Masazumi Harada (1934-2012), a doctor who devoted himself to research on Minamata disease, often spoke about his “responsibility as someone who saw” what was going on.
As a young man, he visited the stricken area and was struck by the fact that sufferers were deprived of their human dignity.
Harada was shocked not only at the seriousness of the disease, but also at the poverty of sufferers and discrimination against them. People who could have been saved were living in poverty, shutting themselves up as if hiding from the world.
Harada, who died in June at age 77, devoted his career to Minamata disease. No one has lived up to his responsibility as purely and in such a moving way.
What about the government's role?
In defiance of many objections, the government stopped accepting applications for its relief plan based on the Minamata Disease Victims Relief Law at the end of July. It is as if in order to put an end to its responsibility as an aggressor and relief provider, it set up “the last train” for relief and had applicants catch it at the last moment.
But it is believed that many people "missed the train." The extent of damage remains unclear to date.
Despite this fact, the government limited recipients of relief by area and age. Moreover, another reason is the presence of patients who are reluctant to apply for relief because they are afraid of prejudice.
In the past, I heard there were cases of entire villages trying to hide patients. An aging former fisherman told The Asahi Shimbun: “Until recently, the mood prevalent among villagers was that no matter what, our community must not produce Minamata disease patients. It was something we had to hide.”
This time, after much thought, quite a few people came forward to apply for relief.
Before his death, Harada said: “The government and other parties are showing an attitude as if to say ‘Let’s put an end to this. That’s enough.’ But there is no end.”
Watching the government abandon its responsibility and draw the curtains, he must have drawn parallels with the government's present and future response to the nuclear disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.
--The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 2
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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.
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