” TOKYO — Marking the 60th anniversary of the official recognition of Minamata disease, speakers hosted by a nonprofit organization say that an overemphasis on economic growth was behind the mercury-poisoning illness as well as the nuclear disaster in Fukushima.
“Japan has put priority on economic development, rather than valuing human life, and such an attitude caused the problems of Minamata and Fukushima as well as grave fatal accidents, such as explosions at coal mines,” said Kunio Yanagida, a freelance journalist.
“The problem is that lawmakers and bureaucrats have tried to avoid their responsibility, rather than determining the truth behind the incidents, and they have failed to make the lessons learned from them universal,” he told an audience of around 1,000 at the event in Tokyo last week.
“Japan is still driven by a wartime policy of increasing its wealth and military power,” he said.
Tatsuya Mori, a film director and writer, referred to a Minamata disease patient who once said, “I was aware that I am Chisso.” The patient meant that while he is a victim of the disaster caused by Chisso Corp, a chemical maker which dumped industrial waste into the sea, he himself had enjoyed the benefits of its products and might have gone along with its actions if he had belonged to the company himself.
Mori said, “In a similar way, we could say, ‘I am Fukushima,’ or ‘I am Tokyo Electric Power Co.,’ as we have depended on the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant” operated by the utility.
“We need to realize we have supported the system that caused the issues of Minamata and Fukushima,” he added.
The Tokyo forum was organized by Minamata Forum to mark the 60th anniversary since a public health center in Minamata in the southwestern Japan prefecture of Kumamoto received a report from a local doctor about four people with unexplained neurological disorders—considered later to be when Minamata disease was first recognized.
Before starting the session, the audience observed a moment of silence before 500 portraits of Minamata disease victims put up behind the speakers on the stage.
So far, only around 3,000 among over 33,500 applicants have been officially recognized as Minamata disease patients in Kumamoto and neighboring Kagoshima prefectures as well as Niigata Prefecture, where a similar disease was confirmed in 1965, caused by wastewater from a Showa Denko K.K. plant.
Critics claim that six decades after Minamata disease was first recognized, the issue has still not been resolved with the full number of sufferers yet to be fully acknowledged. Several damages suits are still pending. ”