KUMAMOTO – A museum dedicated to the history of people with Hansen’s disease has opened on a trial basis in Kumamoto Prefecture, the first museum of its kind in the Kyushu region.
Located in the National Kikuchikeifuen Sanitarium in the town of Koshi, the museum shows the history of discrimination and mistreatment of people with Hansen’s, exemplified by their forced segregation by the government that lasted until the mid-1990s.
Similar museums elsewhere include the National Tama Zenshoen Sanitarium in Tokyo.
One of the artifacts on display in Kumamoto is part of a 2-meter-high concrete wall that once surrounded the sanitarium. Patients had punched holes in it so they could see their hometown.
Also on display are drawings and photographs by patients, as well records of an incident in which patients’ children were barred from enrolling in an elementary school in the city of Kumamoto.
Admission is free and the museum will formally open in a year’s time, after incorporating ideas from visitors.
“I want the visitors to see and feel how tough an environment the patients were in,” said Yasushi Shimura, 73, deputy chief of the sanitarium’s residents association.
Hansen’s disease, or leprosy, is an infectious disease that causes a variety of skin problems, loss of feeling and paralysis in the hands and feet.
The government first took measures to control the disease in 1907, before introducing forced segregation in 1931 and strengthening it in 1953.
Segregation continued long after a cure for the disease became available after World War II and this fed the myth that Hansen’s is hereditary, which led to a number of forced abortions and sterilizations.
The Hansen’s disease prevention law was finally repealed in 1996, allowing patients to receive treatment at regular clinics and hospitals.
In a landmark ruling in May 2001, the Kumamoto District Court found the Diet and the government responsible for the suffering of Hansen’s patients by taking so long to repeal the law. It ordered the government to compensate the victims of forced segregation.
The government did not appeal. It introduced the Hansen Disease Compensation Law in June 2001 and began providing payments of 8 million yen to 14 million yen to each patient.
But many still live in sanitariums because of lingering discrimination as well as old age, having no children to depend on.
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