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close this bookIndustrial Pollution in Japan (UNU, 1992, 187 pages)
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View the documentForeword
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Open this folder and view contentsChapter - 1 The Ashio Copper mine pollution case: The origins of environmental destruction
Open this folder and view contentsChapter - 2 Japan's Post-Second World War environmental problems
Open this folder and view contentsChapter - 3 The arsenic milk poisoning incident
Open this folder and view contentsChapter - 4 Minamata disease
Open this folder and view contentsChapter - 5 The Miike coal-mine explosion
Open this folder and view contentsChapter - 6 Social structures of pollution victims
Open this folder and view contentsConclusions
View the documentContributors

(introductory text...)

Edited by Jun Ui

Published with the support of the University of Okinawa

United Nations University Press

The United Nations University project on Technology Transfer, Transformation, and Development: The Japanese Experience was carried out from 1978 to 1982. Its objective was to contribute to an understanding of the process of technological development in Japan as a case-study. The project enquired into the infrastructure of technology, human resources development, and social and economic conditions and analysed the problems of technology transfer, transformation, and development from the time of the Meiji Restoration to the present. The research was undertaken by more than 120 Japanese specialists and covered a wide range of subjects, including iron and steel, transportation, textiles, mining, financial institutions, rural and urban society, small industry, the female labour force, education, and technology policy.

This volume presents research results on the negative side-effects of Japan's rapid technological and industrial development since the Meiji period.

The production and printing of this volume was made possible by a grant from the University of Okinawa. The United Nations University also gratefully acknowledges the generous support of the Japan Foundation for the United Nations University in the publication of this book.

© The United Nations University. 1992

The views expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the United Nations University.

United Nations University Press
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The research findings contained in these pages relate to a whole corpus of material on technological transition, change, and development, and form part of a project initiated by the United Nations University with the cooperation of the Institute of Developing Economies, Tokyo.

The problems of industrialization-induced environmental pollution are fundamentally life-threatening and as such can and must be avoided. The severe problems brought on by environmental destruction can never be completely rectified because the culpable industrial organizations, the victims of environmental pollution, and the negatively affected society as a whole can never be fully freed from the deleterious results of such intrusions. A single pollutant discharged by a specific industrial complex may not be harmful in and of itself, but it may very well cause unimaginable problems by combining with other materials in the natural environment. Possibly, as with the problems inherent in acid rain, the negative results may be found across international borders, within the boundaries of other countries. Also, in the early stages of industrialization, primary sectors of industry may be the victims of environmental destruction, but as industrialization advances these primary sectors almost always come to depend on heavy industries, as is the case with chemical fertilizers and insecticides, and as such become a new source of environmental problems.

In such cases the pollution problems manifest themselves as ruined health in specific populations or as the overall destruction of specific ecosystems. Just as the driver of an automobile benefits from the motion provided by the combustion of fuel, so also does he become, at the same time, a victim of the exhaust gases thereby generated. The use of chemical fertilizers and insecticides by farmers more often than not also kills fresh-water fish, which are a primary protein source for those same farmers.

It is a generally accepted fact that environmental destruction increases the negative effects of natural disasters by intensifying the resulting problems and widening the areas affected. Within this context, it is almost impossible to apportion responsibility for the exacerbated environmental destruction. When development becomes a national goal, developers and profiteers alike are little concerned with environmental problems and responsibility is never really considered, or if it is considered the issues are twisted and responsibility shifted. Even if development is the primary goal of a nation-state, when such development becomes the main cause of a seriously damaged natural environment or is deleterious to the health of the citizenry as a whole, then the development policies themselves must be called into question and blame properly allocated. Within this context, the politics of development and human rights considerations are brought into serious confrontation.

It is in these situations that problems of environmental pollution become the basis on which compromise is generated and development rationalized. When citizens no longer have the right of protest and political involvement, there is no freedom of thought and action, and as a result environmental pollution continues unabated. The rapid national development that is taking place in the South is a serious life-and-death matter for nations of the North. This means that citizen freedom and political involvement are matters that have global ramifications and as such concern peoples of all nations.

The problems dealt with in the pages that follow are taken from Japan's experiences with environmental destruction, and as such designate specific responsibility. In these situations, the total lack of an environment-related legal structure and a basic lack of efficiency on the part of governmental administrations made problem-solving very difficult. The government bureaucracy was unable to respond to unfamiliar situations. Rapid industrialization led to the suppression of mediating functions within society. At the same time people who tried to encourage mediation and moderation were mistreated and the problems were thereby further complicated. And although pollution problems in Japan became apparent with explosive suddenness along with the development of heavy chemical industries during the high-economic-growth period, environmental pollution has existed since the beginning of Japan's industrial era. Shozo Tanaka (1841-1913) was an early-industrialization-period politician who died a bitterly disappointed man after the suppression of political freedom by the Meiji government. However, this same Tanaka was resurrected as a symbol of the anti-pollution movement, and all his writings have been compiled and published. The supporters of Tanaka were people related to Yanaka Village, who had great respect for him and lived in accordance with his philosophy of nature. Again this year a memorial service for Tanaka will be held on the site of Yanaka Village.

The reason why Professor Jun Ui came to be chosen as editor of this volume relates to my encounter with him at the UNITAR meetings in New Delhi, India. I was deeply impressed by his efforts there at re-educating the participants about the dogmatic idea that socialist countries are pollution-free. The evaluations and conclusions reached in this compilation of studies rest with the individual authors and it has been my responsibility to ensure that each of the writers was guaranteed unequivocal freedom of scholarship and expression. These studies are the product of many long hours of writing, coordination, discussion, translation, and staff work relative to the issues involved and the surveys made. It is very much regretted that, because of editing problems, not all the works of the various contributors have been included in the present volume.

After reading this material one may come to the conclusion that, as a result of the difficulties related, the struggles against environmental pollution ended in defeat. It must be remembered that while anti-pollution movements usually ended without bearing much fruit, the experience of such struggles subsequently enabled potential problems to be nipped in the bud before they became too serious. It cannot be said that attempts to solve problems were completely lacking nor that industrial organizations and government administration were completely inactive in this regard. It can be said, on the other hand, that, within the context of the present socioeconomic situation, a company that causes a severe pollution problem will in the end lose its competitive edge. Citizens' movements will no longer tolerate this kind of governmental and administrative negligence. However, before this present stage in the anti-pollution campaign was reached, many serious ecological and environmental problems were encountered, a few of which are described in the present volume. These pollution-related experiences have had a profound impact on the personal histories of the pollution victims. The contributors to this work are the people who initially uncovered the problems encountered by the pollution victims, made records of them, carried out research, and finally brought the problems to public attention.

It took many hours of dedicated work to bring about the publication of this volume. I would like to express my sincere appreciation to all those who worked so hard behind the scenes to bring the project to completion.

Takeshi Hayashi
Project Co-ordinator

(introductory text...)

Jun Ui

I. Environmental pollution: Basic precepts

Environmental pollution problems represented by Minamata disease, Itai-itai disease, and Yokkaichi asthma have all become well-known phenomena that are a serious threat to life and health. These problems were so serious that they engendered a new word, kogai (destruction of the public domain), which is now in common parlance. In this regard, there is no doubting the fact that Japan has come to be known worldwide as the nation with the most serious environmental pollution. However, it must be kept in mind that Japan's environmental destruction is not a recent phenomenon, but was also a very prominent feature of the social landscape from the very beginning of the country's modernization and industrialization period.

During the feudal Tokugawa era, Japan became acutely aware of Western imperialism and its effects on surrounding countries, as manifested in such international confrontations as the Opium Wars. After three centuries of Tokugawa-dominated isolation, Japan was forced, through internal pressures and external circumstances, to make the Meiji Restoration transition that required an opening of its doors to foreign trade. With this transition, government policy focused almost solely on a primary thrust in the direction of radical industrialization, the main purpose of which was to maintain the security of the state against the colonizing pressures from the West. This policy required that industrial technology be imported from Western nations. From this time onward, rapid economic growth and industrialization was promoted to the exclusion of all else and, with this, environmental pollution became a rapidly expanding feature of the structures of economic and military power. Through the pre- and post-Second World War eras, environmental destruction became a permanent feature of Japan's industrialization process, one inherent in Japanese forms of modernization.

1. Reasons for Intensified Environmental Destruction

The Japanese archipelago is surrounded by ocean and its shores are constantly washed by the ebb and flow of the ocean tides. Because of the abundant rainfall, water pollution should not be a major problem for Japan. Similarly, because of strong seasonal winds in the winter, there should be no serious air pollution. How is it, then, that Japan, in spite of these pollution-restraining natural conditions, came to experience some of the most intense environmental destruction the world has ever seen? In order to answer this question, it is necessary to look into the historical background.

In the first place, the attitudes of commercial enterprises must be singled out as the cause of these serious environmental problems. Industrial capital in Japan was nurtured by state power, and as such did not find it necessary in the course of its development to come to any ethical understanding with the established power structure, as had been the case in Western nations. Within this context it was easy for economic organizations to plunge headlong into economic growth and profiteering based on a complete disregard for social responsibility. If there were any discussions of social responsibility they were always in relation to profit and employment enhancement, without any reference to external diseconomies. A special concept of community, which will be dealt with more fully later, nurtured the idea that the value of the unitary organization was of a higher order than that of individuals or, for that matter, of society as a whole. Thus there was a strong tendency to disregard ethical considerations in relation to the individual and society. With the state-defined national goals of rapid industrialization for the sake of increased military power and national wealth, there were no ethical considerations that could restrain expanding corporate entities. Throughout Japan's experience with environmental pollution, these entities ignored or rejected the consideration of pollution issues, and when the problems became so intense that they could no longer be ignored, it was usual for them to bribe the victims of their pollution or to disrupt victims' campaigns by hiring scholars to provide the learned rational that would decrease the intensified social pressure. Through a combination of low wages, import and export controls, and unrestrained waste discharge, a high rate of economic growth was attained by Japanese industry. From the pre-Second World War era until the 1960s Japan's main industries - iron and steel, cement, and pulp and paper - succeeded in primary capital accumulation by forgetting the diseconomies of environmental pollution and spending the larger portion of profits on new production equipment. The dual structure. a unique characteristic of the Japanese economy. with its layers of subcontractors. helped channel the social costs for pollution or work hazards downstream to be borne by these small and medium-sized industries. The disregard of large corporations for pollution problems. therefore, played no small part in their accumulation of large amounts of capital.

In the second place. the political attitudes of, and the misguided supervision provided try. national and local governments functioning in collusion with business organizations greatly exacerbated environmental problems. In order to provide a countervailing force to the imperialism of Western nations, Japan attempted, as a late-comer in Asia, to join in the competitive race for colonization. Thus, up to the end of the Second World War, another national goal was to increase national wealth and strengthen military power. For this purpose, the emperor system, allied with the state religion of Shinto, provided the rationale for building a quasi-family nation-state where people were persecuted if they did not subscribe to the national goals. Pollution-victim-based citizens' movements were suppressed on the basis of national security. In the post-Second World War period, the national government did not change these basic structures, and government policy has consistently been one of providing protection for business organizations. Is there any other country in the world that makes the protection of business and industry the basis upon which environmental pollution regulations and legal codes are built? In pollution-related disputes, it was common that the legislature stood proxy for corporations, and even anti-pollution agreements concluded between municipalities and enterprises (often shortly prior to the installation of new equipment or facilities) were used as a shield to protect both the enterprises and the municipal authorities from victims" actions. The symbiotic relationships between Japanese politics and business are now so solidified on an organizational level that they represent true state monopoly capitalism. Under the aegis of the conservative party that has long ruled Japan, officials in the highly organized government bureaucracies take management positions in large corporations upon their retirement from government service, or become conservative politicians. A comparison could be drawn with the behaviour of high-ranking officers in countries with military regimes, but this phenomenon is rarely observed in industrialized countries other than Japan. This symbiosis between business and government is to be found in all industrial sectors. In the construction sector, where projects are often financed with public funds, functioning has become impossible without this government-business interaction. The issue of dango (a practice whereby bidding prices are fixed in advance by the bidders), which has become a social issue since the early 1980s, represents only the tip of the iceberg. As an example of this, sewage construction, which is related to pollution prevention and control, employs this method in bidding for publicly funded projects. The allocation of public investments is an important means through which the ruling conservative party has maintained its long-established rule, and a triangular system of structural corruption composed of industry, bureaucrats. and politicians controls Japan's national and local politics.

In the third place, policies designed to introduce scientific technologies believed to be most effective in the thrust toward modernization have consequently resulted in intensified environmental destruction. Historical findings in relation to pollution problems, starting with the Ashio copper mine. indicate that Japan has characteristicly introduced production technologies without the benefit of pollution-prevention technologies. Examples of this fact are to be found in such industrial sections as iron, chemicals. and pulp. where production results from the application of technology to basic raw materials. In the case of the oil refining industry, which uses a lower level of technology, certain kinds of oil and water separation techniques that also functioned to prevent environmental pollution were introduced, but the purpose of these features was not understood at the time. Another factor which confirms this tendency is to be found in the fact that the academic disciplines of chemical engineering and sanitary engineering were found by a 1948 US Education Commission survey to be absent from Japanese education. As time went on, chemical engineering, which is important to industrial production, came to be taught in all national universities, but sanitary engineering, which is not directly concerned with production, is to be found only in two universities in Japan.

As far as the introduction of the natural and social sciences is concerned, this must be understood within the context of the basic conceptualization that determined the relative importance of these disciplines. Science, which was introduced from the West, was selected in terms of its ability to serve the ruling classes. The scientists were accorded positions of power in society and their studies were limited to very narrow fields of applied inquiry. They lacked the ability to see that it is also essential to inquire into basic realities. Genuine science has to be allowed to develop in its own unique direction, but Japanese universities tended to function only as monopoly retainers of imported theories. Theories generated by foreign scholars gathered a following of disciples among Japanese scholars, who were also far removed from the daily lives of the people. Science and technology were thus used as a means of retaining and strengthening the power of the ruling classes. Therefore, scientific inquiry into environmental pollution and its related subjects were and are dealt with only within the context of the social sciences, the natural sciences, and medicine, and each of these departments is further divided in terms of research into basic and applied orientations. Because of this, scientific and technological training did not provide a wholistic understanding, and the problems associated with technological development assumed positions of secondary importance.

In the fourth place, since Japan's modernization processes took place without the benefit of a mass revolutionary movement, concepts pertaining to the dignity and worth of the individual and to the protection of basic human rights are still lacking from basic national thought structures. In a historical perspective, from the period of development of wetland rice farming in the seventeenth century, the single chronic condition facing society was a basic lack of water for this mode of production. In order to provide for their own protection and to maintain control over water resources, people enclosed themselves within tightly knit and convoluted community structures. This resulting village mentality was skillfully manipulated and used as a means of social control from the Tokugawa period up to and including the period of modernization. The Meiji government made use of this mentality for social control and, by combining this with an increasing fear of invasion from the West, was able to establish a quasi-family nation-state using state Shinto and the emperor systems to provide the necessary social cohesion. The resulting concept of the unity and solidarity of the Japanese as a definable race was brought to final fruition in the imperialistic idea of the 'Eight Corners of the World under One Roof." The same Japanese rationalism which first flowered among the early farming villages as a means of survival remains alive and well in most business organizations, whether created in the pre- or post-Second World War eras. Company labour unions which have existed in the same industries from before the war are built upon the same concepts and models. A strong group orientation, loyalty to the organization, decision-making inability relative to primary concepts, submission to authority. attitudes of discrimination, and an excessive concern for social status are all national characteristics of the Japanese which have been nurtured throughout the length and breadth of the educational system. Confucianism, which has often been seen in the West as central to Japanese understanding, is only an ideological overlay used to strengthen the social structures and modes of production already in place, and as such does not occupy a central locus in Japanese self-understanding.

The predatory expansionist policies of Japanese imperialism resulted in the invasion of neighbouring countries for colonization purposes. In this context, a radical negation of the human rights of others was a phenomenon common to both the military invasions and the invasion of the sanctuary of life as seen in the thousands of pollution victims that Japan has produced. The negation of the human rights of working people, exploited in the context of modernization, is rooted in the same crass disregard for human life. In the post-Second World War period workers' rights were guaranteed through the intervention of an external authority which created new legal structures, but these structures were only good on paper. Concepts relating to human rights applied only to union members. At the present time labour unions are seen only as political pressure groups, since they have failed to address, in any significant way, the basic issues of human rights. Therefore, labour unions supplement big business by undergirding corporate ideology. Organizations which were supposed originally to promote the human rights of workers have been manipulated skillfully so as to promote the orientations of big business. The same social perceptions that willingly trampled human rights produced also, in the 1950s and 1960s, many pollution victims among farmers and fishermen as well as illness in a number of labouring groups. The existence of this reality is a partial expression of the failure of policy of the left-wing political parties supporting the labour movement. In spite of the so-called political freedom existing in Japanese society, basic human rights were still ignored, for the changes in the social system, brought about on paper through external authoritarian pressure and through the persistent efforts of large numbers of oppressed people, took a very long time to become woven into the social fabric of society as a whole.

The contents of this book are not oriented toward an examination of the historical realities and characteristics of Japanese society, but the above four points have been outlined to give the reader some understanding of the reasons for the heavy destruction of the human environment that the Japanese people have suffered within the context of modernization. Within this overview, there may be some room for debate relative to the issues outlined.

2. The Illegality of Environmental Destruction

In the consumer society that permeates all that we know and in which the consumption of material goods is forced upon us day in and day out, it is difficult to state with any certainty that the problems of environmental destruction stem from a violation of human rights, but, in the final analysis, the destruction of an environment upon which human life depends is in reality a denial of the human rights of the weak by those who retain power within society. This very clear and important fact is often ignored within the context of the natural and environmental sciences as well as in the social sciences. The methods and perceptions inherent in today's social sciences are clearly inadequate in this regard. If situations are described on the basis of these limited perceptions, some very important problems and issues will be overlooked. In other words, those in society who polluted environments for the sake of profit conveniently overlooked some very significant problems, and in the final analysis it was up to the victims of this destruction to grasp the total picture. Although this total picture can be understood intuitively, it is not easy to understand the problem on an objective level. This is similar to the problems inherent in discrimination among human groups and perpetrated against minorities, in which the oppressors and the oppressed have widely divergent views of the situation.

In relation to issues of discrimination, there is no such thing as a neutral or objective third-party position. Over the ages it has come to be a well-accepted principle that in any dispute there are only two positions, the oppressed and the oppressor. As to environmental pollution, there are only the polluters, whose orientation is to ignore the problem, and the victims, whose concern is to understand all the factors surrounding it. There is no such thing as a neutral position. If the goals of the environmental sciences are to reflect a genuine concern about the solution of pollution problems, then what will be needed is a basic re-evaluation of the very narrow and limited methodologies of those disciplines. Moreover, it is essential that those who employ the methods of environmental science co-operate with and learn from the victims of environmental destruction. This is the same relationship that is essential to an adequate practice of medicine, in that there must be co-operation between the medical practitioner and the patient to bring about a cure The environmental sciences. which derive their establishment from a concern for the excessive degree to which the natural human life-support systems have been compromised, and from a concern for the illegality of environmental destruction, can do no better than to espouse the position of those whose lives have been completely uprooted by the effects of poisons on the natural cycle.

In relation to these same problems, the roles of politics and government administration should be the same as that of the environmental sciences. Problems of environmental destruction are recognized on the basis of the damage done to natural life-support systems, but if such damage is not understood with sufficient thoroughness, measures instituted to counteract such intrusions will not be sufficient. Within the context of the Japanese experience with pollution problems, governmental administration attempted to take on the role of mediator in seeking solutions. However, the methods derived from the pervasive village-based community concepts prevailing in Japan are in no way sufficient to deal with the issues of environmental pollution. Many pollution problems have in fact derived directly from the practice of politics and from the actions of governmental administration. Along with this is to be found a long history of pollution-victim suppression based on so-called national security. Thus, instead of bringing about a solution to the problems at hand, the actions of government serve only to exacerbate these problems by making them chronic - and this is because mediators are simply not concerned enough to gain an adequate appreciation of the complexity and gravity of the situation.

The problems of environmental pollution also reflect basic aspects of inter-group discrimination, in which the imbalance of power between polluters and victims, if rectified to some extent, results in an alleviation of the pollution problem itself. In this regard, then, the activities of science, politics, and governmental agencies should not attempt to maintain a so-called third-party neutral position, but should rather champion the cause of the pollution victims. During certain periods in which pollution problems were deeply exacerbated, the victims invented their own methods of monitoring the degrees of contamination and identifying the sources of problems. Examples of these endeavours are the use of coins and various grasses and flowers to measure air pollution, and observation of the stamens of the spiderwort plant to monitor radiation leakage from nearby atomic power plants. In these situations, appropriate scientific technology was discovered and employed to provide leverage in rectifying the power imbalance between the oppressor and the oppressed, and in reducing the amount of environmental damage. Political and administrative effectiveness in relation to pollution problems can be enhanced only if problems are recognized for what they are and if the pollution victims are invited to participate in seeking solutions.

