Wako University is holding an exhibition through Sept. 24 on Minamata disease at its campus in Machida, western Tokyo, aiming to show how the mercury-poisoning disease has affected Japan’s postwar society.
The exhibition is being held to mark the 50th anniversary of official recognition of one of Japan’s most serious pollution-related illnesses.
It is cosponsored by the nonprofit organization Minamata-Forum and includes a series of lectures and symposiums by Minamata disease patients, scholars and social activists. Photo and films will also be exhibited.
In one of the photo shows, some 470 pictures and profiles of deceased patients are displayed so visitors can see how ordinary people like themselves were hit by the disease.
The Tokyo-based NPO, established to hand down the lessons of the disease to future generations, has held the Minamata exhibition 17 times nationwide during the past 10 years, attracting some 110,000 people in total.
This the first time the event has been held by a university.
“As an educational and research institute, a university cannot ignore Minamata disease, which also involves political and economic factors,” Satoru Saishu, a Wako professor who heads the organizers, said at the opening ceremony.
Minamata disease, caused by mercury-laced waste water released from Chisso Corp.’s synthetic resin factory in Minamata, Kumamoto Prefecture, was officially recognized on May 1, 1956.
Complete settlement of the Minamata issue still has far to go even 50 years after the official recognition, with more than 4,000 sufferers waiting for official recognition as Minamata disease patients. More than 1,100 noncertified patients are involved in a lawsuit against the central government, Kumamoto Prefecture and Chisso.
In a message sent to the opening ceremony, Minamata Mayor Katsuaki Miyamoto said, “We still have difficult problems over Minamata disease, including the aging of the patients and the future of congenital Minamata disease patients. I expect people, particularly young ones, to be inspired by the exhibition to think about what they should do so a tragedy like Minamata is never repeated.”
Tomie Omura, a 73-year-old Minamata disease patient living in Kawasaki, agreed.
“We felt relieved when World War II was over, but then we were hit by Minamata disease,” Omura said. “I used to think about how to die as soon as possible. . . . I hope people will not repeat this.”
At a 50th anniversary memorial service in Minamata on May 1, Environment Minister Yuriko Koike apologized for the government’s failure to prevent the spread of the disease.
The exhibition at Wako University is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Admission is 1,200 yen for adults and college students and 600 yen for high school students and younger.
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