In 1956, a government economic white paper proclaimed the nation had finally emerged from the chaos of the aftermath of World War II.
That year, the government also officially recognized the outbreak of what was later known as Minamata disease.
Twenty-two prime ministers, including Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, have been elected since then. But none has ever officially visited Minamata, Kumamoto Prefecture. Koizumi’s absence was conspicuous Monday, the 50th anniversary of the official recognition of Minamata disease.
Members of a support group for victims marked the anniversary with a visit to the site where the hospital attached to Chisso Corp. once stood. This hospital treated patients diagnosed with the disease, caused by consuming mercury-contaminated fish.
An 81-year-old certified patient, whose 49-year-old daughter was poisoned in utero through the contaminated food her mother ate, said: “The government should be ashamed that it still hasn’t solved the problems of uncertified patients after half a century. This is a sad anniversary.”
A memorial service was held by the city of Minamata and other groups at a cenotaph dedicated to Minamata disease victims. Attending dignitaries included Environment Minister Yuriko Koike.
This prayer is engraved on the stone: “May you rest in peace, all souls in the Shiranui Sea. We will never repeat this tragedy.” The words echo those inscribed on the cenotaph for A-bomb victims in Hiroshima’s Peace Memorial Park.
“We will never repeat this mistake,” says the Hiroshima cenotaph. Mankind must never again allow the devastation from a nuclear blast or the discharge of organic mercury that caused Minamata disease in the Shiranui Sea.
The Minamata cenotaph uses the word “tragedy” to describe the mass mercury poisoning.
Koizumi, too, used the word in his official statement prior to the Minamata anniversary: “Lest we ever repeat this tragedy … .” But the word doesn’t sound right coming from the mouth of someone representing a government that failed to avert it.
It seemed to me that Koizumi’s choice of the word “tragedy” implied it was all in the past. In drama, a tragedy has a beginning and an end. But the tragedy of Minamata is not yet over.
–The Asahi Shimbun, May 2(IHT/Asahi: May 3,2006)