II. Japan's extensive experience with environmental pollution in historical perspective

Since environmental destruction has been an integral part of Japan's developmental economic system, the problem is deeply woven into the fabric of her emerging capitalism. At the beginning of the modernization period. when the power of industry was still quite limited. there were instances in which pollution problems were 'solved" by changing the locations of offending factories or production units. But in other early period examples, such as with mining where site relocation is impossible, in every case the damage to the natural environment became extensive, pervasive, and a deeply rooted aspect of the social milieu. The most representative case in this regard is the Ashio copper mine, which began its destructive operations at the end of the nineteenth century and continues to this day to be a pervasively insoluble problem. The poisoning of the natural environment caused by the Ashio copper mine was the most well-known problem of the period prior to the Second World War and as such it is universally known in Japan. This case is an archetypal example of a pre-modern industry serving the needs of military power. In this light the Ashio copper-mine problem is representative of Japanese industrial development in the pre-war period. The government in power at that time (Meiji era) was deeply intertwined with the nation's business interests through personnel exchanges and family relationships. The victims of the Ashio copper-mine destruction were oppressed on the basis of so-called national security restrictions and, although the protesting farmers' movement was powerfully organized and led by the great statesman and naturalist Shozo Tanaka, in the end it was no match for the government's political power. In spite of this defeat, the movement did provide a warning for other anti-mining and manufacturing struggles going on at the time. This can be seen in the fact that the Besshi and Hitachi mines, developed at somewhat later dates than the Ashio copper mine, accepted to some degree the demands made on them by their respective pollution-victim groups. In comparison with the Ashio copper-mine situation, these other mine-operating capitalists made more concessions to their poisoning victims. Such successful negotiations between the victims of environmental destruction and pollution-source managers was to be seen in the era after the First World War, in the atmosphere of the so-called "Taisho Democracy," when pollution-control technology was used with a certain degree of success in Gifu Prefecture in relation to the "Aradakawa" pollution case.

However, with the advance of Japan's imperial armies into China, followed by general mobilization for Second World War production, military-related industries continued to discharge pollutants into natural environments and all the efforts at pollution control that were seen in the 1920s were forgotten. All anti-pollution citizens' movements were totally suppressed, with the exception of the Osarusawa Mining and Ishikari River Kokusaku Pulp situations, where industrial discharge and environmental pollution problems were intense. After Japan's defeat in the war, industries were closed down and this gave nature a little breathing space to recuperate from the pollutional ravages of the war years. Then, as Japan began to rebuild its industrial structure, environmental destruction began once again to rear its ugly head, and local movements against this destruction began to appear, though the majority of the population had little or no time for such issues.

In this context, the Kochi Pulp Company pollution case was one example in which local citizen action against further environmental destruction took hold. However, the "Pollution Prevention Agreement" derived from that confrontation simply became another device used to justify environmental pollution. In 1955, the "Morinaga arsenic milk" problem brought a crescendo of death and sickness during the transition between Japan's post-war reconstruction and the coming period of high economic growth. At this point, third-party professionals began to be used within certain political contexts to bring about "non-solutions" to environmental problems by silencing the victims.

In 1956 "Minamata disease" was discovered. This was the prelude to Japan's modern struggle with intense environmental destruction. If the forces for change had been sufficiently responsive to the seriousness of the problems to come, this period could have provided the hub around which significant changes in Japan's political and economic climate might have taken place. In 1958, large-scale water-pollution problems were discovered in relation to the Edogawa factory of the Honshu Paper Company. Because of the strong and enduring opposition of fishermen, this became a celebrated social issue out of which came the first water-quality and factory-discharge control legislation. The laws that resulted were designed only to assuage public opinion and there was no real effort at enforcement. Therefore, destruction of the environment proceeded apace. In 1959, protests by Minamata fishermen against the destruction of the fish resources were suppressed on the basis of national security considerations. Other representative pollution problems, such as Yokkaichi asthma and Itai-itai disease, came to be very well known in the 1960s. During this period major pollution problems were perceived as being unrelated to political realities. There was no recognition of the commonality of environmental destruction and politics, and within this context there were no victim-initiated protest movements.

The many protests against the Japan-US Security Treaty that emerged in 1960 were in actuality mass-based political movements, but they were suppressed through the demands of a rapidly developing economy and the enforced rationalization of labour. The coal-mining industry, being buffeted by a changing energy economy, began to slip into oblivion and as a result of these changes the labour force became more politically oriented. The Miike coal-mine explosion that took place in 1963 brought the large-scale use of coal as an energy source to an end.

In 1964, for the first time since the end of the Second World War, a citizens' movement was able to stop the planned construction of a petrochemical complex in the Mishima Numazu area. This victory was to become a guiding light for other citizens' movements that were protesting against environmental destruction. In 1965, the second Minamata disease (mercury poisoning of a human population) was discovered. The circumstances of the victims were in this instance different from those surrounding the first mercury-poisoning pandemic, and as a result an independent victims' movement against the polluter was established. This movement came to influence other victims' movements and, as a result, linkages and support relationships were built up.

In 1970 the four major pollution victims' movements, created in response to the Niigata Minamata disease, Itai-itai disease, Yokkaichi asthma, and the original Minamata disease, all took their struggles to the courts and in the process an all-pervasive mass movement was created in protest at the extensive environmental destruction that had taken place. Also in 1970, it was discovered that there was significant lead poisoning from automobile exhaust levels, especially in Ushigome Yanagi-cho, Tokyo. Further damage to human populations was discovered from the ill-effects of photochemical smog. Until that time most people thought that problems of pollution were to be found in restricted local environments, but gradually it came to be understood that poisons were being disseminated everywhere, even in the large cities, and in this context the problems of poisoned environments were highlighted on an international level. In 1971 a special session of the National Diet was called to examine pollution problems and related legal codes, and with this the Japanese government's new Environment Agency was created. The Kanemi (cooking) oil poisoning case occurred in 1968. PCBs as the basis for food poisoning were discovered in 1971. With that, the production of these very useful high-technology industrial chemicals (PCBs) was halted nationwide. In 1972, the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, held in Stockholm, offered the first occasion for the international community to become more fully acquainted with Japan's pollution problems, and it was the victims of the Kanemi (cooking) oil poisoning case, along with the Minamata disease victims and their related anti-pollution support groups, who brought this alarming situation to world attention. This allowed the world's developing nations to reassess their modernization orientations so as to control environmental destruction, especially with reference to the example of Japan, seen on the surface as an economic miracle but in reality suffering from terrible environmental problems.

After the 1960s, the capitalists of Japan, who had been subdued somewhat by the anti-pollution movements, regained much of their power when an economic crisis hit Japan in the form of the so-called "oil-shock" of 1973-1974. Governmental efforts to preserve the environment were scuttled and various litigations in the courts began to turn against the victims, with the third Minamata disease litigation being lost, and counterfeit Minamata disease patients making testimonies that tended to undermine the urgency and seriousness of the problem.

In 1975, a debate on the causes of Itai-itai disease was subjected to external control pressures, and in 1978 Minamata disease patients were forcefully removed from a demonstration site. Along with this, earlier regulations on nitrous oxide air pollutants were watered down to values three times below meaningful levels. The government's Environment Agency which, on its establishment, was expected to help the anti-pollution movements, came to be recognized, upon rejection of these court cases, as just another government agency unable to carry out its designated mission because of external and internal political pressure. This agency, being the newcomer among old and established government organizations, simply was not able to sustain a proper degree of influence within government circles.

At the 1972 United Nations Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm, Japanese government officials pledged the creation of environmental assessment laws, but this legislation has yet to be enacted. The regressive orientation of the Environment Agency was to be demonstrated again in the House of Representatives elections of 1980, when the conservative party won a majority of the seats in the National Diet. The environmental regulations that were formulated for passage in 1970 never saw the light of day. The Environment Agency agreed to the reclaiming of land for a petrochemical complex in Shifushi Bay. In this symbolic action, the agency adopted the orientation of the government in opposition to anti-pollution citizens' groups. Again the time had come for the victims of pollution to move on their own in seeking ways to prevent environmental destruction. In the 1980s, problems relating to sewage treatment were brought to light and massive amounts of dioxin were discovered in the natural environment. Mercury pollution from the disposal of old flashlight batteries was discovered, and agricultural chemicals were found to be polluting drinking-water sources. All of these problems were again laid upon the shoulders of the citizens' movements as people realized more and more that issues of environmental destruction concern all segments of society.

One of the characteristic aspects of capital investment during the 1970s was the exportation of pollution-generating industries. Industries that were unable to function within the context of Japan's slightly more stringent environmental restrictions were moved to other Asian or Latin American countries where land is inexpensive and environmental regulations non-existent. The companies which are to be most severely criticized in this regard are Nippon Kakoo (Japan Chemical), for the production of hexavalent chrome in the Republic of Korea, and Kawasaki Iron and Steel, for the building of its sintering plant in Mindanao, the Philippines. The movement of industrial technologies from Japan to developing countries produces not only a severely unequal trade balance in favour of Japan, but also results in deforestation and environmental destruction severe enough to create environmental havoc; local fisheries are particularly threatened by the overfishing perpetrated by technology-intensive Japanese commercial fishing interests, and by pollution loadings which destroy fish habitats. These companies which transfer their most polluting industries overseas should provide pollution-prevention technologies. Further, these problems could and can be prevented when the host countries institute environmental control regulations. If pollution-control devices and technologies are installed at the time of plant construction, pollution-prevention and control costs are not really so very great. However, when Japan sells or introduces industrial technologies to developing countries, for the sake of profit maintenance there is not a commensurate introduction of those pollution-control technologies that have already been developed for use in Japan proper. The upshot is very destructive technology transfer, with investment cost-cutting becoming the harbinger of ever more costly and permanent environmental destruction, resulting in external costs that are many times the initial cost of preventative measures.

The all-pervasive pollution-export and environmental destruction issue for the future revolves around the problem of nuclear wastes from Japan's atomic power industry, and the disposal of these wastes in ocean ecosystems. This problem will be greatly aggravated if a planned waste-fuel reprocessing plant for Japan is actualized. for such a plant would be the basis for the most massive export of environmental pollution ever to confront humankind.

Japan's industrial politics coalesced as a means of escaping from the domination threatened by imperial states during the early period of world colonialism. At the end of the Tokugawa era, certain new concepts arose in an attempt to change the old political system and to develop a modernization policy that would encourage enlightened thinking. However, in the process of Japan's modernization the means became the ends, producing an intensified level of environmental destruction and - the other side of the same coin - the extensive repression of human rights. Our desire is that these same mistakes are not repeated in other countries of the world.

III. Contents

The first section of this compilation is devoted to an in-depth probe into the Ashio copper-mine situation, which at the beginning of the Meiji period created one of the most devastating environmental catastrophes ever visited upon the nation, the ill-effects of which still persist to the present day. The situation surrounding Ashio is typical of the pollution problems that existed in the pre-Second World War period, and the case-study brings the reader up to the present time. The second section outlines Japan's economic development after the Second World War, with the Morinaga arsenic milk, Minamata disease, Kochi Pulp, and Miike coal-mine explosion cases being probed as examples of pollution in that period. The final section deals with the sociological aspects of environmental destruction as manifested in labour-related problems and workplace-induced occupational hazards and diseases. The problems coalescing around the twin foci of occupational hazards and environmental destruction are in reality two sides of the same coin. The primary points of departure in relation to issues of environmental destruction is a need to recognize the damage done. Our research efforts have not paid enough attention to the specific damage to compromised life-support systems, especially in terms of those suffering from particular environmental problems, and how this suffering manifests itself; therefore, one section of this compilation deals specifically with these issues.

For purposes of clarity these case-studies are all located historically, within designated time-frames, and each section includes reference material for further study.


Iijima, N. Kogai, rosai, shokugyoubyou nenpyou [Historical Table on Pollution, Industrial Accidents, and Occupational Disease in Japan]. Kogai Taisaku Gijutsu Doyukai, 1978.

Shoji, H., and K. Miyamoto. Nihon no kogai [Pollution in Japan]. Iwanami Shoten, 1975.

Tsuru, S. Sekai no kogai chizu. [Pollution Map of the World]. Iwanami Shoten, 1977. Ui, J. Kogai genron [Principles of Pollution]. Aki Shobo, 1971.

Chronological Chart

Social background

Ashio copper-mine issue

Minamata disease


Furukawa opens Ashio copper mine


Hydro-power generation

Shozo Tanaka raises question in the Diet

Sino-Japanese War First Poisons Survey Committee

Out-of-court negotiation


Second Poisons Survey Committee

Kawamata Incident

Russo-Japanese War

Yanaka villagers evacuated by force

Nippon Chisso Minamata plant opens


First World War

Shozo Tanaka dies


Labour union organized

Ashio labour-management dispute

Ammonia synthesis

Poison catchment dam constructed

Chosen (Korea) Chisso


Electric dust-collector installed

Acetate synthesis

Catchment dam overflows


Second World War

Labour union disbanded

Vinyl chloride


Air-raid damage/Nippon Chisso disbanded

Priority production system

Association for Halting Copper Production formed

Acetaldehyde production restarted

New Constitution

Typhoon Katherin

Eugenic Protection Law

Typhoon Kitty

Vinyl chloride production restarted


Korean Issue: red purge

US-Japan Security Treaty; peace treaty with allied countries

May Day Incident

Association for Halting Copper Production disbanded

Octanol production starts

Korean Issue truce

DOP production starts

Kotaki mine closed


Conservative panics formed into a single body

Automatic blast furnace introduced; production of sulphuric acid starts

Minamata disease discovered

Honshu Paper Edogawa factory incident

Gengorozawa retention basin bursts

Water Quality and Factory

Association for Eradicating Copper Poisoning

Discharge Control Law

Investigation based on the Water Quality Law starts

Organic mercury discovered


Student movement against the revision of the US-Japan

Fishermen's riot

Security Treaty: Ikeda cabinet

Tamiya research group

High-growth policy adopted by the government

Kumamoto identifies methyl mercury

Cadmium theory for Itai-itai

Plant management confirms involvement of methyl

Major energy source switches from coal to oil

Long strike

Mishima-Numazu petrochemical complex project

Tokyo Olympics


Second Minamata disease

Pollution Control Ordinance

Niigata civil action

Kanemi oil poisoning case

Water pollutants' standard established

Government's public acknowledgement

Revised Integrated National Development Plan (INDP)

First Minamata civil court suit


Special Diet session on pollution problems

Cadmium contamination discovered


Environment Agency decision Sitdown strike at head office

Mercury and PCB contamination of coastal areas Oil crisis

Ashio cooper mine closed

Negotiation between Niigata group and Showa Denko

Court decision on the first civil suit

Arbitration by EDCC (Environmental Dispute Co-ordination Committee)

Third Minamata disease


Exhaust gas control relaxed

Pollution Control Agreement

Remarcs about non-genuine victims


NOx regulation relaxed

Agreement on specific issues

Environment Agency vice-minister issues guidelines

Court decision on the second civil suit


Overwhelming victory of Liberal Democratic Party

Indictment of Kawamoto dismissed

Partial cancellation of Shibushi National Park area designation

Minamata victims, training centre established

Arsenic milk poisoning

Miike coal-mine explosion

Kochi Pulp

Mitsui purchases Miike coal mine

Mitsui Mining Company founded

Morinaga Seika (parent company of Morinaga Milk) founded

Elelectric blasting cap introduced

Electric trolley begins to haul out coal

Koppers coke oven introduced in Japanese mines

Condensed milk division established

Production peak in the pre-Second World War period

Morinaga Milk founded

Miike coal mine labour union formed

Kochi Pulp project starts

National Baby Contest

Hinged bar system introduced in Japanese coal mines

Construction or Kochi Pulp

Construction suspended due to shortage of funds

Plant operation starts

Air and water contamination begins

Fishermen's co-operative receives cash donation

Tokushima plant starts adding sodium phosphate

Fishermen plan opposition activities

Arsenic milk poisoning starts

Mitsui Mining adopts Ten-year Plan for company rebuilding

Zenkyo dissolved

Coal-planer introduced in Japanese mines

New plant constructed in Iyo-Mishima

Urado Bay reclamation plan

Merged with Daio Pulp

Mitsui Miike miners' strike

Urado Bay reclamation plan adopted

Part of Kochi Pulp separated and becomes Nishi Nippon

Urado Bay Protection Citizens' group established

Mine explosion

Coal mines in Chikuho area shut down in rapid succession

Fire breaks out within the mine

Hunger strike demanding purification of Enoguchi River

Visit after 14 years
(rediscovery of victims)

Typhoon No 10/reclamation work stops

Cement-plugging incident

Plant closed

Hikari Foundation established

Court decision on cement-plugging incident

(introductory text...)

Kichiro Shoji and Masuro Sugai

I. Technological modernization and the Ashio Copper Mine

In 1868, the newly established Meiji government of Japan made the modernization of the country by increasing military strength and expanding industrial production its first national priority. The government established a Department of Industry in 1870 and came to control all industries other than the military. On the basis of land taxes, this new department took the initiative in starting new industries, and looking after private enterprise until the department was disbanded in 1885. The work that the department had done was to introduce new technologies and machines from the advanced capitalist countries and also to invite technicians to Japan to provide new industrial production models and technologies.

Related industrial laws were established and, by 1877, mining, financed by private capital, had grown rapidly. Copper was especially important for the new government, because its exports brought in much-needed foreign money. The demand for copper overseas supported the copper industry in Japan. As table 1.1 indicates, most of the copper produced in Japan was exported. Copper earned 9.5 per cent of Japan's export earnings in 1890 and through this Japan became established as a world-level copper producer. The earnings were used to purchase mining equipment, military weapons, and other industrial machinery. Copper played an important role in the development of Japan's capitalism, and the main domestic copper producer was the Ashio copper mine.

The Ashio copper mine had been the property of the Tokugawa shogunate, and as such had produced 1,500 tons annually, which was the maximum possible output in the 1600s. However, this high output level had been dropping gradually. The mine was temporarily closed in 1800, but in 1871 it became a private operation, and finally in 1877 it came to be owned by Ichibei Furukawa. In 1881 a new but small lode of ore was discovered, followed by a much larger one in 1884, and, as indicated in table 1.2, copper production rose very rapidly as a result of these discoveries. In 1884, the production stood at 2,286 tons per year. Thus Ashio became the mine with the highest output in Japan, producing 68 per cent of the total output of Furukawa mines and 26 per cent of Japan's production.

Table 1.1. Copper Export as a Percentage of Production


Export/production (%)





















Source: Nihon Keieishi Kenkyuujo, Furukawa Kogyo sogyo 100 nenshi (Furukawa Kogyo, 1976). p. 73.

From 1876 to 1885, the demand for copper was rather low, because mining technology in Western countries was on the upswing and because the world's copper market had fallen into a depression. This also had an effect on Japan's copper production which, in like manner, faced marketing difficulties during that period. In spite of its primitive methods and the depression in the world's copper markets, the Ashio mine was prosperous because of the excellent quality of the ore discovered in the larger lode.

In 1885, Furukawa bought the Ani mine from the government, not only to add another productive mine to the company's holdings, but also to provide an opportunity to make use of the latest modern equipment that had been installed there, as well as its highly skilled technicians. This equipment from the Ani mine enabled the Ashio mine to modernize the system for pumping the water and ore slurry, which up until then had been done manually, because the newer ore-digging and crushing equipment incorporated a steam-operated pumping method. With the help of foreign technicians the mine was reorganized for more efficient output on the basis of new techniques and equipment, and the horizontal mining method was introduced. However, the mine's capital accumulation was as yet insufficient for the further introduction of advanced production technologies.

In September 1885 when the Ashio mine was flooded, the technical limitations were revealed. Although production had reached a record 4,090 tons that year, it took another two years before the former production levels were regained. The years 1886-1887 saw a depression in world copper markets. The Jardine Matheson Company, the largest of all British companies in South-East Asia at that time, requested exclusive purchasing rights for all Furukawa's copper output. with the aim of creating a monopoly in world markets and forcing an increase in the price of French-produced copper.

Table 1.2.

Production (tons)



Ashio mine

Furukawa mine (a)

All Japan (b)



































































































































































Source: Nihon Keieishi Kenkyuujo. Furukawa Kogyo sogyo 100 nenshi (Furukawa Kogyo. 1976), pp. 76. 82.

At first Furukawa was unwilling to conclude this contract because of the large amount of copper to be sold and the terms of the payment. But in 1888 a contract was signed: Furukawa was to sell 19,000 tons of copper at the Yokohama rate of 20.75 yen per 100 kin (I kin = 0.6 kg) for 29 months. With this contract in hand, Furukawa could make capital borrowings, but in order to realize these the output of the Ashio mine had to be greatly increased.

Under these conditions it was not only essential but inevitable that the technology used in the Ashio copper mine be updated and modernized. The problem of flooding, which had plagued the mine for three years, was solved within the year. Furukawa was the first to install a telephone system in the mine. Various kinds of mining equipment were imported for drainage and the transportation of ores' and the production was generally improved. Further, the company initiated innovations that were to increase production capacity, reduce the need for labour, and cut the cost of production.

However, no matter how much effort was given to increasing copper production, the refining method was still rather primitive. In 1887, of the 48 refining sites, eight were abolished and replaced by one modern hydrometallurgical separator and three pyrometallurgical smelters. In 1890, in order to meet the contract demands of the Jardine Matheson Company, another 12 hydrometallurgical separators were installed to replace the old smelters.

There were many problems like excessive energy consumption and product and ore transportation. In 1890, Furukawa requested the Siemens Company of Germany to install a 400-horsepower hydro-electric turbine that was to run an electric generator to power an 80-horsepower pump, a 25-horsepower ore lift, and a 6-horsepower electric-light system. The electric pump was of the plunger type which provided greater efficiency and energy conservation in water drainage and ore transportation. In 1891 an electric railway was built between the mine and the refining area.

