Minamata City -- it is a tranquil "rural city", at the southern edge of Kumamoto Prefecture, Kyushu, and the place where a branch of the Kyushu mountain range gently slopes down to the Sea of Shiranui, which has been blessed with an abundance of marine products. So the sea around Minamata was similar to a front garden for the inhabitants, and they had been living in harmony with the nature. But today, the sea has a death agony deeply in itself. Because it has been killed with industrial waste originating in the Chisso Minamata Factory. "Had it not been for the Factory..." People, knowing that it is just a complaint. Cannot but grumble again and again. Perhaps, they could have lived much happier life, if "the Factory" had not discharged poison.
Since 1932, the Minamata Factory had used mercury as a catalyst in the manufacturing process of acetaldehyde, and the mercury compounds which were used there were discharged into the sea of Minamata continuously; its gross amount is estimated at about six hundred tons.
Death signs from the sea appeared early. For example, from the nearby coast, many fish were occasionally observed floating dead on the sea, and dead shellfish began to smell and the crows which ate these fish and shellfish fell down suddenly from the sky. Next, cats went mad, and in 1942, man began to suffer from this mysterious and dread disease.
About the details, you'll be able to learn from the reporters. Up to the present, the officially recognized victims are 181 (including 29 infants of congenital Minamata disease). Of them, 54 died and those who are now receiving medication on account of some symptoms are about 350. In addition, according to the results of a mass health investigation by Kumamoto and Kagoshima Prefecture for the residents around Minamata, the number of those who need close examination is about 2,000.
In September 1968, the Government (the Ministry of Welfare) at long last designated the Minamata disease as a "Pollution Disease", caused by organic mercury included in the waste water from the Chisso Minamata Factory. Fifteen years had already passed since the first patient was reported.
Meanwhile, the Chisso Corp. would often hinder the investigation, using every possible means, by the research group organized in the Medical School of Kumamoto University. For instance, the Minamata Factory refused to co-operate with the research group and withheld information on its production, process, and the components of the discharged waste water. Moreover, some plausible studies on the cause of Minamata Disease, such as "the explosives theory" by Dr. Oshima and "the amin theory" by Prof. Kiyoura-Tokida, influenced public opinion.
Accordingly the research group encountered many frequent difficulties. Making use of these conditions, the Chisso Corp. failed to pay compensation to fishermen and victims. On the contrary, it contained to discharge the still dangerous waste water.
In spite of the Government's view in 1968, the Chisso Corp. itself would not admit to its crime. But, as the public censure blamed this attitude of the Chisso Corp., it plotted with the Ministry of Welfare and formed "The Compensation Treatment Committee for Minamata Disease Victims". This Committee, after about a year, submitted its conclusions to both the Chisso Corp. and its victims. But, it was only a rehash of "mimaikin (solatium) contract" which was forced on the victims in 1959, with Kosaku Teramoto, governor of Kumamoto, acting as the intercessor. At any rate, the committee merely ordered the Chisso Corp. to pay small compensation to the victims, with its serious charge still unquestioned. In this way, the Committee which consisted of "neutral" persons permitted the Chisso Corp. to get away with the responsibility for the Minamata disease. Some of the patients and their families were forced to accept the bill, knowing that it was quite unsatisfactory, because of their poverty and pressure by the group which stood on the Factory's side.
However, some of the victims could not endure Chisso Corp.'s conduct any longer, so they sued it for damages. This was really a crucial and unspeakable struggle of the victims who had been sacrificed by the Chisso Corp. and deserted by the Government and local governments and isolated in society for such a long time.
On the other hand, a series of shocking facts were revealed quite recently, that is, as stated before, the problem of the latent Minamata disease victims. After the Government's view on Minamata disease in 1968, the number of people who have asked recognition of Minamata disease is rapidly increasing. This means that there are still many latent patients of Minamata disease in Minamata City. In fact, as a result of the health investigation carried out by the Medical School of Kumamoto University in l971, 138 who have Minamata-disease-like symptoms were discovered in Goshonoura in Amakusa.
Why haven't physicians and doctors recognized that there are latent patients?
One reason is that the Minamata Disease Victims Recognition Council , which consists of fourteen members (most of them have surely contributed to the investigation on Minamata disease to a considerable extent) had only recognized, as victims of the Minamata disease, the victims who have the typical Hunter- Russell syndrome. In other words, the Council said that Minamata disease patients should have the Hunter-Russell syndrome, for some ten years. On that account, a large number of victims were neglected for some time.
But at long last, this attitude of the Council was questioned by many people, especially by the "unrecognized" patients. They have already learned intuitively that they must be victims. So they began to make applications to the Council to be recognized as Minamata disease victims. They needed medical treatment and were very afraid for their future. Nevertheless, the Council would not recognize these people as Minamata disease victims. Of course they asked the Council for an explanation, but it refused to answer. Since then, the long and hard struggle of these unrecognized victims has been continuing. The short history of their struggle is as follows:
1968. 10. 12 The first application for Minamata disease recognition to Kumamoto Prefectural Government (Minamata Disease Recognition Council is organized under Kumamoto Prefectural Government).
