Would you like to stay and fight for your country?” Bubola (2022) observed the teacher pause to think of what to respond to such a hard question and then replied to her primary school debating class in Horsham, a town in the south of England: “My instinct would be to protect you,” confirming, “Yes, I think I would fight for my country.”



Students and teachers struggle when coming to terms with global issues, such as war, pandemic, and nuclear disaster. Global education pedagogy, developed by teachers thirty years ago, can assist tomorrow’s teachers. Values diverge in peacetime and war. Teachers can frown upon discriminating against people based on characteristics, such as race, sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity but can allow other global issues to be debated openly. Universities can offer fertile ground for teachers in training to restudy and rebuke positions during debate. When readying themselves for the job market, tomorrow’s teachers might be tempted to align with popular opinion to avoid criticism. Some of the most interesting and inspiring conversations, however, can flourish from disagreement. High-school-age students who are shielded from these exchanges miss vital opportunities to refine their critical thinking skills and better understand the world we live in. Well-planned school excursions to destinations that foster balanced inquiry into global issues can help tomorrow’s teachers become peacebuilders in this world.

Sprouting grass—

asking why and why

little girl

The above haiku was penned by a former high school teacher of English in Nagoya, Satoru Kanematsu (McMurray, 2022).



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Cates, K. (1990). Teaching for a better world: global issues in language education. The Language Teacher, 14(5), 3.

Imamura, I. (2001). Shig: the true story of an American kamikaze. American Literary Press.

Inazuka, A (2016). Memories of the tokko: An analysis of the Chiran peace museum for kamikaze pilots. Howard Journal of Communication, 27(2), 1–22.

Iwakiri, S. (2022, March 25). 2022 spring commencement ceremony. International Christian University.

Kyodo. (2022, March 30). Japanese students studying abroad down 98% in 2020 due to covid.

McMurray, D. (2022, May 20). Asahi haikuist network. Asahi Shimbun.

Nippon Data (2021, December 9). Nagasaki most popular prefecture for Japanese high school trips in 2020.

Paff, B. (2010, March 10). Imamura graduate fellowship designed to promote peace. Michigan State University.

Peaty, D. (2004). Global issues in EFL: Education or indoctrination? The Language Teacher, 28(8), 15. 

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United Nations’ (2015). Sustainable development goal 4, target 7.