Because the transportation of the finished products was dependent on the use of horses and cows, weather and temperature caused problems. In order to solve them, the company installed a 30-horsepower steam-engine-powered cable across the Hosoo Pass in 1890. Then, when the Japan National Railway opened the Nikko rail line, the company began to operate a horse-drawn train between the Hosoo Pass and Nikko, thereby greatly improving the product transportation system.

In 1893 Furukawa built a Bessemer smelter. With the help of this, the time needed for the refining of the ore was reduced from 32 to 2 days. The Ashio copper mine now became the leading copper producer as a result of its greatly increased productivity.

II. Protests against mining poisons and governmental measures

The predominantly capitalistic production system of the Ashio copper mine brought about serious mining-induced environmental destruction. As indicated in figure 1.1, the discovery of the large copper ore lode caused all the trees surrounding it to die by the end of 1884. In August 1885. the use of a rock-crushing machine and a steam-operated pump in the Ani mine greatly increased production but led to massive fish kills in the Watarase River. In

Fig. 1.1. Process of Environmental Destruction around Ashio Copper Mine (after K. Shoji, production figures from Furukawa Kogyo sogyo 100 nenshi, p. 82).

August 1890, when all modern technology systems had been installed, £1 flood occurred in the Watarase river basin, and 1,600 hectares of farmland and 28 towns and villages in Tochigi and Gunma prefectures were heavily damaged by the floodwater, which contained poisons from the Ashio mine.

In October 1890, Chugo Hayakawa led a movement against the mine and asked the prefectural hospital to do some tests for water-borne poisons. In December, the residents of Azuma Village, Tochigi Prefecture, appealed to the governor of the prefecture to call a halt to the mining operations at Ashio. This was the first of such appeals and of the movements against Ashio.

In December 1890, the Tochigi Prefectural Council resolved that the poison problems should be investigated. Gunma Prefecture followed their lead in March 1891. In April 1891, the governor of Tochigi made a request to the Agricultural University to investigate the causes of the damage to agricultural systems, and asked for countermeasures. He was followed by the governor of Gunma, who did the same in June and July. During these periods the farmers began to organize their efforts to counteract the mining poisons. Sukeyuki Cho, Chugo Hayakawa, and Sahei Kameda from the Ashikaga and Yamada areas of Tochigi formed volunteer groups, and started to organize the provinces of Yamada, Nitta, and Oura in Gunma Prefecture in order to stop the mining. At the same time they published the results of soil analysis and other surveys related to the Ashio mine poisons. carried out by Professor Yoshinao Kozai of the Agricultural University, but the book was immediately confiscated by the authorities.

The destruction of agricultural ecosystems by the Ashio water-borne poisons provoked a response from the farmers, which at first was oriented towards stopping the operation of the mine altogether, but which was also concerned with gaining monetary compensation from the mine-owners for the extensive damage that had been done. In September 1891, the governor of Tochigi Prefecture proposed to lay the groundwork for negotiations between the farmers and the Furukawa management concerning possible compensation for damages on condition that the former agreed to mediation through the governor. The representatives of six villages in the Ashikaga area and three in the Yamada area, including Sahei Kameda of Azuma Village, agreed to accept the proposal. In this way the farmers' movement against the operations of the copper mines slowly changed into a movement to demand compensation for damage. Japanese governmental attitudes toward the Ashio copper mine problems and measures to resolve them were reflected in the Imperial Constitution of Japan, which was promulgated in February 1889.

Prima facie the Imperial Constitution was egalitarian, but in reality the rights of the people and the Imperial Diet were tightly circumscribed in deference to the authority of the Emperor, who, as the sovereign head of state and commander-in-chief of the armed forces, retained the power to declare war and negotiate peace. The National Diet was not able to interfere in military affairs, and its deliberation of budget bills was also limited. The power to form or disband governmental organizations belonged exclusively to the Emperor.

The concentration of power in the hands of the Emperor inevitably created advisory organs like Genro, which were exclusively manned by members of the Satsuma and Choshu clans, who had been instrumental in bringing about the Meiji Restoration and in establishing the bureaucratic system of Japan.

Elections were held only for members of the Lower House of the Imperial Diet, which was established in November 1890, while the Upper House was constituted through Imperial Orders and consisted of noblemen, bureaucrats, large landowners, and industrial capitalists. This system of government was established under the Emperor in collusion with large landowners and industrial capitalists who had accumulated their wealth by taking advantage of the Matsukata Monetary Retrenchment Measures instituted in 1881. It was this same group that had established the Department of Industry within the government.

With this amount of power concentrated through governmental structures in the hands of a few individuals, policies were oriented toward strengthening military power and the creation of a technologically sophisticated industrial state. In this context and under the Imperial Constitution, the political and economic roles of the Ashio copper mine were strengthened, because copper was an important foreign money-earner, and foreign money was needed for the purchase and importation of weapons and industrial machinery. Against this background, Ichibei Furukawa succeeded in establishing solid relationships with those in governmental circles.

Furukawa continued his relationship with Eiichi Shibusawa, the leading capitalist of the times, and he was greatly supported by Kaoru Inoue, a political magnate who had served the Foreign Ministry and the Department of Industry. Junkichi, the second son of the future Foreign Minister Munemitsu Mutsu, was adopted as a son-in-law by Ichibei Furukawa and through this the ties between the two families were cemented, which did much to strengthen their economic and political power. In 1890, Mutsu was appointed to the Ministry of Agriculture and Business, and Mutsu's secretary, Takashi Hara, became vice-president of Furukawa Mining in 1905. In 1907, Hara became the Minister of Home Affairs, and ordered the destruction of Yanaka Village. Hara's talent had first been recognized by Kaoru Inoue, the then Minister of Foreign Affairs, and this led to his becoming a foreign affairs appointee to France. While Hara was in France. he had become acquainted with Tsugumitsu Saigo of the Japanese Navy, and Aritomo Yamagata of the Japanese Army - relationships that made it possible for him to move later on into the prime ministership. Taking advantage of these connections, Hara was able to strengthen the relationship between the political tycoons and Furukawa.

In December 1891, in the second Diet session. Shozo Tanaka, a member of the Lower House from Tochigi Prefecture, demanded that mining at Ashio be stopped, drawing on Article 27 of the Imperial Constitution which guaranteed the inalienable right of petition and pointing out the fact that Japan's Mining Laws stipulated a withdrawal of the right to mine if mining operations damaged public welfare. Along with this action Tanaka requested that Mutsu, who was then Minister of Agriculture and Business, take complete responsibility for the damage done to the agricultural sector by the mine-related poisoning. However, before any action could be taken in this regard, the second Diet session was dissolved over budgetary issue confrontations between the government and opposition parties. The government's answers to Tanaka's questions and demands appeared in Kanpo, the government newsletter. which said that the causes of the damage to the agricultural systems in the areas around the Ashio mine were unknown and were under investigation; the company would be reprimanded for the discharge of poisons from the mine and ordered to install pulverized ore-dust collection equipment so as to prevent the outflow of poisons.

These responses from the government clearly indicated that the officials were fully aware of the causes of the environmental destruction, because they at once denied the possibility of poisoning by mining and recognized the necessity for new mining control equipment to protect the agricultural environment. They claimed that the new equipment would be an effective means of environmental protection and at the same time used it as a way of trying to force the farmers to change their attitude from one of outright opposition to mining operations to one of accepting monetary reparations.

In February 1892, an arbitration meeting led by the governor of Tochigi Prefecture was set up in conjunction with a prefectural council members' mediation organization. In the Ashikaga area, however, a Mine Poisonings Examination Meeting was arranged. In both cases, negotiations for damage reparations were promoted. In Gunma Prefecture, the governor was not directly involved in the negotiations but the council chairman served as the mediator. However, there were still peasants strongly opposed to negotiations for compensation in both Gunma and Tochigi prefectures. The highest administrative official of Nitta Province led the Union of Water Consumers of Machiyaba Ryoseki in negotiations for compensation. These negotiations led to agreements on the following three points: (1) that money should be paid to the farmers in view of the moral obligations of the mining company; (2) that in order to appreciate fully the efficiency of the pollution-preventing ore-dust scrubbing equipment that was to be installed, the parties signing the compensation pact should wait until 30 June 1896 before bringing any further complaints against Furukawa; (3) that Ichibei Furukawa should make every effort to restore the water ecosystem to its original quality.

Before the signing of the compensation pact, the necessary preliminary damage surveys were completed by a group composed of village élites who had been selected by the prefectural, village, and town legislative offices. In other words, the arbitration leaders and the public administrators were constituted in such a manner as to assure the strengthening of the Furukawa position. The amount of money negotiated as compensation for the extensive environmental damage was minimal.

For example, the poisoned areas of Ueno and Sakai villages, and Inubushi Town in Aso Province, which represented about 1,160 hectares altogether, were given compensation of only 10,000 yen. The annual income from 10 ares of produced rice at the time was between 14.60 and 17.52 yen. Therefore the amount of damages from the mine represented about one-twentieth of the annual income from the land. Furukawa also agreed to pay the peasants money for remaining quiet until the effectiveness of the pollution prevention ore-dust scrubbing equipment had been evaluated. The ore-dust scrubber was next to useless as a pollution prevention device and the amount paid to the farmers between 189(1 and 30 June 1896 was 0.143 yen per annum. which represented less than one day's wages for a tenant farmer.

The first arbitration meetings were continued until 1893. Then. in 1894 when the Sino-Japanese War broke out. second arbitration meetings started and continued until 1896. This time the Furukawa Company tried to press a contract on the victimized farmers, intending this as a final solution to the problem. The original amount offered for compensation was 1.40 yen per 10 ares of the poisoned land, but through the machinations of biased third-party negotiators the damages were lowered to between 0.40 and 0.25 yen per 10 are area, with the proviso that the peasants relinquish permanently the right to bring damage claims against the Furukawa Mining Company.

In March 1895, Japan emerged victorious in the Sino-Japanese War. However, the Chantung Peninsula, which had been won by Japan after the war, had to be returned to China through the intervention of Russia, Germany, and France. As a result of this the Japanese government decided to turn even more strongly towards military expansion under the military leadership, determined to modernize their forces in order to spread their hegemony to Manchuria and to defeat the Russian Army. The Japanese Navy was intent on increasing its strength so as to be able to resist the combined power of Russia, Germany, and France. The supreme order propagated by the Japanese government was to increase the power of the army and navy by doubling their capacity.

The Sino-Japanese War furthered industrialization, ensured capital expansion, and provided a rationale for the development of a military education system. It also brought about further diplomatic co-operation with the Great Powers. After the Sino-Japanese War, it became clear that Japan's policy was to join the race with other advanced nations for imperialistic expansion. This was the very beginning of Japan's imperialism, which eventually led to Japan controlling Korea.

Essential to waging the Sino-Japanese War was an increase in iron and steel production. However, Japan's smelting techniques were still immature. From 1896 to 1900, Japan could meet only about 50 per cent of its demand for iron, and one-twentieth of that for steel. As a result, it was absolutely essential that Japan import iron and steel. In this context, the importation of refining equipment, weapons, and other steel-fabricating machinery was greatly increased, and the foreign money earned by the copper-mine output played an important role in paying for these foreign goods.

Copper production was of vital significance in that copper was equated with the nation itself. The Ashio copper mine, by meeting the increased demand for copper, which was needed both for foreign-exchange and military purposes, came to be the foundation upon which Japan's imperialism was built.

By the close of 1884, the entirety of the once-forested areas around the Ashio refinery had been biologically destroyed. As indicated in table 1.3, by 1893 sulphurous anhydride from the smoke produced by the mining and smelting machinery had killed all living things, so that natural recovery was rendered impossible and the once tree-covered mountain areas were turned into an absolute wasteland. The continuation of the smelting operations resulted in extensive erosion in the mountains and the material washed away from them filled the middle of the Watarase River to a height of five feet. The damage to the natural environment was increasing at an ever-accelerating pace.

Table 1.3. Condition of Ashio Area Mountains in 1893 (unit: cho = 2.45 acres)

Area designation


No vegetation growth

Exposed base rock

National forest




Government-owned mountain area




Privately owned mountain area








Source: Tochigi Prefecture Education Committee, Tochigi kenshi kenkyuu, no. 19 (1980), p. 98.

In 1892 the Tochigi Prefectural Governor, and in 1895 the Gunma Prefectural Governor, went to the Agriculture and Business Minister seeking a prohibition against further damage to the forests, as well as policies that would save the viability of the mountains. In 1895 the Tochigi Prefectural Council presented a similar petition to the Ministry of Home Affairs. In March 1896, in the ninth National Diet session, Shozo Tanaka posed questions to the government in relation to the natural destruction that had been wrought by the Ashio copper mine.

The thing which all had feared occurred with devastating force. In September 1896 a massive flood, larger than the one visited on the area in July of the same year, was caused by torrential rains, and the Watarase, the Tone, and the Edo overflowed their banks. One large city, five prefectures, twelve provinces, and 136 towns and villages over a total area of 46,723 hectares were damaged by the water-borne mine poisons. The loss sustained was about 23 million yen, which was eight times the annual income of the Ashio copper mine.

Because of the seriousness of the mine-related damage to the natural environment, Shozo Tanaka set up a mining damage office in the Unryu Temple of Watarase Village in Gunma Prefecture, and with other volunteers began to take action to end operations at the mine. He started by organizing people in the areas most heavily destroyed, suggesting to them that the farmlands in the flooded areas be exempted from national taxes.

This was the beginning of one of Japan's first mass-based citizens' movements.

In November, the Ministry of Agriculture and Business sent technicians to Tochigi and Gunma prefectures in order to compile data on the extent of the flood damage, and in December a five-member mining poisons survey commission was formed in the same ministry. This rapid response on the part of the ministry was brought about not only by an atmosphere of crisis that the officers of the agricultural section had created and by the rising tide of public opinion against the destruction of the agricultural environment, but also by certain personnel changes in which Munemitsu Mutsu became Minister of Foreign Affairs and Takeaki Enomoto Minister of Agriculture and Business. The excessively serious nature of the mining poisons damage became a powerful challenge to traditional agricultural ideologies based upon Confucianism. A crisis mentality obtained among the people, as well as among certain members of the governing elite.

In February 1897, Shozo Tanaka put questions to the tenth National Diet session in relation to the government's responsibility for the mining disaster, and demanded that the mining operations be stopped. As soon as the newspapers reported this, over 2,000 farmers were organized to go to Tokyo for the first mass rally about the problem. Riot police and military units were used to stop them, but over 800 managed to complete the long journey and came to appeal at the appropriate government offices. Through this action they received much greater public exposure. On 18 March four prefectures opened a co-operative office in Tokyo for the prevention of mining hazards. On 24 March, Enomoto, the Minister of Agriculture and Business, visited Ashio. In a second event, more than 3,000 peasants broke through police barriers to get to Tokyo for a second mass rally against the mine.

Against the background of these events, the government instituted an Ashio Copper Mine Survey Committee of 18 members, headed by Tomotsune Kamimuchi, the Minister of Justice. Immediately after that, Enomoto, the Minister of Agriculture and Business, resigned, and Shigenobu Okuma, the Foreign Minister, was assigned to the post. This first Ashio Copper Mine Survey Committee, however, had a hidden agenda: its primary objectives were the suppression of the heightened pressure of public opinion against the operation of the mine and the undermining of the farmers' movements and demonstrations.

III. Mine operations in the Post Sino-Japanese War era and the stance of the government

Newspapers reported that the mining operation might be ordered to stop by the first survey committee. Shimpei Goto, a member of the survey committee and the chief of the Public Health Department in the Ministry of Home Affairs, told the press that he would bring the mining operations to a halt. On 31 March Hirohata, a Chamberlain, and on 9 April Kabayama, the Minister of Home Affairs, visited the mine-poisoned areas. When Kamimuchi, the chairman. prepared the survey committee draft, there were indications that either a partial or total closing of the mine would be suggested. However, Koi Furuichi. the civil engineering adviser to the Ministry of Home Affairs, Wataru Watanabe, a non-official technician of the Bureau of Imperial Estates, and Kunijiro Wada, of the Ministry of Agriculture and Business, moved to suppress the mine-closing orientations proposed by Muneyoshi Nagaoka, an associate professor at the Agricultural University, and Hatsujiro Sakano, a technician engaged in agricultural research.

Although the press reported that Goto intended to stop operations at the mine, he did not mention this in the deliberations of the survey committee.

The victims' compensation plan proposed by some of the committee members was not taken up in cabinet deliberations in any shape or form. In this regard, the work of the committee was circumscribed by the duplicity of the government.

The government, for which military expansion was of the first order of importance, was unable to alter its basic demand for copper and as a result the mine continued operating with government support even after the great mine poisoning incident. At the same time great efforts were expended in nurturing public support for expanded militarism. The damage done by the poisons now affected 100,453 hectares of land and it was the government's task to stop the damage and improve the situation. The first survey committee managed to minimize the government's involvement as much as possible by offering tax exemption to heavily poisoned areas while issuing orders to the effect that further environmental damage should be prevented by more stringent measures than had been applied on two earlier occasions. This was as much as the government really wanted to do. That was why the government continued to make light of the situation, at the same time supressing the victims on the basis of national security.

In May 1897, the government sent 37 environmental protection articles in relation to the mine to Ichibei Furukawa. The main requirements were to build a condensation tower to cut down on sulphur emissions, as in the condensation of arsenious acid, the precipitation of smoke particles, the elimination of sulphurous anhydride caused by sulphuric acid production, the sedimentation of sludges, the precipitation of particulate matter, the provision of adequate sludge-pile catchments, and the construction of tall chimneys. The period allowed for the completion of these projects was specified, with the proviso that if the company did not meet these requirements, mine operations would be halted. Responsible for these agreements was Teizo Minami, who later became a director of the Ashio copper mine after the environmental protection construction projects had been completed. As things turned out, the tower designed to reduce sulphurous acid gas emissions was completely useless. The smoke damage worsened on the upper reaches of the Watarase River in the area of the old Matsuki Village, which was, as a result of the total damage involved, completely demolished in 1901. The construction costs for the pollution prevention tower totaled 1,040,000 yen for the entire project and the loans were partly covered by Eiichi Shibusawa of the Daiichi Bank.

It took another year before the first legislation to provide tax exemption for poison-damaged areas was enacted in May 1898. According to the circumstances there were six different tax-exemption periods. This tax-exemption legislation covered only 25,500 hectares. However, in September 1898, just after the initial legislation had been enacted, another big flood hit the area. Because this natural phenomenon caused further damage from mine poisons, in July 1899 a second round of tax-exemption legislation was enacted for the same area.

The tax-exemption legislation, however, did not deliver the farmers from their plight, nor did it foster in them a true sense of independence. With tax-exempt status they were forced to give up voting rights which were accorded only to taxpayers. Furthermore, the local governments were unable to collect taxes. In other words, the copper-mining poisons not only ravaged the farmers' land, but also threatened their lives as well; the farmers were deprived of human rights and the local governments were brought to a state of dysfunction through the tax exemption. Kuno Village in Ashikaga, Tochigi Prefecture, and Oshima Village in Gunma Prefecture became tax-free zones. The local legislative offices were brought to a complete state of paralysis because they could not collect taxes, so the village secretaries had to take on the responsibilities of the village administrators in those areas.

The flood of 1898 did even worse damage to the surrounding areas because massive amounts of slag had been released from the sedimentation pond built by the mining company. In extreme anger and frustration, over 11,001) farmers started out for Tokyo 26 September for the third mass demonstration, with demands for reinforcement of the river banks, for the sparing of the poisoned areas from further insult and for a policy of support for the bankrupt local governments. They were confronted on the way by the police and military forces. However, some 2,500 succeeded in getting to Hogima Village, Minami Adachi Province, Tokyo.

Although Shozo Tanaka had been sick at the time, he went to meet the farmers and advised them to leave 50 representatives with him and go back to their villages. Tanaka pledged that if their demands were not met, he would fight to the death for their cause. In this manner Tanaka became the leader of the struggle against the copper mine and began to organize the farmers. In March 1899, during the thirteenth National Diet session, Tanaka again expressed his determination. In April, at the Unryu Temple meeting, he asked the farmers to direct their demands at prefectural governments rather than the National Diet and gave guidance as to election orientations that should be taken in relation to village- and town-elected officials. The point of this planning was to train the movement leaders so as to provide a firm foundation for ensuing struggles. This organization became the basis for the next explosion of farmers' energies against the government in Tokyo. At a meeting held at the Unryu Temple on 30 August 1899, the farmers decided to go to Tokyo for the fourth time in order to meet the Ministers of Home Affairs and of Agriculture and Business during the fourteenth National Diet session which sat from November 1899 to February 1900. Information about this plan was passed to the police within the day.

The farmers' decision led Tanaka to request them to conduct a survey of the death-rate in the poisoned areas, especially in relation to the increased death-rate of newborn babies. He said that the copper mine was responsible for murder, and in order to get at the facts, he made his rounds of the various villages in which the death-rate was increasing. At the 12 September meeting in the Unryu Temple. a fourth mass demonstration in Tokyo was decided on. Table 1.4 gives the statistics submitted by Tanaka at that time.

On 18 January 1900 at the Unryu Temple, village committee members and 18 temple priests gathered for a meeting that was to call for revenge for the excessive number of deaths caused by the poisoning and to provide impetus for the continuing struggle against the government. A task force was created among young people, with the aim of strengthening the organization in areas where the movement had not yet taken off. All this was in preparation for the fourth demonstration being planned for Tokyo.