1969. 5.29 The Council's answer was "No".
1969. 9. 8 A second application.
1970. 6.24 Notification of "No" again.
1970. 8.18 Nine victims who were denied recognition made an appeal to superior authorities (it was the Ministry of Health & Welfare in those days, but since 1971,it has been the Environment Agency).
1971. 8. 7 The Environment Agency's decision, ordering the Council to annul the previous procedure and ordering a re-examination.
1971. 10. 2 The re-inquiry into the case of nine victims.
1971. 10. 8 Finally recognized as Minamata disease victims.
Finally, these victims were recognized as carriers of the Minamata disease. But the problem was not settled yet. The Chisso Corp. paid but little attention to the victims' compensation request and this time it tried to entrust the solution to "the Central-Public Nuisance Dispute Council". But the victims refused such deception and demanded compensation from the Chisso Corp. What is called the direct-negotiation struggle, in which the victims confront the assailant and attack its responsibility for the disease, aroused sympathy among many people? This has been the most striking movements in Japan. What we mentioned above is only an outline of the disease problem and the history of the victims' struggle.
Finally Minamata disease attracted attention from many people in the world and as for the struggle of the victims, many sympathizers began to help them. But even if the present struggle ends and even if the Court hands down a decision favoring the victims, the patients, who died, will never return to life, and those who have been crippled cannot recover. Then all they have in the future to do is to endure their pain. And money will not help.
A mother who has a congenital Minamata disease boy sighs in grief and says, "When I'm gone, he'll also die. Who cares for him after my death? He can't eat, drink and walk by himself. "And concerning another severe case, doctors call the victim a vegetable or a living doll. Even a patient designated as a slight case also has many troubles in his daily life because of disturbances in hearing, speaking, or walking. Modern automated factories, which require a strong mental concentration and fast physical adaptation, won't accept such victims. Furthermore, they are forced to estrange themselves even from their daily life, which has been diversified and continues to change.
In the severe confrontation with the Chisso Corp. by means of civil action and "direct-negotiation", the struggle of the victims and their families has reached a climax. But it is also a fact that hardship and agony in the heart of the victims cannot be cleared away completely by a civil action or even negotiation. Looking back on the long process of the struggle, the voice of the victims, "We don't want any money. Drink mercury, you, the president, and the other executives of Chisso!" comes to mind and reminds us of the gravity of the Minamata disease.
Under such circumstances, our Government, as well as some local governments, has not paid any attention to the medical and social remedy for the disease victims, and it will be the same from now on. Now is the time when we must stand on common ground with the victims and make up our minds to fight together with them. In conclusion, we have decided to make an appeal for the establishment of a Minamata Center. Its main object is as follows:
We cannot foresee in what direction the struggle will develop, but at least we believe that to support the victims and their families mentally and physically is our urgent task. So we appeal here to the People all over the world for the establishment of "the Minamata Center". It is a positive declaration of the eternal Minamata Disease Struggle and it will be a most important base for the Minamata disease movements in the future.
I. The function of the Center (a) To secure a place for mutual communication among the victims and their families and sympathizers.
(b) As a meeting place, to exchange any sort of information on daily life and movement, to discuss directions in future, to have entertainment, association and free talking.
(c) To set up a medical institution--we are planning for complete medical facilities and staff, but for the present, we'd like to begin with providing a regular examination, consultation on medical care, simple treatment, and the like.
(d) To set up a Data Room-collection, preservation and exhibition of a large amount of materials concerning the history of Minamata City, Chisso Corp., the circumstances of victims and their families, medical studies on Minamata disease, Minamata disease movement, etc.
(e) As the Counseling Room for the victims and their families about employment, education, marriage, etc.
(f) As the place where the victims and their families engage in works such as farming and sale of products (Already its experimental practice has been carried out, though on a very small scale).
U. The place of the Center
Minamata City, Kumamoto Prefecture, Japan.
III. The time
Start is early in January, 1973.
Completion is late in December, 1973.
IV. The total cost
100,000,000 yen ($ 300,000). V. How to supply the fund
Contribution from people who support this project.
You're requested to make contact with the Preparatory Committee for Minamata Center Establishment.
Address: Ffoot_blko Hiyoshi Makinouchi,Minamata City, Japan.
Ffoot_blko Hiyoshi(President of the Minamata Disease Citizens Council)
Hirotsugu Shiraki(Professor of Tokyo University Medical School)
Jun Ui(Assistant of Tokyo University Technological Department)
Keikichi Honda(Representative of the Society to Condemn the Minamata
Naoo Harada(Managing editor of Tembo,a monthly magazine)
Rokuro Hidaka(Sociologist,former Professor of Tokyo University)
Yuko Mochizuki(Member of the House of Councilors)
Yutaka Shinoyama(Editorial writer of Asahi Newspaper Company)
Noriaki Tsuchimoto(Film director)
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