Leprosarium ‘prison’ dig site opens

Kyodo

The health ministry began work Tuesday at a leprosarium to excavate what was once the only “prison” for rebellious Hansen’s disease patients brought in from facilities nationwide, as part of efforts to create a replica of the abusive jail for public viewing next year.

The ministry hopes to create a museum dedicated to the inmates, many of whom were severely abused, in the prison facility at the Kuriu Rakusenen leprosarium in Kusatsu, Gunma Prefecture. The facility is still home to 100 aging patients.

Ministry officials said their goal is to create a museum to preserve the dark past in Japan’s history for future generations.

The special ward, known as “jukanbo” or prison for severe crimes, was built at the leprosarium in 1938. Hansen’s disease patients, deemed to be rebellious at leprosaria nationwide, were sent to the special ward.

Records show that 93 lepers were imprisoned and were believed to have been mistreated, including starved, during their confinement. Among them, 22 are believed to have died of cold and hunger.

The special prison operated until 1947 and was demolished in 1953. Nothing remains of its upper structure or floor plan.

The ministry will excavate a 320 sq. meter site and its surroundings to look for building materials, as well as cutlery or other tools used by the prisoners by September, the ministry said.

The leprosarium opened in 1932. The patients asked that the jail be restored to pass on the history of the abusive facility.