Table 1.4a. Census Results for 12 Villages in the Areas Affected by Copper Poisons in Tochigi and Ibaragi Prefectures (five years ending in November 1899)b

Births and deaths (total)

Average births/ deaths per village

Average births/deaths per 100 population in 5 years


Prefectures/ villages

Total population



Average population per village



Average population/5 years



5 years

2 prefectures/12 villages










a. The 12 villages include 11 in Tochigi-ken and 1 in Ibaragi-ken.
b. No statistics were available for years before 1894.
c. Total population figure represents the figure for 1898.

Table 1.4b. Comparison of Birth/Death Rates for National Average,a Non- affected Areas,b and Affected AreasC

Per 100 population



National average



Non-affected areas



Affected areas



a. National average figures were taken from 1895 census figures.
b. Non-affected area figures are from Uyeno-mura, Aso-gun, Tochigi-ken in 1898.
c. Affected area figures represent the figures for 1898.

Table 1.4c. Comparison of Birth/Death Figures for Five Years Prior to and Succeeding the Incident in Kai-mura, Aso-gun, Tochigi-kena

5 years

Average number of households

Average population

Average number of births

Average number of births per 100 population

Average number of deaths

Average number of deaths per 100 population















a. The startling difference between the average death figures for before and after the Incident should be noted.

Source: "Ashio Dohzon kohdoku shobun seigan Tokyo jimusho," Ashio Dohzan kohdoku shobun seigan (University of Tokyo Faculty of Economics library).

Against this background of movement unification, the military police continued their investigations and the restrictions on activist involvement increased. In response to communications from the Gunma Police Headquarters, the Tochigi police chief sent to all police forces details of the farmers' plans for a mass demonstration in Tokyo. The police saw through the farmers' attempt to cover up their plan by acting as if their movements were part of a sightseeing trip to Tokyo or a visit to the Narita Temple, and in this way they were able to keep a watch on the farmers' true intentions.

On 6 February 1900, discussions pertaining to the matter of the farmers' demonstrations took place between the Tochigi Prefectural Public Peace Department and the police chief. On the 7th, a Tochigi Prefectural Police section chief met with an Ibaragi Prefectural Police section chief in order to determine the allotment of responsibilities for the demonstration-related investigation. On 8 February, the Tochigi Prefectural Police ordered the allocation of 10 police inspectors, 11 police section chiefs, and 162 policemen to the investigations. The Gunma Prefectural Police Department sent three police inspectors and 50 policemen to the Unryu Temple, and a total of 185 police were assigned to overpower and stop the demonstrations, while military forces were stationed not far away at Sano.

On 9 February, under these highly restrictive conditions, the Unryu Temple gong was sounded as a signal, followed by the Ueno, Azuma, and Watarase village gongs. In response to the sounds, 300 young men came en masse, singing songs and shouting slogans against the operation of the copper mine. Until about four o'clock the next morning, this large group went around to the various homes inviting people to join in the demonstrations. At the same time the village administrators, who were under the leadership of Shozo Tanaka in Tokyo, waited for the demonstrators to arrive so as to be able to lobby while the National Diet was in session. In this situation the village administrators also came to side with the farmers' movement against the operation of the mine.

On 11 February, the government's 140-member Copper Mining Poisons Committee met to discuss the final details of their investigations. On the 12th the military received information that the demonstrators would start on the 13th. At 7 p.m. the 12th, in the grounds of the Unryu Temple, a campfire was started and groups of farmers gathered to sing songs, beat drums, and chant prayers around it. On the 13th at about 8 p.m., about 2,500 farmers started to walk to Tokyo, their numbers growing as other farmers joined in the procession.

Farmland damaged by copper-poison contamination in a village in Aso-gun, Tochigi-ken, taken by Sen Tsuda (from T. Matsumoto, ea., Ashio koudoku sanjou gaho, Seinen Doushi Koudoku Chousakai. 1901).

When demonstrators got to Tatebayashi they were confronted by the police, and then at Kawamata, in Sanuki Village, they met with police violence. At this time more than 100 farmers were arrested, and this came to be known as the Kawamata Incident. In the fourteenth National Diet session, Shozo Tanaka resumed grilling the government daily about the injustice of the police violence against the farmers and also about the Ashio copper-mine poisonings.

The fourteenth Diet session saw the enactment of major bills that would enable Japan to become highly industrialized. In addition, the national policies that provided the basis for Japanese imperialism after the Sino-Japanese War were greatly expanded. However, 1900 was a year in which the movement leaders were arrested and the movements were fiercely repressed and forced to go into reverse.

IV. Tanaka's attempt to appeal directly to the emperor and the poisoned water-collection pond plan

Of those arrested in the Kawamata Incident, 68 persons were held for preliminary examination on the charge of collective rioting, and of these 51 were brought for prosecution to the Maebashi District Court. At this, Shozo Tanaka fought hard to reorganize the farmers and rekindle their fighting spirit, engaging lawyers for the defendants and trying to have an appropriately meaningful court struggle. He was also determined to make an appeal directly to the Emperor, since, because of government oppression, there was no other means left.

In resorting to such extreme measures, Tanaka had expected that the news media would be shocked and would report the facts surrounding the copper mine, directing public opinion against it; he also hoped that they would reveal the oppressive tactics of the police and thereby bring the public around to the side of the farmers. But these efforts of his were not very fruitful, for he found little co-operation among the news organizations.

In June 1901. Yasujiro Ishikawa, the chief editor of the Mainichi shimbun, offered his co-operation and certain ideas of his own to help win the struggle. Two days later, Tanaka landed the co-operation of Shusui Kotoku, a journalist for Yorozuchoho, who was to write an appeal to be presented to the Emperor.

In December 1900, the court passed judgement in relation to the Kawamata Incident, finding 29 guilty of rioting and 22 not guilty. An appeal was made to a higher court; in September 1901. it was to be tried in the Tokyo Court. The farmers continued their court battle to stop the copper-mine poisonings and to receive fair treatment. The proceedings were reported in Tokyo news papers and once again public interest was aroused in the copper-mining problem.

Between 6 and 12 October 1901, the poison-damaged areas were investigated by the presiding judge of the Tokyo Court, the associate judges, the public prosecution lawyers, expert witness Tohitaka Yokoi, and the defendants. All of this was reported by journalists from eight newspapers. The newspapers did not cover just the event, but informed the readers of the background. They carried articles on the poison-damaged areas and on the poverty of the farmers, referring to the situation as hell on earth and expressing their sympathy for the farmers and their antipathy to the government that refused to take responsibility for the situation. More news articles appeared and Ishikawa of the Mainichi shimbun took on a leading role in the formation of public opinion by reporting the direct appeal that Tanaka was going to make to the Emperor. By so doing, Ishikawa hoped to get more and more people to join in the mass struggle against the destruction of the environment. On 23 October, Tanaka resigned as a member of the Lower House in order to prepare for his direct appeal.

The Mainichi shimbun published a series of articles, written by women journalists, on the miseries brought about by the copper-mine poisonings. Related news articles on the struggles of the people were also printed, and the editorials took up the cause. On 30 November, Tameko Furukawa, the wife of Ichibei Furukawa, took her own life by drowning under the Kanda Bridge.

On the morning of 10 December 1901, when, after presiding at the opening of the sixteenth National Diet Upper House session, Emperor Meiji was going to his carriage, Tanaka came up to him, a written appeal in hand, shouting to him. By this action Tanaka had planned to bring the scandal of the mine poisonings into public view, hoping that one of the imperial guards would either kill or injure him. But in fact, the sergeant-at-arms fell from his horse, which had reared up in surprise, and Tanaka also stumbled and fell on his face, so he was neither killed nor injured. He was arrested on the spot and taken into custody by the police.

Tanaka's attempted appeal to the Emperor came as a great shock to the government. The Minister of Home Affairs, Utsumi, was sent to the Emperor to explain the situation, and the chiefs of the Ooura and Kojimachi Police Departments were, likewise, sent to the Prime Minister to explain matters. Tanaka was examined by Public Prosecutor Kawabuchi and by the chief of the Kojimachi Police Department. He told them that his actions had been an attempt to reach the Emperor with his appeal, and kept secret his connections with the newspaper publisher Ishikawa. Dr. Okunuki gave Tanaka a psychiatric examination, and declared that he was indeed perfectly sane. Tanaka was released at 7.30 the same evening.

Tanaka's appeal did not work as planned. but it astounded the public at large. Many people from different walks of life began to involve themselves in attempts to improve the terrible situation caused by the mine poisonings. On 27 December 1901, a trip to the poisoned areas was planned and about 800 students from 40 colleges, universities, and high schools joined it. They were deeply moved by the damage done to the environment, and so they organized movements designed to spread the news about the grim reality of the destruction and the need to help the farmers. This was the first of the numerous student movements that were to come.

With this escalation of the anti-mine movement, the National Diet was moved to discuss the situation. In January 1902, the government decided to form another Mine Poisons Survey Committee in order to manipulate public opinion, and on 15 March, along with the announcement of the Kawamata Incident Tokyo court decision, made the membership of the second survey committee known. The court had decided that none of the farmers were guilty of mass rioting, but that three persons had violated the policy security law and that the remaining 47, one of whom was dead, were innocent of any crime. The case was then appealed to the Tokyo High Court.

Although the membership of the Second Mine Poisonings Survey Committee included Hatsuziro Sakano, who had argued for a halt to mining operations in the first committee, and Yoshinao Kozai, who once surveyed the agricultural systems damage at the request of the farmers, the core was composed of such dignitaries as Yoshito Okuda of the Ministry of Justice, who acted as chairperson, and Ryuzo Tanaka, the Chief of the Mine Bureau, along with new bureaucrats from the Ministries of Home Affairs and Finance, all of whom were prone to side with Furukawa Nor did the other members of the committee, such as Professor Wataru Watanabe, of the engineering department of Tokyo University, and Professor Kawakita, one of Watanabe's colleagues, represent the farmers.

On orders from the committee, a survey was carried out by 21 university assistants and many engineers from different industries. The results of the survey were reported to the committee in October and in March 1903 the final results were submitted to Prime Minister Katsura. In May of the same year the report on Ashio copper-mine poisonings was presented to the eighteenth Diet session. However, besides this, another report was handed to the Prime Minister, containing committee members' subjective views and supporting the government's intentions in relation to the mine. This report was entitled "Opinions Related to the Living and Working Conditions of the Victims by Poisoning," and reflected the false presumption that slag-related poisons found in the Watarase River were residual products left over from before the initiation of the environmental protection measures taken at the mine, and that the extent of poisoning was minimal. It did not lay the blame at the feet of the mining enterprise; in fact, it supported the continuation of the mining operations.

The allegation was that the damage to the agricultural infrastructure had been caused by what remained in the environment from past floods, while the poisons contained in the smelting-related smoke and the related random loss of forested areas were ignored. The committee successfully ended by skirting the issue, recommending that flood-control systems be constructed.

There were six items in the reports that were concerned with protecting the farmers from the mine poisons. The following three are the main ones.

First, poisons were to be eliminated from the production processes at the Ashio copper mine. This meant that the company had to take measures to supplement and improve the preventive ones started in 1897. However, nothing was said about the smoke damage, because effective means of preventing it were yet to be discovered. In July 1903, the committee ordered the company for the fifth time to carry out a 15-item construction project designed to eliminate the mining-related poisons.

Second, land values were to be depreciated in the areas surrounding the Watarase River. This was the government's response to the farmers' requests for the poisoned land to be partially exempted from taxes. In October 1903, the government decided on a plan for land-tax reductions and passed a bill relative to the plan in the twentieth Diet session; this was announced in March 1904. The land that had been seriously affected by the poisons was divided into ten different groups, with tax-relief ranges from 80 to 15 per cent. This legislation became effective at the beginning of 1904. This was the second set of measures taken by the government to provide relief to the farmers. But the total amount allowed by the legislation for deductions came to only about 23,000 yen.

The poisoning of the farmland was a clear violation of the farmers' rights. However, the government only took measures that resulted in the lowering of land taxes through land devaluation, but there was no compensation for the farmers from the Furukawa Company that operated the mine. This meant that the articles in the Imperial Constitution relating to property rights were reserved only for industrial capitalists.

Furthermore, the policies related to land devaluations and reductions in tax rates favoured only landowners and provided no help to tenant farmers. But for both tenants and landowners, the suffering increased as time went on, and even fairly wealthy farmers gradually became impoverished, since the land was unable to recover from the poisoning and had become permanently unproductive. In this situation the local government again faced financial difficulties and were unable to solve the problem of poverty, especially in relation to farmers who were forced to leave the land.

The third item stipulated that flood prevention works be done. The Tone and Watarase rivers and their tributaries were to be repaired and a large poisons catchment constructed at the point where both rivers meet. The flow slope of the Watarase is gentler than that of the Tone, so the water from the Tone reverses into the Watarase, causing poisons to accumulate in the lower reaches of the Watarase. Therefore, the government's plan was to provide for the disposal of these poisons where they are at their highest concentration. At the time of the announcement of this project there was no indication as to where this plan was to be carried out, but only a hint of a 2,800- to 3,800-hectare area to be set aside for such purposes. However, the plan to construct a poisons catchment basin was kept secret because farmers in the area of the proposed basin would have to be transported as emigrants to Hokkaido.

The Watarase River flows into the Tone, from which the Edo River divides itself. The flood in 1896 brought great damage to Tokyo and the government was concerned with possible public outrage. In 1898 the estuary bottom of the Edo River was covered with concrete and the mouth of the river was narrowed to one-third its original width at Sekiyado. Then the point where the Watarase joins the Tone was widened so that the Tone water could run back into the Watarase. The poison problems in the lower reaches of the Watarase originated with the destruction of the natural environment where the river rises, and, as the poisons increased in the river, the construction in the lower reaches of the river systems only served to complicate and worsen the problems. All the construction work in and around the rivers was done for the purpose of creating a large poisons catchment basin.

In fact, before the second survey committee was called into being, the Ministry of Home Affairs, in consultation with Tochigi and Saitama prefectures, was promoting the idea of concentrating the poisoned waters of the Watarase River in the areas of Yanaka Village in Tochigi Prefecture and Toshima and Kawabe villages in Saitama Prefecture. In January 1902, members of the survey committee representing Toshima and Kawabe heard about the plan, and immediately voiced their opposition to the idea of destroying these villages for the sake of a poisons catchment. Under the leadership of Shozo Tanaka the two villages circulated resolutions in which they refused any longer to pay national taxes or to serve in the army. This struggle halted the plan to destroy the villages; in December 1902, at a special session of the Saitama Prefectural Assembly, governor Kinoshita did not touch on the matter of the struggle against the plan, but did point out several unfavourable aspects of a poisons catchment basin in the area in question. In January 1903, the Tochigi Prefectural Assembly proposed the use of Yanaka Village as a poisoned water catchment basin in exchange for money which was to be paid to the villagers, but this plan was also rejected.

In May 1902, the Tokyo High Court totally supported the Public Prosecutor's position in the Kawamata Incident and rejected the Tokyo Court decision. Then the case was transferred to the Miyaga Court of Appeals, but in December that court ruled that the government's appeal lacked due process of law. Therefore. the defendants were all released. In order to unify public opinion in support of the national policy of militarization, the government demanded that its policies relating to the poison-damaged areas be carried out through the construction of a poisons catchment basin.

In 1903, the plans which had been rejected by Tochigi and Saitama prefectures before were once again recommended by the Second Mine Poisons Survey Committee. This plan also included the forced emigration to Hokkaido of all farmers who would be displaced by the poisons catchment basin. The government's aim was to deal with only the areas where poisons had accumulated rather than solve the mine problem at source.

In December 1903, at a cabinet meeting, it was decided that the government would start plans for a war with Russia, that it would maintain a position of neutrality with China, and that Korea should be placed under Japan's control. Moreover, the government gave instructions to the Japanese ambassador to Great Britain to seek economic aid from the British government before the start of the Russo-Japanese War. The government's policy relative to copper poisons was in reality a prelude to Japan's period of imperialism, which was only just beginning.

The government's enterprise was being brought to fruition, just as it had hoped: the burden of poisons in the upper reaches of the Watarase River would be somewhat lightened by the construction of a catchment basin, and this had caused the farmers' and people's movement to be split and weakened. Those living along the lower reaches of the river were prepared to acquiesce in the demolition of Yanaka Village for the sake of the catchment basin if this meant that their land would thereby be protected from the poisons. The village leaders were divided over the question of whether to allow their land to be submerged, and the situation was such as to allow the government to make specific water- and land-use plans. There were many people who deserted the cause, supporting the government's imperialistic designs on foreign lands.

V. Shozo Tanaka takes up residence in Yanaka village

In January 1903, when the purchase of Yanaka Village was proposed in Tochigi Prefectural Council, Shozo Tanaka declared his intention to make a haven of the village if the government would give up its plans to make the ravaged area a catchment basin. He made it clear that he intended to live in the village. His idea of "haven" meant a place where all would be guaranteed freedom and security; he also laid emphasis on the fact that all must be equal, hoping that everyone would have his own way of expressing himself, because this would lead to creativity. In these circumstances autonomy would be possible. These ideas had come to him out of the struggle surrounding the Kawamata Incident. Tanaka attempted to achieve these ideals through his fight to save Yanaka Village from demolition.

In February 1903, opposing the government's preparation for the Russo-Japanese War, Shozo Tanaka published his views on violence, and made appeals for worldwide military disarmament. He had a clear understanding of the role of the Okura, Furukawa, Mitsu, Mitsubishi, and Asano zaibatsu in Japan's land-acquisition policies in Manchuria, and understood the means by which they encouraged the government in its pursuit of imperial power. He took militarism to be the personification of capitalistic imperialism. For this reason his non-violence meant the elimination of all armed forces from the world.

He placed emphasis on the solidarity of the people, and the evening before the declaration of the Russo-Japanese War he stated that Russia was not the enemy of Japan; he went on to contend that the future of Yanaka Village was an issue of much greater importance than the coming war with Russia. He was concerned for the enhancement of socialism and justice, which he felt was a very important need for that particular period in Japan's history. He declared that he retained the right to remain a pacifist when the declaration of war was made on Russia. In July 1904, Tanaka made good his promise to live in Yanaka Village and took up residence there just as the state authorities were getting ready to demolish the village. His intention was to resist state power and in doing so defend the rights of village autonomy against the state. He personally led the fight for survival in Yanaka Village, along with those still remaining there.

VI. The historical implications of the Ashio Copper-mine poisoning incidents

1. Copper-mining-related Environmental Destruction

Before launching into the historical implications of the Ashio copper-mine poisonings, a brief explanation of the environmental problems involved is in order. Since this problem is not something to be relegated to the distant past but is also the inheritance of the present generation, it can be found in almost all countries of the world.

Non-ferrous mining as represented by copper extraction results inevitably in environmental destruction. Two kinds of destruction are involved: one derived from the sulphurous acid resulting from the refining processes and the metal-containing dusts from the refinery smoke, and the other from acid water discharged in the mining and ore-selection refining processes, which pollutes the rivers, leading to the destruction of topsoils by water-borne poisons. There are differences in ore quality, but most of Japan's copper ores are sulphurous ores, which contain 30 to 40 per cent sulphur. Thus, in the refining processes, a great deal of sulphurous acid is produced (CuS + O2 = Cu + SO2). When this sulphurous acid is discharged into the air, the smoke-related damage is extensive. Copper ore also contains a certain amount of arsenic, cadmium, zinc, and lead, and small amounts of gold and silver. In the refining processes, arsenic is also released into the air with the sulphurous acid gases, and this results in very serious damage to all forms of life.

Highly concentrated sulphurous acid gases bleach the leaves and thereby kill the leaves. New leaves can appear just once more, but these too are damaged by the poisons, and thus trees several hundred years old are killed as the roots become exposed to the poisons through the flow of rainwater. As a result, the recovery of forested areas becomes almost impossible. This was especially true of the Ashio copper-mine area, where annual precipitation is more than 2,000 millimetres of rain. As trees are damaged and destroyed, the topsoil is washed away and the area is no longer able to retain water. Besides that, the sulphurous acid and arsenic begins to attack horses, cows and all other animals, and soon the health of human beings living in the affected areas is seriously compromised. As indicated in previous sections, Matsuki Village was one example of this, in which people living upwind from the refinery were no longer able to cope with the poisons and had to leave their village.

It is said that before the introduction of the Ashio mining activities, the surrounding area was densely forested, just as the mountains of Nikko are today. In addition to the damage brought about by the excessive intrusion of various chemical poisons, the mine used a great deal of wood and charcoal as fuel, and to meet these additional energy requirements a very great number of trees were cut down in the surrounding mountains. Because of the denudation of the forest areas, the Watarase River overflowed its banks even after a small amount of rain, and after a short spell of fine weather the river would be emptied of water in no time. The flood caused poisoning of agricultural products daily, because a great deal of acid-laden water was discharged from the mine and from the standing slag and unused ore piles, which contained unremoved copper and other poison elements. Other heavy metals and acids were also leaked from the slag and unused ore piles. It is not rare for the area to be inundated by 100 millimetres of rainfall in one hour, especially in the typhoon season; on these occasions, great amounts of poisons flow into the natural environment. To add to the problem, the Ashio copper mine lacked storage facilities for slag and untreated ores. In the 1890s, when the poisoning problem became a great social issue, the company dynamited the slag piles to dispose of them, thereby driving the slag into the river. As a result, copper-mining-derived poisoning was greatly exacerbated in the lower reaches of the river. Heavy metals contained in the waste ores and slag accumulated in the rice-fields through the irrigation systems, which used the river water, and the topsoil took on a cement-like consistency. Because the soil could not retain oxygen in the rice, wheat, and vegetable root systems, these plants would simply die away. At other times in the past, harvests were reduced because of flooding, but these same floodwaters brought rich soils to the farmers cultivating land in and around the lower reaches of the river system. However, as copper mining developed, damage to agricultural systems increased and the farmers had to close the irrigation canal gates to keep out the poisons every time it rained in the upper reaches of the river. Even so, the damage resulting from flooding by these poison-laden waters spread to over 100,000 hectares of irrigated land (see figure 1.2).

