Yasuji Hirasawa is longing to return to his home in Ibaraki Prefecture and see his parents' grave, but it is an impossible dream for the 80-year-old former Hansen's disease patient.

"My siblings won't allow me to do so, and my brother's wife probably does not even know of my existence," said Hirasawa, who has lived in a government-run sanitarium in a wooded area in Higashimurayama, western Tokyo, since he was 14.

His story shows how Hansen's disease patients are still isolated even after the Kumamoto District Court ruled in 2001 that the government's segregation policy, under which patients were forced to enter special sanitariums with limited freedom, was unconstitutional. Then Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi issued an apology to the patients after the ruling.