Photographer Nobuyuki Yaegashi has opened an exhibition in Tokyo chronicling the struggle of Hansen’s disease patients in Japan, South Korea and Taiwan during the past decade.
Yaegashi, 62, is a photographer known for work focusing on Hansen’s disease. The exhibition “Kizuna” (“Bond”) runs through April 21 at Jinken Library in Minato Ward, and showcases 35 black-and-white pictures patients in the three countries.
After Japan in 1996 repealed the Leprosy Prevention Law, which had allowed for segregating Hansen’s disease patients, Yaegashi visited 12 sanitariums across Japan.
While taking pictures, Yaegashi also recorded accounts of discrimination encountered by the patients and participated in activities to support lawsuits filed against the state by them.
Yaegashi also visited sani tariums in South Korea and Taiwan for the first time last year. The facilities were built during Japan’s colonial rule. He attended court hearings of suits by former patients seeking compensation from Japan.
“I want visitors to see the courage of the people, whose bond with society, families and hometowns were cut off, coming back to participate in society once again,” Yaegashi said.
Japan’s Hansen’s disease quarantine policy was established in 1907 and continued even after World War II with the creation of the Leprosy Prevention Law in 1953.
Until the law was repealed in 1996, Japan segregated Hansen’s disease patients in isolated sanitariums for decades, even after it was learned that the illness, commonly known as leprosy, is not contagious.