The damage went beyond the simple pollution of the working soil and the irrigation waters, for the farmers suffered from financial difficulties and malnutrition as well, because they had no harvests. Also, the poisons from the copper mine were introduced directly into the drinking water, which had a deleterious effect on people's health. There is no way of discovering the extent of the damage that existed in 1900, but, according to the analyses made by the Water Bureau of Kiryu City, Gunma Prefecture, which gets its drinking water supplies from the upper reaches of the Watarase River, there is still several times the amount of arsenic that could be expected in the drinking water after a heavy rain, in spite of control mechanisms to limit the mine poisons. This means that in the past, when there were no controls on the copper-mining poisons, the water quality was severely compromised, especially during the 1900s. There is no way of knowing the total extent of the adverse effects on human and animal life by the heavy metals in the water. Therefore, the government and most scholars emphasized that copper-mining-related poisons had some adverse effects on agricultural productivity, but there were no ill-effects to be noted with respect to human and animal life. However, 70 to 80 years later, the cadmium in the soil continues to cause health problems among farmers, because the rice that they grow and eat still contains large amounts of cadmium; this indicates that the copper mine-related poisons did indeed bring about many serious health problems. Knowing this, Shozo Tanaka and the farmers never ceased in their appeal to the government to stop the devastation produced by the poisoning. Whether immediately visible or not, the fact is that copper mining brings death and destruction to the human environment.

Fig. 1.2 Area Affected by Copper Poisoning and Smoke Hazards from Ashio Mine (based on a survey in 1897)

Notes (other affected areas)

1. Nine villages in Higashi-Katsushika-gun, Chiba-ken, including Sekiyado
2. Seven villages in Kita-Katsushika-gun, Saitama-ken, including Yoshikawa-mura
3. Four villages in Minami-Katsushika-gun. Tokyo-fu, including Mizumoto-mura
4. Twenty-five villages in Sarushima-gun, Ibaragj-ken Place-names at the period of the Incident are given; the names of current communities are printed in bold.


1. Ashio Kyohdoshi
2. Gunma-ken Copper Poison Area Map (Gunma-ken)
3. Kinsaburo Sunaga, Kohdoku ronkoh dai-ichi-hen: Watarase-gawa Zen
4. Ashio Dohzan kohdoku higai chousahyou (Kohdoku jiken no shinso to Tanaka Shozo ou)
5. Ashio Dohzon kohdoku higaichi kaku sonrakuno ryaku chizu (Ohide Chizuya)
6. Ashikaga-shi shi (betsukan) Kohdoku

© Ryo Nunokawa 1982

2. The Political and Economic Background to the Copper-poisoning Incident

The period in which the Ashio copper mine became a major social issue was the 20 years beginning in 1890, with farmer opposition to the poisonings at a peak between 1896 and 1902. During this period Japan was involved in the Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895) and the Russo-Japanese War (1904--1905) and it was then that Japan's industrial capital, centring around textile industries, was established. By contrast, light industry, and heavy industry such as iron and steel and shipbuilding, were just getting started. The Sino-Japanese War was the first war that Japan waged with another country, and Japan emerged the victor. The huge amounts of reparations extracted from China were used for the expansion of the armed forces and for the development of heavy industry.

Along with great change in the economic spheres, there were also major changes in politics. The Imperial Diet was inaugurated in 1890 and the majority of the seats were controlled by one party, the Minto (literally Populist Party). whose members were activists leading the liberal democratic movement of the time. At first this party represented farming interests against the government, but from 1898 it established cohesive relationships with the bureaucrats and thus came to lose interest in the farmers. At first the Minto party stood against absentee-landowner farming methods and called for a system in which land ownership would go only to those who lived on the land and cultivated it. At the same time, the government came to realize that unless it co-operated with the Minto. smooth political action would not be possible, and this led to a compromise with the Minto on many issues.

In the period between the Sino-Japanese War and the Russo-Japanese War, Japanese capitalism developed rapidly. At that time, the Ashio copper-mine poisoning incident became a serious social problem. As relations with Russia were strained, the government adopted a policy of military expansion.

The Ashio copper-mine poisoning incident was one of the most important domestic issues that it had to deal with. By a carrot-and-stick policy, the government divided the farmers' movement, and tried to suppress the poisoning problem.

The politicians and journalists who supported the farmers against the Ashio copper mine fell away when the Russo-Japanese War broke out; in fact, the opposition networks against the mine were completely disbanded during the war, for the government's mobilization effort had the effect of stifling all such movements. In other words, the war contributed to a glossing over of the very serious environmental problems created by the mine.

3. Effects of the Copper-poisoning Incident

The government had more difficulty with the issue of the copper mine as it took on a social dimension, and as the problem became more intractable they began issuing orders to other copper mines to install the most minimal antipollution systems. At that time the Besshi copper mine in Ehime Prefecture, operated by Sumitomo capital, was becoming another problem area because of the smoke from the mine. The government was especially worried that the poison victims' movements surrounding Ashio would spread to Besshi and to other copper mines. The farmers' movement in Ashio was a serious obstacle to the government's programme to promote the development of industry and exports, especially considering the fact that Japan would have to run a race with the Great Powers with very few natural resources for industrialization and precious little land for farming. So a widening of the anti-copper mine movement would have been a serious threat to the government's plans for the development of an industrial state.

In March 1897, with the farmers' demonstration in Tokyo against the damage caused by the copper mine, the matter became a very serious social issue, and the government established the First Copper Poisons Survey Committee. The committee recommended that Ichibei Furukawa build a special area for the accumulation of slag and waste ores, a poisons catchment basin, and drainage for the copper mine itself, and that the water coming from the refinery be neutralized with lime. Although these attempts to protect the environment were wholly inadequate, the repeated orders from the government to Furukawa to provide protection, and the actual application of protective measures, succeeded in providing some degree of amelioration. Also, these policies were to some degree effective in calming the heightened public concern over the problem that had been generated in the urban population. Therefore, the government also ordered the same pollution-control mechanisms to be installed in other copper mines. If companies lacked the funds to provide the required protective set-up, the government threatened to revoke mine-operating licences. Since they did not have the funds to make these improvements, the smaller companies were forced to sell out to larger companies. An example of this is the takeover of the Akazawa copper mine by the Hitachi copper mine. With the coming of serious copper-mine-related environmental destruction, the public outcry and the social issues involved did result in the formulation of certain policies, however incomplete, to cope with the problem.

However, the technology of the time was not up to dealing with the damage derived from refinery- and mining-related smoke. In 1897, the government ordered the installation of devices that would protect the environment against the ravages of sulphurous acid gas; this involved the smoke being washed with lime-water before being discharged into the air. The smokestack was built at great expense but its effectiveness was so limited that the government would not allow it to be counted as a solution to the problem. In fact, no solution was possible, since nowhere in the world were effective smoke-elimination technologies available in those days.

The damage from the gas-containing smoke was seen mostly in the regions upstream of the refinery. Very few people lived there, so Furukawa moved all inhabitants to other places. Thus the company solved the human problem, but it did nothing to preserve the environment, simply allowing the complete destruction of all living things and creating thereby a "death valley." The Furukawa Company built an installation for removing sulphurous acid gases as late as 1955, some 60 years after the first attempt to solve the problem. In other copper-mining areas in Japan there were many people living and working in and around the installations, and it was clearly impossible for the entire community to be moved away from the mining area.

Now let us look at the policies in relation to the copper-related poisons and smoke damage during the Tokugawa period. The shogunate had a policy of exempting those subjected to such poisons from taxes (in the form of a provision) and the amount of exemption was determined by the amount of destruction suffered. In these cases the amount of exemption was also influenced by the farmers' movements for reductions. However, under the modern tax system instituted by the Meiji government, the farmers were not allowed tax-exemption status until the problem became an intractable social issue and the government was forced to act. The mine companies also provided a certain amount of compensation money to the poisoned farmers, but this was always on condition that they sought no further damages and never complained about the problem thereafter. This was used as a means of undermining the power of the opposition movements. These same tactics were practised in relation to the Besshi copper mine of the Sumitomo group and the Kosaka mine of the Fujitagumi group.

After the Russo-Japanese War the smoke problem in relation to the copper mines became a very serious issue, with the exception of the Ashio mine. This was due to the fact that, though the government had ordered very limited environmental protection practices to be instituted, and though a certain amount of compensation, be it very small, had been paid to farmers who protested most vociferously over the mine poisons, no policies had been established in relation to the smoke problem. That was why this came to be an issue of primary concern for the people.

About the time of the Russo-Japanese War, the Shisakajima refinery of the Besshi copper mine came to be widely known because of its endemic smoke problem. The Besshi copper mine, which laid the foundation for the Sumitomo zaibatsu, was one of the four major mines - Ashio, Besshi, Kosaka, and Hitachi - of the time. The mine had been managed by Sumitomo since the Tokugawa period, and even after the Meiji Restoration it had not come under government control. Sumitomo promoted the modernization of the mine by moving its refinery from deep within the mountains of Ehime Prefecture to Niihama City on the Inland Sea. This move was made because they had a plan to build a modern refinery in Niihama to facilitate shipment. In 1893, as soon as the new refinery began operations, damage was done to agricultural products by the emitted smoke. The farmers in the area were fiercely opposed to the refinery but, when the Sino-Japanese War broke out, the police were called in to break up the opposition movement and the farmers were prosecuted as criminals. The company paid a small amount of money to the farmers for the smoke damage, and then acquiesced to moving 18 kilometres away from Niihama to Shisakajima in order to reduce the ill-effects of the smoke.

In 1898, because of the demonstrations staged by the Ashio-mine farmers in Tokyo, copper-poison problems became a national issue, and the government ordered Sumitomo to install anti-pollution equipment and to move the Niihama refinery to Shisakajima. In 1899, the old Besshi Yamanaka refinery, which was producing half of the Besshi mine copper, was flooded because of heavy rains and the Sumitomo Company requested a two-year extension from the government relative to the planned move of the refinery. In the meantime the company doubled the size of the Niihama refinery. This being done, the farmers became angry with Sumitomo over the latter's refusal to keep their promise. This was during the period when Shozo Tanaka was attempting to make an appeal to the Emperor and there was considerable public disquiet in regard to pollution problems. The farmers of Niihama were influenced by all of this, and as a result they also stepped up their protest about Sumitomo practices. The Minister of Agriculture and Commerce tried to mediate between the farmers and Sumitomo through the offices of the Prefectural Governor, but Sumitomo refused to accept the mediation and no compensation was paid. However, Sumitomo could no longer extend their period in Niihama and therefore started initial operations at the Shisakajima refinery in August 1904.

As soon as operations began in Shisakajima, four very wide coastal areas along the Inland Sea in Ehime Prefecture began to be polluted by copper refinery smoke. The sulphurous acid gas discharged from the refinery spread over a twenty-kilometre area along the coastline. No one, including a number of influential and well-known scholars, had expected this to happen. The Sumitomo Company was well aware of the damage to agricultural systems but did not respond to the farmers' protests. The farmers held many protest rallies, which were attended by several thousand people. In 1908, the protest group closed the Niihama refinery. Finally, the company was obliged to admit that its activities at the Shisakajima refinery were the cause of the damage to agriculture, though they did nothing to solve the problem.

At about that time the smoke damage from the Kosaka copper mine in Akita Prefecture and the Hitachi copper mine in Ibaragi Prefecture became serious issues and the farmers' protest at copper-mine poisonings took on a nationwide scope. In 1909 the government issued an urgent statement that the elimination of copper-mine poisons was necessary for harmony between industries. Under the supervision of the Ministry of Agriculture and Commerce, the Third Copper Mine Poisons Committee was established, and discussions began again on policies to solve the copper-mine smoke problems. Some technicians were sent abroad in search of means of protecting the environment from the ravages of copper-smelting smoke, and specialists were sent to the most heavily ravaged areas to assess the damage. The government was afraid of the expansion of the farmers' movements in relation to the delay in Sumitomo's response, and in 1910 it interfered in the negotiations between the company and the farmers. The government called for the presence of both Sumitomo, who had no intention of paying damages, and the farmer victims at the official residence of the Minister of Agriculture and Commerce, and had talks with the representatives of both parties for a 20-day period. Then the Minister proposed measures to which both sides could agree. The results of the negotiations included: the payment of about 340,000 yen for damage which occurred before 1910, and 77,000 yen annually after 1911, these amounts being negotiable every three years; production of refined copper limited to about 210,000 tons per year; and, during the 40 days when rice and wheat grow, a limit on copper refining, with a complete halt in operations for 10 of these 40 days. These conditions were fairly difficult for the Sumitomo Company, so the company made efforts to find means to eliminate sulphurous acid gas. The solution came from the discovery that sulphuric acid could be recovered from sulphurous acid gas and used in the production of ammonium sulphate, which is used as a fertilizer. In 1939, Sumitomo finally completed their total recovery system, but in the meantime the company had had to pay over 6 million yen damages to farmers.

The farmers in opposition to the Ashio copper-mine refinery followed the mine-poisoning protests that were being led by Shozo Tanaka, but did not limit their protests to copper mine-related problems only. The government negotiators tried to emphasize harmony between mining and agriculture so as to promote the interest of both sides, as did the farmers' leaders. But the tenant farmers, in contrast, demanded an end to the copper mine and the removal of the refinery. Thus they were in opposition to both the government and their own leaders. This heralded the destruction of the old village order. Behind the government's negotiating stance was the August 1910 invasion and annexation of Korea, which reflected Japan's imperialistic policies. In order to get support from the public for these policies it was essential that the old village order, which was being destabilized by the protest activities of the farmers, be maintained.

In relation to the intractable smoke problem Sumitomo had to make promises to limit copper production, to pay for damages, and to make seasonal adjustments in their production schedules. At that time, these were epoch-making pollution-prevention measures. Only the Besshi copper mine was required to introduce limits on production, but damage compensation of one kind or another was required of all poison-producing copper mines throughout the country. Seasonal production adjustments according to weather conditions were also made by the Hitachi mine.

In 1907, the Hitachi copper mine began operations under the management of Fusanosuke Kuhara, and within two years it had become one of the four largest copper mines in Japan. As soon as the mine began operations, the company bought the land where environmental pollution was expected, and also made contracts with farmers to the effect that whenever environmental damage occurred compensation would be provided. However, once the refinery began to operate, and production increased smoke damage was seen over a wider area than the company first expected. So the damages which had to be paid by the company increased by leaps and bounds. The Ministry of Agriculture and Business ordered the use of fans in order to dissipate the smoke from a large low-standing chimney; but the chimney forced sulphurous acid gas back into the refinery and contaminated the air inside, affecting the workers' health. The chimney, which was more harmful than useful, was called the "stupid chimney"; Kuhara ordered that it no longer be used, and the original chimney was brought on line again. The old chimney was called "the centipede chimney" because it was built on the slope of a hill and it had many holes in it from which the smoke was discharged, thus looking like a centipede. But in no time Kuhara was no longer able to pay all the damages demanded, and therefore decided to build a very tall chimney, which was contrary to government ministry orders. In 1915, a chimney 155 metres tall - this was the tallest chimney in the world at that time - was built on the top of a mountain near the refinery. In this regard, Kuhara was the first to make use of the upper-layer air current. Depending on the weather conditions, the refinery production was modified and the ore combinations were changed in order to cut down on environmental damage and increase productivity. Because of these efforts, funds provided for compensation purposes were greatly reduced. Also, Kuhara was very enthusiastic about planting trees, and as a result there are very few bald mountains to be found in the vicinity of the Hitachi copper mine.

The copper poisons issue became a serious social problem in the Hitachi area, but the reason Kuhara managed to cope with it was not merely because he made strenuous efforts to do so, but also because the mine was located close to the Pacific Ocean. If it had been in the mountains, like the Ashio mine, it would have been impossible to build an adequate poisons dispersion system and the tall chimney would have simply spread the damage further. The tragedy of the Ashio copper mine was caused by its location; the mine was located on the upper reaches of a complex river system that flowed through the largest and most fertile Kanto Plains.

Table 1.5 shows the historical aspect of the poisoning and smoke damage caused by the four major copper mines, and table 1.6 the characteristics of these various incidents. These two tables suggest that the Ashio mine victims' movement was unsuccessful in stopping the destruction, but that the struggle made clear the necessity for environmental protection measures in the form of various construction projects as well as creating general orientations for methods of compensation for the damage done. At the same time, it is made clear that Japanese capitalism, which was rapidly moving towards monopolistic capitalism, slightly changed its policy. It is obvious that its policies were oriented to industrialization at the expense of agriculture, but the government had begun to recognize the need to protect the agricultural community in order to ensure a good supply of labourers and soldiers. So there was a need for the application of social policy on a wider scale if order was to be maintained in the farming communities.

Table 1.5. Chronology of Four Major Copper-mine Contamination Issues

Ashio copper-mine incident

Besshi copper-mine incident


Azuma villagers' appear to Tochigi governor

Shozo Tanaka puts quest ions in the Diet

First arbitration meeting

Opposition movement against smoke emission

Collective noting incident


Sino Japanese War

Second arbitration meeting

The flood of 1896

Plan for relocation to Shisakajima

First Poisons Survey Committee

First mass rally

Relocation order

Besshi flood


Kawamata Incident/Fourth mass rally

Shozo Tanaka appeals to Emperor

Relocation postponed for two years

Second Poisons Survey Committee

Development into political scandal

Mediation attempts

Catchment basin plan


Russo Japanese War

Abolition of Yanaka Village

Shisakajima refinery opens

Forced demolition of Yanaka Village

Court action seeking satisfactory compensation

Sumitomo admits smoke hazards

Third Poisons Survey Committee


Mediation by Minister of Agriculture and Commerce

First court decision

Shozo Tanaka dies

Second compensation discussion meeting


First World War

Third compensation discussion meeting

Court of Appeal rejects government's appeal

Fourth compensation discussion meeting


Fifth compensation discussion meeting


Sixth compensation discussion

a. The bold lines indicate the periods during which the respective issues became social issues. Source: Masuo Sugai, '´Nihon shihon-shugi no kogai mondai - 4 dai dozan kodoku engai jiken.'' Shakai kagaku kenkyuu (University of Tokyo), vol.30, no.4 (1979): 122.

Kosaka copper-mine incident

Hitaki copper-mine incident

(Water pollution issue)

Akazawa mine reopens

Hitachi village chief petitions against mine expansion

Work plan for pollution prevention

Development of new smelting method

Smoke hazards start

Additional smelters constructed

Kitaakita-gun submits opinion paper

Mine purchased by Fusanosuke Kuhara

First compensation payment

Opposition movement intensifies

Daiyuing smelting facility opens

Compensation Agreement 1


Anti-smoke hazards movement intensifies

Movement members visit Besshi mine

Compensation Agreement 2

"Stupid chimney" constructed


Kosaka Copper Poison Removal

World's tallest smoke-stack constructed

High-altitude meteorological observations start

Mediation by Konan Naito

Compensation Agreement 3


High- altitude meteorological observations terminated

Nichino Kosaka Chapter established

Bamboo spear incident

Opposition group attacks smelting facility

Table 1 6. Major Events in Four Mining-related Pollution Issues

Period when the issue surfaced as social problem

Hazards and damages

Residents' movements

Reactions of mining companies and government



Type of movement

Mining companies



Ashio copper- mine issue

(1) 1890-1896

Copper poison- ding (flooding of contaminated river water)a

Installation of containment facility. or closing of mine

Petition and appeal

''Dust- collector''
Intermediate out-of-court settlement
Permanent out-of-court settlement

(Suggestion of out-of-court settlement)

1894-85 Movement interrupted by Sino Japanese War
''Dust-collector" is a production facility

(2) 1897-1901

Smoke hazardsb

Closing of mine and reinstitution of villagers' Demonstration rights

Petition and appeal
Demonstration (against government)
Court war

Installation of containment facility by government order

First Poisons Survey Committee recommendation for mandated installation of containment facility and villagers' tax exemption)
Oppressive police action

1900 Kawamata Incident
1901 Shozo Tanaka appeals to Emperor; expansion of supporters, activities

(3) 1902-1907

Closing of mine and cancellation of decision to abolish Yanaka Village

Petition and appeal

Installation of containment facility by government order

Second Poisons Survey Committee (recommendation for mandated installation of containment facility, corrective adjustment of land-price evaluation figures. And construction of catchment basin)

1904-5 Movement disbanded during Russo-Japanese War
1906 Yanaka Village abolished
1907 Forced relocation of remaining Yanaka villagers

Besshi copper- mine issue

(1) 1893-1904

Smoke hazards(Araihama refinery)a
Copper poisoning (river water contamination)b

Compensation plus installation of containment facility or closing of mine

Petition and appeal (preceded by direct action)

Cash donation
Installation of containment facility
Relocation of smelter to Shisakajima
Acquisition by payment of contaminated lands

Oppressive police
Order for installation of containment facility
Order for relocation to Shisakajima
Mediation (failure)

1894 Collective rioting incident
1899 Besshi flood
1901 Extension issue (Shisakajima relocation project)

(2) 1905-1910

Smoke hazards (Shisakajima refinery)a

Reparation of damages plus installation of containment facility or closing of mine
Revision of Mining Law

Petition and appeal
Direct mass negotiation
Negotiation between representatives

No measure taken until 1909
After mediative intervention by government
- Payment of reparations
- Reduction of output

Third Poisons Survey Committee
Mediation by Minister for Agriculture and Commerce

1907 Rioting in Besshi mine
Sumitomo delays admission of smoke hazards
Confrontation between landowners

Kosaka mine issue

(1) 1902-1916

Smoke hazardsa
Cooper poisoning (Ynashiro River watershed)b

Compensation plus installation of containment facility

Petition and appeal
Mediation by local government office
Direct negotiation

Partial reparations
Installation of containment facility

(Smoke hazards assessment study)
(Recommendation for damage compensation?)

