Meiji University and a Tokyo-based nonprofit organization launched an exhibition on Minamata disease Saturday at the university’s central Tokyo campus to show how victims of the mercury-poisoning disease have struggled, and what society can learn from the tragedy.
Beneath the portraits of 491 deceased Minamata sufferers that are displayed in the exhibition hall, visitors can follow the history of the disease, officially recognized in 1956 in Minamata, Kumamoto Prefecture, through around 360 exhibited items, including panels and photographs.
The neurological illness, caused by mercury-tainted water dumped into the sea by chemical maker Chisso Corp., has affected coastal residents in Kumamoto and Kagoshima prefectures. The disease was later confirmed in Niigata Prefecture in 1965 and was caused by wastewater from a Showa Denko K.K. plant.
Brain samples of two fulminant-symptom patients, who developed the disease in their childhood and lost the nerve cells in their brains, and the mercury sludge collected at the bottom of Minamata Bay are also displayed.
At the opening ceremony, Meiji University President Hiromi Naya said, “Our memory of even a sorrowful incident tends to fade away in time, but we should keep it so we will not repeat such a tragedy. I expect this exhibition to enable us to reflect on the past mistakes.”
A series of lectures by Minamata disease patients and experts, as well as workshops by college students who visited Minamata for their research, will be presented during the two-week exhibition through Sept. 19.
“It has been more than 50 years since its official recognition, but Minamata disease is still a contemporary issue,” said Yuta Jitsukawa, secretary general the NPO, Minamata Forum. “I hope visitors will see the entire picture of this prolonged problem through this exhibition, and I think it’s significant that a university contributes, as an educational institution, to handing down its legacy.”
The exhibition was held after the government introduced redress measures for unrecognized Minamata disease sufferers earlier this year, featuring ¥2.1 million in lump-sum payments and monthly medical allowances up to ¥17,700 per person, as the largest settlement since a 1995 state rescue package.
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