Title

Suffering & Silence: The Legacy of Minamata Disease

Presenter Information

Kayla JohnsonFollow

Academic Level at Time of Presentation

Senior

Major

Japanese

Minor

Philosophy

List all Project Mentors & Advisor(s)

Dr. Fusae Ekida

Presentation Format

Oral Presentation

Abstract/Description

The outbreak of a mysterious disease shook the small town of Minamata in 1950s Japan. Later discovered to be mercury poisoning, the cause was the industrial runoff of a major Japanese chemical company, Chisso Corporation. The victims of “Minamata Disease”, as it became known, suffered in silence for the sake of economic output in a fragile post-war economy. It was this climate of fear and neglect that inspired Minamata citizen, Michiko Ishimure to pen her expose, Paradise in the Sea of Sorrow: Our Minamata Disease. Despite vehement opposition, her documentation of suffering motivated a generation of grass-roots protests that forced the Japanese government to recognize the voice of its citizens. I will explore what it meant for Ishimure to speak up as a woman and her impact on Japanese environmental history and future women writers. The situation of Minamata demonstrates the contradictions that arose between traditional Japanese philosophical views of nature and the necessity of industrialization. The legacy of Minamata shaped future implications for political activism, environmental policy and the role of democracy in Japan.

Affiliations

Modern Languages Senior Colloquium

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Suffering & Silence: The Legacy of Minamata Disease

The outbreak of a mysterious disease shook the small town of Minamata in 1950s Japan. Later discovered to be mercury poisoning, the cause was the industrial runoff of a major Japanese chemical company, Chisso Corporation. The victims of “Minamata Disease”, as it became known, suffered in silence for the sake of economic output in a fragile post-war economy. It was this climate of fear and neglect that inspired Minamata citizen, Michiko Ishimure to pen her expose, Paradise in the Sea of Sorrow: Our Minamata Disease. Despite vehement opposition, her documentation of suffering motivated a generation of grass-roots protests that forced the Japanese government to recognize the voice of its citizens. I will explore what it meant for Ishimure to speak up as a woman and her impact on Japanese environmental history and future women writers. The situation of Minamata demonstrates the contradictions that arose between traditional Japanese philosophical views of nature and the necessity of industrialization. The legacy of Minamata shaped future implications for political activism, environmental policy and the role of democracy in Japan.