1900 Development of new smelting method - smoke
No measures taken to compensate dam age to national forests
Inadequate compensation and inconsistent containment measures
Confrontations between landowners and tenant farmers

Hitachi mine issue


Smoke hazardsa

Compensation plus installation of containment facility

Petition and appeal
Mainly direct negotiation

Compensation for damages
Construction of giant smoke-stack

No intervention
"Stupid chimney"

Advantages as latecomer
Post-Second World War economic boom and anti-smoke hazards measures

Kosaka mine issue

(2) 1924-1926

Smoke hazardsa

Increase in reparation money

Direct negotiation
Leadership by farmers' union
Solidarity between miners and farmers

Oppression by violence
Firing of solidarity miners
Agreement on reparation increase

(No direct intervention)
Mediation by local police chief

1924 Nichino Kosaka Chapter established
1926 Bamboo spear incident
1926 Attack on smelting facility

a. Directly triggered opposition movements.
b. Were the indirect cause of the movements.
Source: Masuo Sugai, "Nihon shihon-shugi no kogai modai - 4 dai dozen kodoku engai jiken,'' Shakai kagaku kenkyuu (University of Tokyo) vol. 30, no. 4 (1979): 144.

VII. Copper-poisoning issues and their aftermath

1. From Copper Poisoning to Flood Prevention

In the processes involved in Japan's development as a capitalistic nation, the Ashio copper-mine poisoning incident became a central social issue, but once Japan was involved in the Russo-Japanese War the farmers" movement experienced a significant setback. After the war, when Japanese capitalism took on an imperialistic bent, Yanaka Village was demolished and used as poisoned water catchment basin. Thus the problem was downgraded as a social issue, but the damage from the poisons was not eliminated. This is because, in the Ashio mine situation, no effective measures were taken against poisons which caused environmental destruction over a very wide area, and the responsibility for improving the situation came to rest solely with the farmers; even the compensation made by the copper company was not official. What meaning, then, can we derive from the mass movements of the farmers? The farmers who lived in the poisoned areas along the Watarase River hardly benefitted from them. However, the movement did draw public attention to the environmental problems, and had a great influence on the management of the copper-smelting smoke problems common to all the copper mines in Japan.

The construction of a dam at the site of Yanaka Village caused a conflict of interest between the farmers who lived in the upper regions of the Watarase River and those living in the lower regions where the Watarase and Tone Rivers meet. The government was pressing for a solution to the poisons problem that would involve flood control and would necessitate the demolition of Yanaka Village and the surrounding areas through the construction of a dam and a catchment basin. Under pressure from the government and the intense social climate brought about by the Russo-Japanese War, the farmers along the upper reaches of the Watarase River, except those in and around Yanaka Village, accepted the government's plans for flood prevention and catchment basin construction projects. In this manner, the problem of copper-mine-induced poisonings was glossed over and concern was directed toward the containment of floods. Sixteen families continued to live in and around Yanaka Village and, although their lives were extremely difficult, they struggled for the restoration of the village by continuing their lawsuit over the price to be paid for their land. However, in 1917, the struggle ended in acceptance of the proposal made by Tochigi Prefecture. In September of the previous year, Shozo Tanaka, leader of the farmers' struggle, died at the age of 72. Tanaka's followers built a shrine in memory of his struggle, and this remains as a symbol of his and his followers" continuing protest movement.

With this metamorphosis of the copper-mining poisons problem into a problem of flood control, the majority of farmers had great hopes for the flood-control improvements to be carried out on the Watarase Rive. The work was started in 1910 and was completed in 1927, at a cost of 12 million yen. Soon after this construction project had been started the farmers became aware of the fact that the mine-poisons problem had not been solved, and was in fact continuing. After the project had been finished, it was noted that there had been no improvement in the situation in regard to the poisons in the water. The reason for this was all too clear, for the Ashio copper mine remained a very intractable source of pollution and environmental destruction over the entire Watarase river basin. Although a sedimentation catchment basin and slag-retention areas had been provided, the size of the pollution-prevention construction was too small and the functions provided by the control facilities were limited to make any meaningful difference to the poisons brought by the natural water systems. This was because the refinery smoke had denuded the mountains, which, as a result, were unable to retain rainwater. Thus the water of the river rose with the coming of the rains, while it was low after a spell of fine weather. The farmers who made use of the river water for irrigation were troubled by floods and droughts; with the floods, the poisons were spread over extensive farming areas. In order to deal with these new problems, the farmers had to come up with their own unique forms of irrigation and their own water-system infrastructures. They made requests to the mining company for donations through which these poison-prevention systems could be built, but most expenses had to be covered by their own funds or a limited supply of government funds. The problem of copper-mining poisons was never solved, but simply became latent. In order to rid the irrigation system of the poisons, it was necessary for each farmer to construct his own poisons sedimentation pond at the location of the water input from the river. The farmers made every effort to rejuvenate the poisoned land, but Furukawa only supplied a small amount of lime for these purposes whenever the farmers became angry over the problem and demanded help. The Ashio copper-mining company never provided formal compensation for the excessive damage done, even after the Second World War.

Although the flood-prevention construction had been completed, the Watarase river basin was flooded again and again by high water, and each time new plans were made. In 1947 damage caused by typhoon Katherin extended from the central reaches of the river basin all the way to Tokyo. Because of this devastation, dozens of billions of yen were invested in flood-control projects.1

2. Recurrence of the Copper-poisons Issue

Even though the copper-mine poisoning problem continued to be an issue for several decades, Furukawa indicated as early as 1897 that the company would take no responsibility for the damage done after the poison-protection construction had been completed, and that any remaining problems relative to poisons found in the natural environment were a result of inadequacies of method left over from mining activities in the Tokugawa period. In this desperate situation, the farmers had no recourse but to ask for lime and a small amount of compensation from the mining company. But on 30 May 1958, the sudden destruction of the poisons-retention basin at Gengorozawa revealed the seriousness of the mining poisons problem.

After bringing an apparent end to the poisons issue through the total demolition of Yanaka Village for a catchment basin, Furukawa began to extend its activities into various fields such as banking and electric wire and rubber production. In the booming economy of the Second World War, the Furukawa Company was turned into a corporation, but mismanagement in the general business section led to the closing of the bank and a decline in business. From the Manchuria Incident onward to the Sino-Japanese War and into the Second World War, the Furukawa Corporation's industrial section grew very rapidly. The Furukawa zaibatsu, unlike the other zaibatsu, was not dissolved by the occupation forces after the end of the war, but the Furukawa copper mine was forced to become an independent company. Production from the mine declined in the last years of the war, reaching its bottom during the period immediately after the war because of the economic recession and a lack of materials. But when new mining technologies were introduced during the Korean War, the Ashio mine's production rose and the mine once again moved into high-gear production. In 1955, the company imported a refining method from Finland which was able to oxidize the sulphur in the ore, and with the higher concentrations of sulphurous acid gas it became much easier to produce sulphuric acid from it. Through the application of this imported technology, the environment was, at long last, protected to a more meaningful degree from the ravages of the sulphurous acid gas, but it took another 20 years before there was complete relief from the damage produced by the refinery smoke. With the new refining method brought on line, attention was focused again on the problem of copper-mining poisons. During this period, Japan was again entering on a period of high economic growth and her production capacity reached pre-war levels.

The Gengorozawa poisons retention basin was constructed in 1943. This was one of 14 slag-pile retention basins, a little smaller than the others.

When the basin burst its seams, the weather was fine, so the responsibility for the destruction rested very clearly with Furukawa's mismanagement. About 2,000 cubic metres of slag were flooded and three railway lines belonging to Japan National Railways were washed with the slag into the Watarase River. When heavy rains fell in Ashio, the farmers made it a rule to close irrigation system inlets from the river, but at the time of the accident all the irrigation inlets were open because there had just been a spell of good weather and because it was just before rice-planting time. Thus the poison-laden slag was washed into 6,000 hectares of rice-fields immediately before planting time. Over 25,000 farmers in Morita Village (now Ota City), Yamada-gun, Gunma Prefecture, were once again faced with the intractable problem of a poisoned agricultural environment. Led by Shoichi Onda, chairman of the Agricultural Co-operative Association, a new farmers' protest sprang up against the Ashio copper mine. Onda emphasized the importance of the farmers not accepting token payments from Furukawa, as they had in the past. In July Onda organized an association in Morita Village for the purpose of halting copper production. In August he was able to form the same kind of organization in three other cities and three provinces. Each of these three organizations allied itself with the other two and elected Onda chairman.

The monstrous slag piles, built up over a long history of mining, could be seen in many places in Japan and continue to pollute farmland, leading to many deaths. The largest slag-pile dam collapse in Japan's modern history occurred at the Okusawa mine, owned by the Mitsubishi Mining Company, on 20 November 1936. The accident caused 362 deaths and 81 serious injuries, and destroyed some 400 houses.2

Fortunately, the destruction of a slag-pile containment basin had never happened in Ashio. However, at the time of this unfortunate accident, the greatest social issue centred around pollutional discharges from the Edogawa (Edo River) Factory of the Honshu Paper Mills Company in Tokyo. Untreated water containing black sludge was being discharged into the river, destroying fishery resources in the estuary and in Tokyo Bay. Fishermen from the areas, especially Urayasu-cho, Chiba Prefecture, were opposed to the paper mill company, and approached the Tokyo Metropolitan Government and the Honshu Paper Mills Company to appeal for help. Many fishermen came into direct confrontation with the police and were arrested. After this Urayasu Incident, the government began tightening up on water-quality controls and two water-quality laws were passed. These laws had to do with the safety of water resources in public locations and with the quality of water discharged from factories. Although these legislative efforts did not really result in any substantial gains in actual preservation of water resources, they were the first such regulations laid down in Japan. The water-safety laws were passed in April 1959 and a Water Quality Inquiry Commission was established by the government to set water-quality standards for rivers and lakes in Japan.

Hundreds of farmers from the organizations against environmental pollution in the three cities and three provinces went by bus to appeal to the government for the establishment of water-quality standards and regulations for the Watarase River. At last, in 1962, the government decided to examine the Watarase River, and asked Onda to be a member of the Watarase River Inquiry Commission on the condition that he resign as chairman of the allied farmers' associations. Onda was very angry at this condition, but he nevertheless tendered his resignation. In the deliberations of the Inquiry Commission Onda insisted that the standard for copper pollutants in the water should be 0.01 ppm (parts per million = parts of pollutant per million parts of water), while the representatives of the Ministry of International Trade and Industry and the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry were bent on setting the standard at 0.06 ppm. However, after a series of long and difficult discussions, a majority of commission members voted for the copper-pollutants standard of 0.06 ppm, and Onda's request was rejected. So the commission agreed that the pollutants' standard for the Watarase River should be 0.06 ppm on an annual average basis.

Between 1969 and 1970, many grass-roots movements against environmental destruction came to the fore. During that time poisonous metals, including arsenic, were discovered in the waters of the Watarase River when the amount of water had increased owing to heavy rains. What Onda had feared most came true. From the 1971 crop of rice harvested in the Morita Village paddies, cadmium exceeding the permissible level was found, and in January of the following year the shipment of the crop was partially halted. The Morita Village farmers' association sent a petition to the newly created Environment Agency, and asked the Environmental Dispute Coordination Commission (Kogaito Chosei Iinkai) to step in as arbitrator, on the basis of the Environmental Pollution Disputes Settlement Act (Kogai Funso Shoriho), in their negotiations with the Furukawa Mining Company for damages. The 970 members of the association, led by Meiji Itabashi, were demanding from Furukawa 3.9 billion yen (about $27 million) as compensation. The negotiations went well for the farmers, partly owing to the increasing national outcry and the growth of movements against environmental destruction.

In November 1972, while the matter was under arbitration, Furukawa suddenly announced that it was going to close the copper mine. The company maintained that the closure was due to the fact that the ore veins were exhausted, but it was seen to be not unrelated to the arbitration that was then in progress. In the following February, the Ashio copper mine was closed, and the equally old Besshi copper mine was also shut down in March. However, though the mining operation was halted, the smelting of ores still continued using imported ores. In fact, copper production at Ashio increased after the closure of the mine.

The arbitration came to an end on 11 May 1974, when both the farmers and Furukawa Mining agreed on the conditions offered by the Co-ordination Commission and signed the final document. The agreement provided that the company pay 1.55 billion yen (about $10.7 million), improve the copper wastes effluent treatment system, improve the quality of the poisoned farmland, and sign an agreement for pollution control. This was the first time in the 100-year history of the company that Furukawa actually paid money to the farmers in compensation for damage done instead of simply providing token donations from time to time. Unfortunately the negotiations went on behind closed doors, and as a result there was no national media debate about the problem, which would have strengthened the hand of other antipollution movements. These negotiation processes and the related statistics could make a valuable contribution to future attempts to protect the natural environment.

Although the copper-poison issue, which was rekindled by the bursting of the Gengorozawa catchment basin in 1958, was settled by the intervention of a government agency, people in the area are still suffering from the effects of the Ashio mine operation. The Ashio refinery is surrounded by 14 very large slag-pile accumulation basins and these are a constant menace to the natural river system, for any one of them might collapse into the river if there were heavy rains or an earthquake. Although the company insists that the poisons in these slag-piles are under constant supervision, there are small amounts of poisons seeping from them all the time, and these can be detected in the lower reaches of the river system. Still, to this day, nothing will grow on 3,000 hectares of mountain ranges around the refinery. The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry has spent over 10 billion yen ($69 million) on the restoration of greenery in the area, but it will take several more generations and the expenditure of many more millions of yen before the regeneration of life can take place. The plan proposed in 1977 for reforestation of the area called for an estimated 130 billion yen ($900 million) in funds. However, these mountains have lost all of their topsoil from erosion and nothing but bare rocks is left. Once it has been radically destroyed, the restoration of nature is difficult in the extreme, even in a country like Japan where there is plenty of ram.

VIII. Conclusions: Lessons for today from the Ashio Copper-mine poisonings

More than 90 years have passed since the first public warnings were issued in relation to copper-mining-related environmental problems. However, there still exist today very real possibilities of disaster should one or more of the slag accumulation basins collapse and be washed or moved into the river systems. The extent of the damage caused by the smoke from the refinery can be seen in the 3,000 hectares of bare mountains surrounding the area where the Watarase and Tone Rivers meet. The vast desert in this area attests to the fact that, at the end of the nineteenth century, Japan attempted to catch up with the advanced capitalist nations of the world through policies that stressed the development of industrial capacity and military might; the deeply ravaged conditions of the once pristine forest areas around the Ashio copper mine are the result of this primary-order introduction of technologically based industrial capacity into Japan without the slightest consideration for environmental preservation. We cannot close our eyes to the fact that modern civilization has been poisoned by the materialism of the Industrial Revolution and that this is manifested in the manner in which Japan adopted modern technology and in the unprecedented environmental destruction.

Environmentally destructive production technology, in the hands of management personnel who lay more emphasis on productivity than on safety and environmental integrity, is in the ascendant in Japan. The environmental poisons that arise from today's industrial technologies are no longer detectable with human sense organs. Morever, these pollutants, which (in the case of ionizing radiation) will be present for many years to come, are expected to increase very rapidly only after the next few generations. The present condition of humanity recalls the words of Shozo Tanaka, who wrote that the remnants of human life would be destroyed by technological civilization. It is as though Tanaka were continually appealing to the people who visit his shrine, in the hope that they and the victims of environmental destruction will join forces in a worldwide movement for the survival of humanity, even though they are bogged down in the muck of a technological and materialistic civilization that seeks its own destruction. His appeal is for radical change in this and other societies which create such enduring environmental problems and which, in the process, completely suppress and deny human rights. He appeals for continued resistance against the forces of death and in support of the spirit of life.


1. For further information on copper-mining poisons after the Yanaka Village Incident, see Masuro Sugai, The Development Process of Mining Pollution at the Ashio Copper Mine (United Nations University, 1982).

2. Tsuusan Daijin Kanbo Chosa Tokeibu, Honpu kagyo no suusei 50 nenshi kaisetsu hen (1980), p. 68.


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(introductory text...)

Yoshiro Hoshino

I. Historical background to Japan's first experience with high-level economic development

There is nothing worse than war for bringing about the destruction of nature, human beings, factories, housing, and transportation systems, and for causing starvation and sickness, the discharge of untreated factory wastes, and the destruction of farm lands. When environmental destruction is understood in its broadest and most fundamental sense, the original culprit is war. During the Second World War, as a continuation of the original military intrusion of Japan into China, the Japanese military machine invaded the Philippines, Burma, and many other Asian nations, killing a great many people, burning down houses, and destroying cities and villages over the vast areas where the war was waged. Japan also suffered destruction at the hands of the American military in air raids not only on major cities but also on medium and small-size cities. In all of this Hiroshima and Nagasaki were instantly demolished by the atomic bombings. Okinawa became a battleground and the area was laid waste. Because of the lack of food, most urban dwellers were undernourished, there was a great rise in the incidence of tuberculosis, and many others suffered from a wide spectrum of diseases. River containment repairs were neglected and the bamboo that was used for bank maintenance was cut down to provide more farmland. As a result the rivers flooded the surrounding areas every time it rained and there was no protection from the destruction wrought in this way. Forty per cent of the railway infrastructure was destroyed and the outer guard rails were not repaired, making the entire system dangerous, even up to the present day.

The first task of the Japanese government, along with the occupation forces from the United States, was recovery from the ravages of war - that is, the restoration of major land areas and the creation of new towns, cities, and villages in land that was to be newly developed.

As a result of the sudden and dramatic rise of Fascism before and during the Second World War, the occupation authorities attempted to make drastic changes in the political and economic conditions which had underpinned Japan's military machine. For example, labour union activities, which had been completely suppressed during the war, were encouraged. Private possession of over three hectares of land was prohibited by decree. Tenants and poor farmers were allowed to take possession of the land that they worked for a very small sum of money and suddenly 4 million small landowning farmers came into being. Labouring people began to demand higher wages and farmers tried to improve agricultural methods through the introduction of more effective technologies and farm chemicals, so as to improve their income and thereby their landholdings. Compared with all pre-Second World War periods, domestic market-related economic conditions were better than they had ever been in any previous period in Japan's history.

From 1930 to the end of the Second World War, 90 per cent of Japan's industrial production capacity was allocated to military purposes. With Japan's defeat in the war, the military machine was destroyed and Japan's peace constitution was promulgated. Therefore, all industries had to produce for civilian markets rather than for military procurement.

Through the extraordinary efforts of the people, houses and shops were built out of the total and wide-ranging destruction. When food, clothing, and other goods became plentiful after the war, a production and marketing system naturally developed, and this led to Japan's high-economic-growth period. After the First World War in the USA and after the Second World War in Europe and Japan, electricity and related appliances became more common and motorization began to change people's everyday lives. Until the end of the 1950s the production of consumer goods such as washing machines, refrigerators, transister radios, television sets, tape-recorders, motor bicycles, cars, and the like increased with great rapidity. Because of the intense competition between companies, there was a great deal of investment in installation to increase the efficiency of mass production systems.

Through the application of mass production methods, the costs of individual consumer products declined, the market expanded with increased demand, and mass production became the norm. The mutual interaction of supply and demand expanded the scale of Japan's economy. This growth in industry brought many young people from the rural areas into the industrial cities of Tokyo, Osaka, and Nagoya. Urbanization continued rapidly in a random manner, and by 1970 44 per cent of the population of Japan was concentrated in these urban centres. By way of contrast, the farming areas, which had experienced an oversupply of labour for a very long time, now faced labour shortages, and this resulted in the rapid mechanization of agriculture.

In the pre-Second World War period most of the factories were located in the urban areas of Tokyo, Yokohama, Nagoya, Osaka, Kobe and Kitakyushu. But with changes in the modes of industrialization in the post-war period, pressure on these areas was such that, in 1962. the government set out an Integrated National Development Plan, designating new areas to be developed as industrial zones. This led to a concentration of industrial activities and population in the Pacific coast belt that starts from the Kanto Plain and runs all the way down to Kitakyushu, passing through the northern rim of the Setonaikai sea. By 1974, the belt area alone accounted for 84.5 per cent of Japan's entire industrial production.

By the late 1960s, labour shortage had become one of the major problems, and automation was extensively introduced in both production as well as administrative branches. By then, motorization of Japan had also substantially progressed. Thus, in a relatively short period of ten years, Japan's industrial modalities, as well as consumer life-styles, underwent major changes.

