chapter  7
13 Pages

A colony or a sanitorium? A comparative history of segregation politics of Hansen’s disease in modern Japan HIROKAWAWAKA

The problems of Hansen’s disease (commonly known as leprosy) in modern Japan has been characterized by a continuous segregation policy for the 90-year period, from 1907 to 1996. Hansen’s disease is an infectious disease caused by Mycobacterium leprae. The disease is not fatal in most cases, but its chronic nature tortured sufferers for many years if they did not receive proper treatment. This characteristic of the disease made the policies for its treatment more complicated since planners had to design a long-term recuperation program. According to the records of Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare,

in 2014 there were 13 national sanitaria for Hansen’s disease in Japan and approximately 1,800 residents who were cured decades ago yet continue to reside there as former patients. In 1998, a few years after the segregation law was abolished, some of the residents of a sanitarium in Kumamoto began to organize a damage compensation lawsuit against the government. In 2001, the Kumamoto District Court declared the continuance of the segregation policy after 1960 unconstitutional. It concluded that, based on the prevailing medical understanding, the government should have changed the policy and the Diet should have abolished the segregation law by 1965 in order to stop the violation of patients’ human rights. Based on the court’s decision, the government paid compensation to the former patients.1