• Kyodo

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Tohoku-Shinseien, a sanitarium for Hansen’s disease patients in Tome, Miyagi Prefecture, is proceeding with plans to renovate a joint elementary and junior high school on its premises into a facility to display documents and other reference materials pertaining to life within the compound.

The museum is expected to be completed next month.

The sanitarium’s Hanokisawa Branch School opened in 1951 in what was then the village of Nitta. Forty-seven Hansen’s patients of elementary and junior high school age studied there before it was closed in 1965.

The building shows the extent of discrimination against Hansen’s sufferers at the time. For example, the staff room has two entrances — one for those who were not sick and another for patients.

The room will be restored and utilized as part of the new facility, where various photographs, chronological tables of the school’s history, blackboards, an organ and happi coats worn by the sanitarium’s volunteer fire brigade will also be exhibited.

Eiji Kubo, chairman of the association of Tohoku-Shinseien residents, said the project was not easy.

“Items that had the word ‘leprosy’ on them have been discarded” over the years, he said. What is more, residents who know the sanitarium’s history are becoming few in number.

But Kubo remains optimistic, saying he hopes to “build a facility that would remain for years to come where visitors can ‘feel’ the history of Hansen’s disease.”

Tohoku-Shinseien opened in 1939, and housed patients from the six prefectures in the Tohoku region and Hokkaido. As of last month, about 160 patients with an average age of 78.4 years resided in the facility.

PHOTO GALLERY (CLICK TO ENLARGE)