Along with the increasing distribution of consumer goods, the transportation and communication infrastructures were expanding rapidly. As the number of planned high-rise buildings increased, the demand for iron and steel and other construction and production-related materials also went up. Table 2.2 shows this amazing increase in industrial products from 1955 onwards.

During the 1960s, Japan's GNP was over 10 per cent, while the growth-rate for European countries was 5 per cent. It is obvious that with this high an economic growth-rate within such a short period, some very difficult social problems were bound to result. Natural resources such as crude oil, iron ore, and high-quality coal were imported and major industries were built very close to human populations, along the Pacific Ocean coast from Tokyo, through Nagoya and on to Osaka. The national development plan was supposed to encourage a more equal distribution of industries throughout the nation, but in fact primary industrial production units were built mainly on the Pacific coastline, concentrated in the clam-producing bay areas of Tokyo, the Ise Peninsula, and along the shores of the Inland Sea.

In the 1970s the production of iron and steel along the shores of the Inland Sea reached 70 million tons, an amount equal to that produced by France and the United Kingdom combined. Daily processing of petroleum reached over 1,600,000 barrels, equal to the production levels of the United Kingdom. Petroleum chemistry brought the production of 1,800,000 tons of ethylene annually, with this also equalling British output. The Inland Sea has an area of about 17,000 square kilometres, which is about the same size as Lake Ontario, the smallest of the five great lakes in the USA. All of this production capacity was concentrated in this area and, in the 1960s, pollution-prevention technologies were very little used; as a result the problems of air and water pollution were serious in the extreme. In the case of Tokyo Bay, an area which is one-tenth the size of the Inland Sea, the production of ethylene from the concentrated petrochemical industries was 1,500,000 tons annually, which is very close to the total production in and around the Inland Sea.

Table 2.1. Changes in Distribution Rates for Major Consumer items (percentages)






Television(black and white)





Television (colour)



30. 4


Electric washing machine





Electric refrigerator





Private automobile





Source: Economic Planning Agency.

Table 2.2. Primary Product Production and Importation

















Iron and steel


1,000 t.






Vinyl chloride


1,000 t.







Maximum output

1,000 kw








1,000 kl






Source: Ministry of International Trade and Industry.

The Japanese people have attempted to recover from the total destruction of war, and in the process have produced a completely different urban and rural environment. But because of a total lack of understanding of the realities of nature on the part of government and industry, a new type of industrially induced environmental destruction has reared its ugly head. In this manner, Japan has come to be known worldwide as the nation with the worst environmental problems.

II. Environmental characteristics of post-second world war Japan: From visible to invisible pollution

During the first phase of high economic growth in the 1950s, the greatest environmental pollution problem was caused by dust and other airborne particulate matter. The main source of energy at that time was coal. Dust-collectors and other methods of particulate-matter control were either not provided or not working, and all of the chimneys belched forth black smoke. This situation continued into the next decade, so that by 1961 a major iron and steel complex in Yahata, northern Kyushu, was pouring 27 tons of particulate matter per day into the city's air, and in Kawasaki City, situated in the Tokyo Bay industrial area, the amount was 23 tons. Along with the black smoke there was also a great amount of red smoke that spread over the sky. After the close of the Second World War, production technologies changed and the oxygen blast furnace was introduced. This made it possible to produce a better quality steel, but the reaction by-products included a great deal of particulate iron oxide, which was scattered far and wide. Soon after that the LD oxygen blast furnace was invented in Austria, and this produced even better quality steel by blowing oxygen into the furnace. However, this method also caused the release of a large amount of red smoke and iron oxide particulates, but Japanese industrial applications of the furnace did not include the use of dust-collectors. Because of this the amount of pollution from red smoke particulate matter greatly increased.

Many industrial workers were exposed to the industrial dusts in the atmosphere, and as a result developed various lung disorders. These problems were found most widely among mine workers and those who were involved in tunnel construction. In 1955, the government was forced to devise special protective measures in order to protect the miners from such occupational hazards. In the same year the Tokyo Metropolitan Government issued orders that made it mandatory to control heavy smoke and dust production. This was the first such ordinance related to airborne particulate matter since the end of the Second World War.

In the 1960s, basic energy source changes from coal to heavy oil were instituted. As a result, the heavy smoke of coal combustion was replaced with invisible stack gases, but pollution problems were not thereby solved. Like coal, oil also contains sulphur which, when burned, results in sulphurous acid gases being discharged into the atmosphere. When coal was the main energy source, sulphurous acid gases were also a problem, but with the use of heavy oil in an expanding industrial economy, the problem became very serious.

A one-million-kilowatt, oil-fired, electric-power generation plant uses 1,300,000 tons of heavy oil per year. Since this fuel contains on average 2 per cent natural sulphur, 52,000 tons of sulphurous acid gases are released into the air annually from the power plant. Oil refineries and petrochemical complexes also release great amounts of such gases. The fact that a great many patients developed respiratory diseases in areas where these complexes were located, especially along the Pacific Ocean coastline, became a very great social problem in the 1960s. The Yokkaichi petrochemical complex came into being in 1959 along the coast of Ise Bay, and in just one or two years respiratory diseases in the general population became painfully noticeable. At that time, without knowing the cause of this health problem, people called the ailment the "beach salt disease." In 1953, the central government was obliged to send a research group to the area in order to discover the cause of the problem. A report on the research findings was presented to the National Diet the following year. In spite of the report's existence, the government failed to act with specific policies and countermeasures. The petrochemical complex was expanded in size and output and, in 1965, Yokkaichi City officials were forced to create a medical research team in an attempt to provide countermeasures for a disease problem of epidemic proportions.

Sulphurous acid gases are invisible and take their toll in silence, but black smoke can easily be seen and therefore everybody recognizes it as a health hazard. This fact is symbolic of the characteristics of post-Second World War environmental problems. The effluents from sulphuric-acid-based pulp-processing industries are the same in this regard, that is, they are not directly and immediately apparent as the cause of environmental problems. A rayon-from-pulp textile production facility uses 38 per cent of the raw material by weight for the end-product, but 62 per cent of the post-process pulp is discharged as an effluent into the environment, usually without the application of pollution-prevention measures. If annual production levels reach 100,000 tons, over 160,000 tons of waste are produced. These red and black wastes discharged from the pulp-using production units found their way into natural waterways such as rivers and then into ocean systems. In this manner rivers and ocean estuaries were visibly polluted, and this destroyed fish resources, thereby compromising the viability of the fishing industry. Because of all of this destruction, legislation was enacted in 1958 governing water quality and industrial effluents and containing effluent-discharge regulations.

However, wastes from new technologies developed during the high-economic-growth period were invisible to the naked eye but were very effective in destroying the natural viability of the human environmental support system. These characteristics were most evident in regard to the Minamata disease, even more than with Yokkaichi asthma. Once the Minamata-disease-causing organic mercury is introduced into aquatic environments, it spreads over wide areas and is at the same time concentrated in individual organisms through the interactions involved in the natural food chain. When the food chain reaches the level at which human consumption begins, mercury concentration levels are very high. The actual amount of mercury discharged into natural waterways in this particular case was relatively small, in contrast to the amounts of sulphurous acid gas discharged into the air and the wastes discharged from pulp-processing installations. Mercury was used as a catalyst in the production of acetaldehyde and as such was discharged into the Shiranui Sea along with a number of other wastes.

Further, since there was only one manufacturing facility in Minamata City, the water did not look as bad as that in Tokyo Bay or the Inland Sea. There were still plenty of fish to catch, and by this route organic mercury invaded the bodies of those who made their livelihood from the sea. When they finally became aware of the problem, the damage to their brains and central nervous systems had already gone too far.

The cadmium which caused Itai-itai disease was derived from the effluents of the Kamioka mine on the upper reaches of the Jintsu River this was detected in 1967, but at first the absorption of cadmium into people's bones had produced few or no symptoms. The villagers living along the Jintsu River used the river water for washing vegetables, servicing farm equipment, washing clothes, and for cooking and drinking, because in spite of the cadmium content it looked clean.

In 1968, PCB (polychlorinated biphenyl) poisoning was discovered in an area in and around Kitakyushu. These PCBs were used as a heat-transfer medium in the smell-elimination process used in the production of cooking oils. The PCBs leaked through heat-transfer-pipe pinholes into the rice-derived raw materials used in oil production. In like manner cadmium accumulated in human bones and in the bodies of chicken.

Pollution problems derived from the intrusion of chemical substances into the biosphere are usually beyond solution by the time they cause noticeable health problems. Therefore, when new technologies are introduced, it is essential that environmental impact research be carried out to discover the degree to which various substances compromise the viability of the environment, the human body, and other living organisms. It is also prudent to avoid the use of materials and substances that cannot be proven absolutely safe. The Japanese government acted too late when it halted PCB production and limited the uses of mercury to certain closed-system processes. In other words, corporations, local and national governments, and city administrators lacked the wisdom and understanding necessary to prevent serious environmental problems. During the high-economic-growth period, production efficiency was the primary concern in the uncritical and rapid adaptation of new technologies. This stance resulted in unprecedented damage to natural ecosystems and to human health and well-being.

Another characteristic of Japan's environmental destruction during the post-war period is the concentration in limited land areas of manufacturing plants much larger in scale than similar factories found in Western countries. With this came a very rapid increase in the pressures for urbanization, which resulted both in conglomerate urban concentrations and massive amounts of both industrial and life-sustenance-derived wastes. This brought about further destruction of the natural environment.

Along the coastline of Tokyo Bay, land reclamation has taken place at such a rapid pace that the original coastline is no longer discernible. Twenty per cent of the total Inland Sea coast is occupied by factories and manufacturing conglomerates. With the seacoasts being covered by ever-increasing amounts of concrete in such a short span of time, it is inevitable that the condition of the coastal waters should change for the worse.

In the seaweed-producing areas along the Inland Sea coast, huge amounts of concrete were brought to unprecedentedly large construction projects, resulting in massive destruction of the biosphere. Fish can no longer find areas to lay their eggs. The total ecology of these areas has changed. Sea bream, prawn, and octopus have decreased in number, while sardine and squid, which have greater resistance to pollution, have still remained, but to a lesser extent.

By way of contrast, when land was reclaimed for farming, sea-water was drained and as a result seaweed beds were destroyed. But the damage did not extend beyond the immediate area, and when sand and soil were dumped into the sea, the seaweed was still able to grow back beyond the boundaries of the reclaimed land area. In this case the natural environment was destroyed but the ecological balance was still maintained. However, if a 20-metre deep concrete wall is built for berthing gigantic oil tankers, the sea is no longer able to recover its ecological balance.

From the beginning of the seventeenth century estuaries were gradually built along the shores of the Inland Sea for wharfs and factories, but the speed of land reclamation was not excessively rapid. In these situations, there were some changes in the natural environment but the ecological balance was maintained and fishing was not compromised to such a drastic extent.

However, as figure 2.1 indicates, from 1945 the situation changed. It is said that 19,000 hectares of land were reclaimed from the sea for farming purposes during the 300 years of the Tokugawa era, but in the 28 years after the end of the Second World War, 18,000 hectares were reclaimed.

When factories are built on reclaimed land, large amounts of wastes are produced from the industrial activity. and as a result the ecological balance is compromised because of the many effluents being discharged. Not only does the sea close to these industrial areas around the Inland Sea die biologically, but there is no life even in the open sea away from the enlarged manufacturing zones.

Fig. 2.1. Inland Sea Land Reclamation Expansion (after Yoshiro Haraguchi, "Setonaikai ni okeru umetateno genjo to mondaiten," Ao to midori (September 1974).

With the expansion of industrial areas came environmental destruction, while aggravated urbanization increased even more the seriousness of these environmental problems. Besides the amount of noise produced, and the continuous spewing forth of exhaust gases from the ubiquitous automobile, urbanization also brought with it the production of excessive amounts of garbage. In 1960 the daily per capita garbage wastes produced amounted to 400 grams. By 1970 this had risen to 1 kilogram, and by 1977 it stood at 1.7 kilograms. Most of these discarded materials are made up of supermarket-derived food-packaging materials, cans, and bottles. The great increase in the number of automatic vending machines has also added to the severity of the problem. During the 1970s, Tokyo had to dispose of 16,000 tons of garbage each day. In order that these materials can be disposed of properly, plans are being made to use them for the creation of more reclaimed land.

At the beginning of the 1970s, the highest economic growth period so far in the post-war era came to an abrupt end with the saturation of the consumer market with too many unsold products. Through the negative-feedback circuits created by this incessant economic activity, the environment was saturated with pollutants of every conceivable variety. This degree of destruction has slowed down to some extent, but the recovery of nature has been very, very slow.

Once the health of the human body has been compromised by the polluted environment, it is exceedingly difficult to return bodily functions to normal levels again. The number of government-recognized pollution victims found in the most severely poisoned areas stood at 81,222 persons as of 1980. Among the major pollution-related health problems, 1,893 persons were recognized by the government as victims of Minamata disease, 42 as victims of Itai-itai disease, and 121 as victims of chronic arsenic poisoning. The excessive use of the untested but marketed intestinal antibacterial drug Chinoform caused what came to be well known as SMON (subacute myelo-optico-neuropathy) disease, with the number of patients rising to 11,007. Further, more than 13,000 PCB (polychlorinated biphenyl) victims applied for recognition as pollution-disease patients.

Badly poisoned patients are very easily recognizable by the severe symptoms, but less affected cases are less easily identified as pollution victims. Not only do patients with this disease endure periods of involuntary convulsions, but in everyday life they enjoy no respite from their sufferings. Since pollution victims' symptoms are similar to those seen in other illnesses, it is very difficult to identify pollution poisoning as the cause of many types of pathological problems. Unless doctors are willing to delve into the patient's family situation and working conditions, it is not very likely that they will be able to pin down the cause with any certainty. This is another characteristic of the pollution problems that have come about in Japan's post-war period.

As a result of this, a great number of actual Minamata disease victims have not been designated as such by the government. These people continue to make applications for recognition and designation as pollution victims. Again, there are many other people who are not aware that their health problems are related to a poisoned environment, and therefore do not apply for government designation and financial aid.

At the present time there are twelve atomic-powered generation plants in operation in Japan producing 1,550,000 kilowatts of electricity. However, more than a small amount of radiation is leaking all the time into the biosphere at various points in the nuclear fuel cycle. With the half-lives of these poisons being longer than those of any other materials produced in the history of the human enterprise, and with their ability to linger and concentrate in the biosphere as well as in the human body, there is a very great possibility that radioactive materials in the environment will result in radiation sicknesses, which again will be very difficult to distinguish from ordinary health problems.

Poisonous chemicals used in insecticides are becoming less lethal than those used in the 1960s, but these materials are employed on a nationwide basis. There is a real possibility that these materials are involved in complex chemical reactions within the human body and the biosphere. Also, detergents are used almost universally and daily disposed of in the environment; no one has any way of knowing what detergents mean in the long run for human life. The overuse of many kinds of food additives and of innumerable medicines continues apace. The pollution problems that have been made visible through the suffering of poison victims have, to a certain degree, been controlled through active pressure from citizens' movements and through the belated response of government legislation and administrative guidance, but there is no telling the extent to which invisible pollution will bring about serious problems for future generations.

III. Citizen and administrative response to environmental problems

Environmental pollution problems in Japan were greatly exacerbated in the post-Second World War period. This came about not only through the irresponsibility of corporate entities and administrative bodies, which together sought greatly increased profits through the overexpansion of production, but also through the citizenry as a whole, which, in its obsession with modern life-styles, had an almost total lack of concern for human rights. In the 1960s it was not difficult for governments and corporations to take land and sea areas from farmers and fishermen. Complaints from this quarter were suppressed by the argument that land and ocean viability had to be sacrificed in the interests of national and community prosperity. In spite of the problems arising from the operation of innumerable factories corporate entities, central governmental bodies, and local administrative units either turned their backs on the problems or refused at first to see the writing on the wall. When the fact of extreme environmental degradation could no longer be ignored, all levels of government were more interested in saving the corporations than in saving the people. As a result, compromises were worked out on the basis of economic and political security, rather than on the basis of human rights. Although corporations and the government pay lip-service to democratic institutions and human relations, the style of thinking has not changed from that which formed the basis for Japan's era of Fascist militarism.

However, even if democracy is only a surface formality in Japan, it can form the basis for human rights struggles originating from the people. In 1951, when the United States of America was experimenting with H-bomb tests in the Pacific, there was greatly increased opposition, nationwide, to the H-bomb and to nuclear destruction.

In the 1960s, with the expansion of industrial output, environmental destruction became greatly exacerbated. The mass media reported on Minamata disease and Yokkaichi asthma, and people organized movements to discover the causes of these various problems and to ensure that compensation was paid. Movements resisted corporations that continued to poison the biosphere by refusing to process their wastes. In 1964, citizens' movements were able to stop the planned construction of large petrochemical complexes in the cities of Mishima and Numazu on the Pacific coast.

By the end of the 1960s, anti-pollution movements had become strong nationwide. The diligent work done by supporters and Minamata disease victims, as well as by the farmers' resistance movement against the construction of Narita Airport, provided a great deal of encouragement to local citizens' movements all over Japan.

Pollution problems became serious political issues. In the 1970s the National Diet passed 149 laws relating to pollution issues such as the Revised Standard Laws on Pollution Policy and the Criminal Codes related to environmental destruction. In 1971, the government's Environmental Agency was formed. People began to have second thoughts about unconditional modernization at the expense of environmental viability.

The high-speed bullet trains in Japan produce a great deal of noise and excessive vibration. People began to ask why faster trains should be considered better than slower trains. Who needs such a train service anyway? The industrial and consumer life-style began to be reappraised from the standpoint of basic human rights.

In 1868, the political changes of the Meiji Restoration, to a limited extent at least, came to fruition through the pressures exerted by farmers on their lower-class feudal lords, but the real political changes were imposed from the top down as a result of pressure from these same lower-class bushi samurai warriors. Therefore, citizens' awareness, relative to involvement in the processes of political change, is only a surface phenomenon. In 1945 the period of Japanese imperialism ended with the defeat of Fascist militarism at the end of the Second World War, and democracy was instituted thereafter. However, this democracy was imposed by the occupation forces under the pressure of world opinion, which at that time was very anti-Fascist.

Though there was democratization of labour as well as land reform, concepts pertaining to human rights were still weak and required more time for maturation. During the 1960s, the anti-pollution movements were successful in strengthening these basic concepts of human rights. As seen in the Minamata disease situation, the pollution victims assumed leading roles in the movements instead of waiting for others to take the initiative, and by taking on these leadership positions they were able to greatly influence the people at large.

Strengthened by the support of the citizens' movement, the victims of the four major pollution episodes - the Kumamoto Minamata disease, the Niigata Minamata disease, Itai-itai disease, and Yokkaichi asthma - took their cases to court and through concerted legal action were able to receive compensation for the damage that had been done to them. But even with all this compensation, the pain suffered by the victims did not go away. What was accomplished by all of this was the creation of a greater sense of priority in relation to preventive measures that could preclude such massive destruction in the future. From the 1970s onward, not only was there relative success in terms of winning compensation for the pollution damage, but through the court battles the victims of pollution diseases were able to make some headway in stopping the operations of manufacturing complexes and power plants that were destroying the environment. But such demands require for their implementation a total change of direction in the basic policies and decision-making orientations of industry and government. In this respect it is difficult. indeed almost impossible, to change the course of the economic and political currents of the times. The court battles are still beset with problems.

Nevertheless, the government, which was intent on policies to encourage high rates of economic growth, was forced to make certain policy changes. In 1969, the government announced a new general development plan for the nation, but in the 1970s opposition mounted because it was understood to be only more of the same high economic growth. A complete re-evaluation of the environmental situation was forced upon the government because of the paralysis that was being felt in relation to water, electricity, and garbage in the three major urban centres of the country. Therefore, in 1977, a third general development plan was created with three major emphases - housing, land use and land protection, and a shift to a new kind of economic growth. In the final, "countermeasures" section of this 1977 proposal, one reads that the Japanese economy, which has seen unprecedented growth over the past quarter-century, is now entering a new phase, brought about by changes in both the domestic and international arenas. The multiplicity of viewpoints has led to a great deal of interactional complexity in the planning process. What was now hoped for was a life-support environment that would ensure security, quality, and the possibility of high cultural achievement. Instead of stressing land uses that favour a high-speed information society, the plan calls for living conditions that will enhance individual creativity within the context of peaceful land use. However, in this regard there has been no real change in the attitude of the government administration, which is still preoccupied with a high-economic-growth vision. We are still a very long way from solving the problems of environmental destruction in Japan.


Ariyoshi, S. Fukugo osen [Combined Pollution].

Hoshino, Y. Han kogai no ronri. Keiso Shobo, 1972.

—. Setonaikai osen [The Pollution of Setonaikai]. Iwanami Shoten, 1972.

Kankyo-cho. Kankyo hakusho [Environmental White Paper].

Miyamoto, K. Chiiki kaihatsuha korede yoika [Regional Development - On the Right Course?]. Iwanami Shoten, 1973.

Miyawaki, A. Shokubutsu to ningen - seibutsu shakai no baransu [Plants and Human Beings - The Balance of the Biological World]. Nihon Hoso Shuppan Kyokai, 1970.

Nakanishi, J. Toshi no saisei to gesuido [The Sewer System and the Regeneration of Cities]. Nihon Hyoronsha, 1979.

