Japan: Educators pay tribute to colleagues and students lost to the COVID-19 pandemic

published 16 November 2021 updated 19 November 2021

On 24 October, the Japan Teachers’ Union (JTU) held a tribute ceremony at the Education Tower in the Osaka Castle Park to pay homage to educators and children who have lost their lives. This year, a special focus was placed on educators and students who died as a result of COVID-19.

The Education Tower and Festival

In the Education Tower, “a solemn and healing place for bereaved families”, there are about 30,000 name plates in memory of educators and students, indicated JTU President Hideyuki Shimizu.

“Many 70- or 80-year-old people attended, although their children had passed away long ago. For them, the fourth Sunday of October is very special. JTU therefore could not change the date, although we wanted to pay tribute on World Teachers’ Day, 5 October,” Shimizu explained.

Muroto Typhoon’s devastating impact in 1934

The Education Tower initially served as a memorial to schoolteachers and students who died on 21 September 1934, when the Muroto Typhoon struck the Kansai region. One of the most powerful ever recorded at the time, the typhoon hit at the start of a school day, and over 600 children and 25 educators in Osaka died.

Many schools of that era were wooden structures that could not withstand powerful winds, and over 200 of Osaka's educational institutions were destroyed or badly damaged.

Stories later circulated of teachers who heroically risked their lives to lead students to safety or attempted to shelter them as buildings collapsed.

Immediately after the disaster, Osaka’s educational community proposed the construction of a monument in the memory of children, teachers, and education support personnel, hoping that such a disaster would never happen again.

Holding an extraordinary general meeting, the Imperial Education Society decided to build a memorial tower. The construction of the Education Tower in the Osaka Castle Park was funded by public donations. It was completed on 30 October 1936, with the first Education Festival held that same day. Since then, the festival has been held at the end of October every year.

JTU organises the festival

In 1948, the JTU took over the maintenance and management of the tower from the dissolved Imperial Education Society and was charged with the organisation of the education festival.

Today, the memorial honours educators and students in general, including those killed in natural disasters, such as the Great Hanshin Earthquake that hit the city of Kobe in 1995.