Real Teachers: Japanese teachers who gave their lives for their students
The Tragedy on Mt. Komagatake, Nagano

By Billy Hammond

I saw a documentary a few years back which moved me greatly. It was based on a true tragedy that occured on Mt. Komagatake in Nagano prefecture during the Taisho Era. For some reason or other, yesterday I googled the topic and found the story on the Net. It reminded me of what a real teacher is.

The story goes that on August 16, 1913 the Nakamiwa Normal Elementary and High School children led by their Principal, Mr. Akabane (赤羽長重) set out on a field trip up Mt. Komagatake (木曽駒ケ岳). There were 25 students, 9 young men from the local youth association and 2 teachers in the party which totaled 37 members with the principal included. In spite of careful planning and checking the latest weather forecasts, they were beset upon by sudden rain, high winds and dropping temperatures. The original plan called for them to stay for one night at a mountain lodge.

When they got to the lodge, they found it burned down and in ruins. The principal huddled them together and they used their ponchos to form a temporary shelter. However, drained by the cold and fatigue, one student died. Panic set in and the members of the local youth association disobeyed the principal's orders and started down the mountain themselves. The principal and the teachers did everything they could to help the other weaker students get down the mountain. Those strong enough to make it to the rescue party survived, but the teachers and the principal died. When they found his body, they found that he'd taken off his shirt in the freezing weather and put it on a student to try and enable him to survive.

When I read this story, it reminded me of how serious teaching is. I wonder how many teachers in Japan today would fare if confronted by the same situation?

For those readers who can read Japanese, I'm pretty sure that many have already read or seen this story. 聖職の碑(せいしょくのいしぶみ) by 新田次郎

First published on the author's myspace blog on November 26, 2006. Revised April 15, 2007.

Copyright 2006 Billy Hammond, AELS