I heard even beating wings of a kite which was flying in the air. There was a wooden building covered with ivies before me. “That used to be an elementary school.” A farmer who was planting rice in a rice terrace nearby said that and wiped the sweat. He is Akio Taniguchi, 72. “Most of the adults in this area studied there.” It was a prewar elementary school building for children who lived in the heart of Mt. Aoba in Takahama-cho, Fukui Prefecture.
Tsutomu Mizukami, who was a novelist and was from Ohi-machi next to Takahama-cho, used to be a teacher at the school for two years from 1944, when the war was near to end. He taught some 30 students who were from the first to the fourth grade there. He evacuated from Tokyo, where there were many air raids, and got a job as an assistant teacher near his hometown.
“My older sister Takako was one of his students,” said Akio, looking up at the old building. Akio’s sister whom Mizukami, then 25, called “Taka-chan” was in the first grade. She was born with a mental handicap and had not been abscent from school for a long time. According to the former teacher, she “has a weak will to study and causes troubles for other students.” But Mizukami visited her and recommended attending school. Akio said, “I’m sure that both of my sister and mother were very happy to hear that.”
After coming back to school, Taka-chan showed a special skill. When children had to gather food for soldiers, she went deep into the mountains and picked lots of Japanese butterburs. Her classmates who had evacuated from Tokyo or Osaka widened their eyes in surprise. One day, Taka-chan was missing. She went too deep into the mountains. All of the teachers and the students searched her and the children shed tears of relief when they found her. After the war, Mizukami wrote this: Under the sunset, the tearing children were beautiful.
Mizukami appeared at the school building again in the fall of 1976, after he had achieved success as a writer. Ex-students of his held a class reunion. Akio remembers how his sister was that day. “She welcomed him at the school gate with her mother. She is smiling as she used to be with her teacher on a photo.” At that time, the village was changing dramatically. Two years before the class reunion, the first reactor of Takahama Nuclear Power Plant, which was 4 kilometers north of the school, started. After that, the construction of the power station was continued, and totally four reactors were built. Akio left his rice fields up to his wife and parents, and worked at the construction. “I’ve ever worked there for 24 hours straight.” It seemed that the nuclear power plant was the strongest architecture in the world to him at that time. He does not deny that the nuclear power plant has given richness to the villagers still now.
The old school was closed in 1983 when a new building with reinforced concrete was built near the old one with government subsidies. But Akio has often thought, “We’ve had enough…” since he saw exploded Fukushima No.1 Nuclear Power Plant on TV. Even after the village got a nuclear power station, young people have kept leaving their hometown to urban areas. The scenery of rice terraces is beautiful, but most of them exist just as tourist attractions. Taka-chan passed away eight years ago at the age of 67. It was just a year after Mizukami’s death. Until the end of her life, Akio’s sister had carried that old photo all the time with her. Today, there is no child to go to the school with reinforced concrete.
(The Chunichi May 30, 2013, translated by Moshimoshimo)