Saeki, K. Sangyo haikibutsu [Industrial Waste]. Asakura Shoten, 1980.

Tajiri, M. Yokkaichi. Shi no umi to tatakau [Yokkaichi: Struggle against the Dead Sea]. Iwanami Shoten, 1972.

Ui, J. Kogai genron [The Theory of Pollution], vol. 3. Aki Shobo, 1971.

(introductory text...)

Kichiro Shoji and Masuro Sugai

From June to August 1955 in the western areas of Japan, including Kinki, Chugoku, Shikoku, and Kyushu, 12,131 new-born babies were poisoned and 130 died (according to a 1956 Ministry of Public Welfare survey), because during production arsenic had been mixed into the Morinaga Powdered Milk "MF" produced by the Tokushima plant of the Morinaga Milk Company.

In March 1981, after 26 years had passed, it was finally acknowledged that 13,389 persons had ingested MF milk, that 600 persons had died as a result, and that 6,093 persons were suffering from continuing health difficulties, with 624 afflicted by severe mental retardation, developmental difficulties, and brain-damage-related paralysis.

If one were to attribute the cause of this incident simply to a default in the production system of powdered baby milk, then one would fail to see its true repercussions. In fact, the incident was part of a social trend in which the practice of breast-feeding fell victim to the mechanisms of mass consumption promoted by the dairy industry, which took advantage of the general atmosphere in society at large, the medical administration, and, particularly, the community of paediatricians.

I. Baby milk in the structure of the consumer economy

Japan's public health administration mechanism in the post-Second World War period developed along the lines of the existing Health Centre Law, which was totally revised in 1947 on the basis of the Memorandum on Public Health Measures issued by the General Headquarters (GHQ) of the Allied occupation forces, with the main emphasis on maternal and child health protection and the eradication of tuberculosis using existing health centres (hokenjo) as its primary implementation instrument.

In pre-war Japan, which had high infant mortality levels (fig. 3.1) and a high death-rate among young people from TB, the average life-span was much shorter than in Western countries (table 3.1).

Fig. 3.1. Infant Death-rate, 1901-1905 (per 1,000) (after Kenko to jinrui, p. 72 and table 3.1).

A dramatic expression of the adverse social conditions under which pregnancy occurred is indicated by the high death-rates for pregnant women (fig. 3.2). The Japan that was bent on invading other countries was very concerned with improving the pool of battlefield human resources, and in 1936 established the Ministry of Social Welfare. At that time the government was aiming at a population of 100 million by 1960 (a large increase over the population of the time) and set up policies to encourage the realization of this goal. However, these policies were not successful before the war, and, after defeat at the hands of the Allied forces in 1945, they remained in the government lexicon of treasured hopes.

In July 1948, because of the very rapid growth in the population after the war, the Eugenics Law was established as a method of population control, and in August of the same year the pre-war policies in relation to guidance for pregnancy and baby health were revived. Owing to an extreme shortage of food, powdered milk was distributed through the work of the United Nations UNICEF organization. The occupation army also delivered canned and powdered milk for emergency use and, from 1947 on, skimmed milk from the USA was distributed through the school-lunch programme. From 1949 to 1950, while the USA was experiencing an economic depression, the surplus of milk produced in that country was exported to Japan, placing pressure on the domestic market and increasing the number of people who became dependent on milk as part of their daily food intake.

Table 3.1. Average Life-span, 1929-1940

























Source: Ministry of Health and Welfare, Iryo hyakunenshi, Annex: "Iryo tokei kara mite isei 100 nen no ayumi," p. 15.

Fig. 3.2. Changes in Birth- and Death-rates of Infants and Pregnant Mothers (after Ministry of Health and Welfare, Boshi eisei no omonaru tokei, 1959 and 1981).

From 1949, a "National Baby Contest" was organized under the auspices of the Ministry of Health and Welfare and the Yomiuri shimbun. The aim was to encourage baby health and the proper nutrition of children. The healthiest one-year-old boy and girl babies born between March of the previous year and February of the current year were to be chosen from babies throughout the country and named as the winners of the contest on 5 May, which is Children's Day.

The most difficult time in life for growth is the first few years. Whether a child will survive or not depends upon basic conditions such as the availability of plenty of breast-milk. Milk provided by a human mother contains protein, fat, sugar, inorganic minerals, vitamins, and small amounts of chemical elements which are essential to infant growth. Included also are antibodies to micro-organisms, produced by the mother's immune system, biological production mechanisms which result in conditions equal to pasteurization, and certain other antibodies. Natural human milk also protects infants against virus and bacterial infections of the digestive organs and the respiratory system. Artificial milk can in no manner provide this same range of protective functions.

However, the introduction and widespread use of artificial milk and the lowering of the infant mortality rate occurred at about the same time, and from this people inferred that the use of artificial milk had helped to lower the mortality rate. But the main reason for this decrease in infant deaths was related to the development of antibiotics. In reality, the infant death-rate is twice as high for artificially fed babies as it is for breast-fed ones, since human milk provides the most valuable nutrition that can be had, and also protects the new life against infectious diseases. Also, feeding the baby the natural way promotes greater human dignity, creating a bond between mother and child.

Human milk is produced through the mental stimulation invoked by the infant's crying and from the baby's sucking at the mother's breast. Because the newborn infant lacks sucking power, human milk is not produced immediately. It is therefore quite normal for a baby to lose a little weight soon after birth.

If, under these circumstances, the infant is given a bottle, satisfaction is immediate. The new baby then wants to suck on the bottle rather than at the mother's breast. Since it takes less time to bottle-feed a baby, and is more convenient - mothers and babies can be housed in separate rooms - hospital administrations intent on "rationalization" tend to favour this practice. Usually, bottle-fed babies increase in weight very rapidly at first, and look healthier because of this.

Table 3.2. Changes in the Labour Force 1947-1956 (unit: 1,000)

Labour force population (above age 14)




Total Population

Population above age 14

































































































Source: Ministry of Labour. Rodo tokei nennpo, 1952, p. 42; 1954. p. 25: 1957, p. 18.

The nationwide baby contest encouraged the use of bottle-milk, and the practice was also encouraged by gynaecologists, paediatricians, hospitals, and clinics. In 1951, the Morinaga Company initiated a baby contest for eight-month old infants and made a great deal of money from the endeavour. From 1953, NHK (Japan National Broadcasting Corporation) sponsored a baby contest which encouraged bottle-milk over breast-milk.

The increase in the number of working mothers after the Second World War (table 3.2) again encouraged the use of the bottle, because of its convenience. In 1920, 10 per cent of infants were fed on artificial milk, but by 1970 the percentage had risen to 70.

II. Expanding production of powdered milk and the Morinaga Milk Company

Powdered milk for infant consumption was first introduced in Japan during the Taisho Era (1912-1925), but before the Second World War it was mainly exported. It was only in the post-war period that artificial milk was improved in quality with the creation of milk production capital, the loosening of regulations related to milk products, the expansion of the milk product market, and the increase in raw materials for the production of milk.

Between 1950 and 1954, the production of major milk products - condensed milk, powdered milk, butter, and cheese - more than doubled (table 3.3). In 1951, the government published regulations for modified powdered infant milk products and all companies started to compete in expanding the market with new modified products utilizing new technologies such as vitamin and mineral reinforcement.

About this time each of the companies competing in the milk products field created their own trademark symbols upon which their involvement in the market was based. The Morinaga Company also competed with other small candy companies, putting out such things as caramels. The company's trademark, that of an angel, was very effective in forwarding corporate expansion plans. Table 3.4 indicates the fact that the trademark symbols used by the Yukijirushi and Meiji milk-product companies were very effective in expanding sales of butter.

Table 3.3. Increase in Value of Milk Products (Condensed/Powdered Milk. Butter, and Cheese) (unit: 1,000 yen)













Source: T. Nakajima, Gendai nihon sangyo hattatsushi 18 shokuhin (Kojunsha Shuppankyoku, 1967), p. 312.

In the pre-Second World War period the Morinaga Company had set up baby health examinations in Tokyo and Osaka in co-operation with doctors and nurses, and these activities went down well with the public. The company used this involvement and co-operation with the medical profession in efforts to promote its products.

In 1952, with a decrease in the importation of milk products, the candy and milk producers competed for resource acquisition; the Yukijirushi Company, which was based in Hokkaido, extended its offices to Tokyo, and the Meiji and Morinaga people widened their net to include Hokkaido. This competition between companies resulted in an increase in milk product prices of 50 per cent.

However, the business boom did not last, and from 1954 to 1955 the sales of milk products decreased and the companies suffered from excess stock and an inability to pay off their debts on time. As a result they attempted to increase the demand for baby milk, and increased production to meet that demand (see table 3.5). During this period, Yukijirushi, Meiji, and Morinaga became the three prime milk-product producers, and by 1961 70 per cent of Japan's total domestic trade in milk products was under their control. Table 3.6 provides some indication of the sales and profits made by these companies. During this period, the Morinaga Company rose to first place in the baby-product field, and at the time of the arsenic milk incident it held 60 per cent of the total market in milk products for infants nationwide, and 65 per cent in the Kansai area.

Table 3.4. Changes in Capital of Five Major Dairy Product Companies, 1946- 1957 (unit: 1,000 yen)



Yukijirushi Nyugyo

Hokkaido Butter

Meiji Nyugyo

Morinaga Nyugyob


30,000 -






30,000 -



15,000 (6)



30,000 -



35,000 (6)



120,000(5)c -




10,000 (4)

70,000) (9)



360,000 (6)

120,000 (6)

135,000 (10)






145,000 (12)

150,000 (12)



410.000 (10)


300,000 (1)






600,000 (12)
















580,000 (4)






1,000.000 (1)



930,000 (7)

a. In June 1950, Hokuraku was divided into Yukijirushi Nyugyo and Hokkaido Butter.
b. In April 1949, Morinaga Nyugyo separated from Morinaga Shokuhin to become an independent company.
c. Figures in parentheses indicate the months when capital increase took place.

Source: T. Nakajima, Gendai nihon sangyo hattatsushi 18 shokuhin (Kojunsha Shuppankyoku, 1967), p. 311.

Table 3.5. Changes in Production of Modified Powdered Milk Products (unit: tons)


Modified powdered milkb

Total production of powdered milk






























































































































a. Production figures are taken from Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fishery statistics, except for figures for 1947-1949, which are based on surveys by Nihon Seirakugyo Kumiai and Shokuryohin Haikyuu Kodan.

b. Production figures of powdered infant milk before 1950 are included in total powdered milk production figures.

c The figure for 1943 represents the peak in pre-war production

d. The drop in production in 1955 is considered to reflect the recall of MF milk.

Source: Shadan Hojin Nihon Nyuuseihin Kyokai, Nihon nyuugyo nenkan (1980), p 140

Table 3.6. Changes in Sales and Earnings of Top Three Milk Product Manufacturers, 1958-1962 (unit: 1 million yen)


Yukijirushi Nyugyo

Meiji Nyugyo

Morinaga Nyugyo

Combined total





















































Sales/earnings ratio (%)


























Source: T. Nakajima, Gendai nihon sangyo hattatsushi 18 shokuhin (Kojunsha Shuppankyoku, 1967), p. 317.

At that time these various companies were involved in management rationalization procedures in order to increase their profits, and in March 1955 2,000 schoolchildren suffered food poisoning from powdered skim milk produced by the Yukijirushi Company. The root cause of the poisonings was never made clear. The companies agreed among themselves to carry out independent researches into the cause and to institute independent programmes for product quality control and safety. It can be said that this problem represents the tip of the iceberg in relation to the difficulties attendant on management rationalization.

Profit-oriented production management coupled with mass-production techniques always results in deterioration of the product and reduces the safety levels. Mass production and transportation systems cause problems with increasing acid levels and losses in product freshness. Because of these factors, the Tokushima plant of the Morinaga Company added sodium phosphate to the milk products as a stabilization agent. Instead of the soda authorized by the Japan Pharmacy Bureau for purity, the company used an industrial grade material which was one-third the regular cost of the pharmaceutical grade additive. From April to July 1955, 380 kilograms of this industrial grade sodium phosphate, which also happened to contain arsenic, were added to milk products without being examined for purity or fitness for human consumption.

III. The arsenic milk poisoning incident and the Morinaga Company's Response

1. From the Development of a Strange New Disease to the Discovery of the Arsenic Milk

From June 1955, certain infants in western Japan came down with a strange sickness that was characterized by diarrhoea or constipation, vomiting, a swollen abdomen, and a darkening of skin colour. There was no clue as to the cause of this commonly seen problem. On 23 July, the first infant patient of the Morinaga MF Milk poisonings was seen at Okayama University Medical School Hospital, and then one infant after another was brought into the hospital. On 5 August it was made clear that what the infants had in common was the intake of the MF milk formula, and as more and more babies were brought in for treatment it came to be known that they regularly drank the same Morinaga MF Milk. On 12 August, the hospital announced that the problem was caused by the MF milk, but no mention was made of the causal agent in the milk that was at the root of the problem.

More babies came to be hospitalized in the Okayama Red Cross Hospital, and on 13 August the chief of paediatrics became aware that the strange sickness was related to products from the Tokushima plant of the Morinaga Milk Company. On 19 August, Professor Eiji Hamamoto of the Paediatric Department of Okayama University advised the production chief at the Tokushima plant that several points in the production process should be examined for imperfections. After that, the company began using a purer form of sodium phosphate which was purchased through regulated pharmaceutical channels.

On 22 August, the Medical Department of Okayama University requested that Professor Hamamoto make a radio announcement regarding the arsenic-laced MF milk, but instead of making the issue clear through a radio message, Professor Hamamoto went to see the patients in the Red Cross Hospital. When the staff asked him what treatment should be given to the severe cases, at long last he ordered them to use the BAL antidote for arsenic poisoning. The next day, the Medical Department of the university detected arsenic in MF milk. and then Professor Hamamoto reported the case to the Public Health Department of Okayama Prefecture. He did this 18 days after MF milk was found to be the causative agent.

2. Organization of the Arsenic Milk Poisoning Victims and Post-poisoning Developments

On 24 August, the Public Health Department of Okayama Prefecture made a public announcement that poison had been found in MF milk. The government's Ministry of Public Welfare issued an order for all MF milk to be withdrawn from the market and the Tokushima plant of the Morinaga Company to be closed. Mothers who had been using the arsenic-laden milk learned of the disaster over the radio, and from television and newspaper coverage. After that there was a rush of families to the medical clinics, fearing for the life and health of their new-born babies.

The next day the Morinaga Milk Company placed an "Apology and Petition" in every newspaper and promised to promote the safety of their products through a campaign for "Beta Milk." However, ML milk, produced at the Matsumoto plant, and MC milk, produced at the Hiratsuka plant, was also found to be tainted with arsenic.

At that time the parents of the infant victims being treated at the Red Cross Hospital, Okayama University Hospital, and Kurashiki Central Hospital came together to organize the Victim Patient Families Association. On 30 September, the Okayama association made the following three demands in relation to the incident, and declared that they would continue to organize until there was a meaningful conclusion to the attack on the lives of their children. The demands were: (a) that the company pay all expenses in relation to essential treatment, hospitalization, and hospital visits; (b) that compensation be provided by the company in relation to the poisoning aftereffects; and (c) that compensation be set at 2,500,000 yen ($6,942) for each death caused, 700,000 yen ($1,943) for relatively seriously affected cases, and 300,000 yen ($833) for lesser degrees of poison-related degenerative involvement.

The company did not respond to these demands from the victims' families, and so the struggle was organized on a nationwide basis to put pressure on the company. On 19 September, victims' representatives from nine prefectures held a meeting in Okayama City, and decided to form Zenkyo (Morinaga Milk Victims' Association) and to press for action in relation to their three demands. After that representatives from four more prefectures joined Zenkyo, and thus all the victims were united.

3. The Morinaga Milk Company and the Five-member Committee

On 5 October, at the first central negotiation meeting, Zenkyo requested that Morinaga pay compensation. Because public opinion was solidly behind the victims' Morinaga had no choice but to meet the demands. However, the number of victims was much larger than had been expected and the company appealed to the government to form an advisory committee. On 21 October, the Ministry of Public Welfare created, without consulting Zenkyo, a five-member committee. consisting of Teizo Utsumi (Chief Publisher of Jijishimpo Newspapers), Takeo Koyama (Director of the Tokyo Saiseikai Central Hospital), Shigeko Tanabe (Senshu University Lecturer - Human Rights Committee), Ryo Masaki (lawyer). and Tasuku Yamazaki (lawyer).

The Five-member Committee was to be a third party, and therefore neutral, but committee members' expenses were paid by the Yukijirushi, Meiji, and Morinaga companies; this came under critical fire, since it appeared that the committee had been constituted in an attempt to lower the amount of compensation that the company would have to pay for the poisonings.

A subcommittee, which was to determine the standards upon which patients were to be evaluated, was formed under the Five-member Committee, with six members including Professor Hamamoto and the chairman, Nishizawa, who stated that the after-effects of the poisonings were of little consequence. The members of the subcommittee were paediatric specialists who were promoting bottle-milk, as desired by the milk industry.

At the time the Five-member Committee was formed, Morinaga indicated that it would abide by its decisions, but at the same time the company began making efforts to undermine and ultimately disband Zenkyo by saying that it was Morinaga who had fallen victim to the poisoning incident. On 5 December, the Five-member Committee announced the results of their deliberations, which were far from meeting the demands of the victims' families. These deliberations resulted in the following proposals: (1) that Morinaga be required to pay 250,000 yen ($694) for each death caused by the poisonings; (2) that 10,000 yen ($27.77) be provided for each patient; (3) that 2,000 yen ($5.55) in addition be provided for each hospitalized patient; (4) that it should be agreed that the poisoning has no lasting after-effects.

This simply indicates that the committee ignored completely the realities of the victims' families in an attempt to gloss over the irresponsibility of the Morinaga Company. Zenkyo was very surprised and disappointed at these proposals and as a result decided to negotiate directly with the company. Zenkyo's demands were: (1) that the company compensate families of dead poisoning victims to the tune of 500,000 yen ($1,388); (2) that the company provide regular medical examinations for the living victims of the poisonings; (3) that a research institute be established to further progress in overcoming the lasting effects of the poisonings. On 26 December, Morinaga indicated that none of these proposals was acceptable.

Zenkyo protested to the Ministry of Public Welfare and organized demonstrations in concert with the prefectural associations, calling for a nationwide boycott of Morinaga products and staging sitdown demonstrations and strikes at Morinaga branch offices. However, public opinion was not as fully supportive of the victims as once was the case, and at the same time the funds to pay for hospitalization were running out. Also, at about the same time, the mothers supporting Zenkyo had to abandon their protest activities because of sheer exhaustion.

4. Formation of the "Protection Association"

At the beginning of April 1956, the Morinaga Milk Company came up with a compromise proposal which was only slightly better than that arrived at through the deliberations of the Five-member Committee. These proposals were offered only on condition that Zenkyo be disbanded, and under these new circumstances the chairman of Zenkyo accepted Morinaga's proposals. The prefectural associations of Zenkyo also agreed to accept Morinaga's proposals and at the end of the month the various associations were dissolved. Zenkyo gained nothing for its efforts, but some people belonging to the Okayama association of Zenkyo decided to file a suit in the civil courts.

In February 1957, the Morinaga Milk Company established the Morinaga Service Foundation with the express purpose of improving infant nutrition and the quality of all milk products. This foundation was completely different in nature from that proposed by Zenkyo for research into the after-effects of the arsenic-laced baby-milk poisonings. The formation of the service foundation was intended to counter criticism from professionals and promoters of mother's milk through the use of medical and bureaucratic authority and to silence certain vociferous opponents of the company. The Morinaga Service Foundation also surveyed related consumer information, distributed certain limited research funds, and organized groups to promote artificial nutrition for babies. The foundation was also bent on developing, among medical doctors, clinics, and hospitals, friendly consumer attitudes in relation to milk products, in the hope that this would contribute to the increased use of bottle-milk.

After Zenkyo had been disbanded, an organization was established in Okayama Prefecture for the express purpose of providing protection for the Morinaga arsenic milk-poisoned children. In conjunction with other related organizations, it pursued activities to ensure that children's rights would be protected. In July 1957, this new organization entered into negotiations with Morinaga in which they demanded and received a memorandum from the company that acknowledged the company's responsibility in paying for periodic medical examinations for those infants who had been poisoned. Then, 19 of the poisoning victims received medical confirmation that they were indeed suffering from the after-effects of the arsenic-laced milk. The Organization to Protect the Poisoned Children of Okayama submitted a report on the situation at the sixth Japan Mothers' Congress, and received wide public attention.

In October 1963, the Tokushima District Court handed down a not guilty verdict in the case against the Morinaga Milk Company, and this was felt to be a great betrayal of the parents of the poisoning victims. Angered by the unfair court decision, this same group decided to spread their movement throughout the country in order to continue the struggle for the poisoning victims. Then in March 1966 the Takamatsu High Court reversed the Tokushima District Court decision and sent the case back to the district court for retrial. In the same year, the Okayama Association against Medicine Poisonings (a private organization) proved through careful surveys that the MF milk poisonings had serious after-effects. This higher court decision and the advent of a supporting medical team provided a glimmer of hope for the victim families.

IV. Visit after 14 years - The Maruyama report

The arsenic milk-poisoning appeal made by the parents became an issue for some of the more conscientious medical doctors, but the case was past history as far as the general public was concerned. However, the parents of the association to protect children from arsenic-poisoned milk were encouraged by their children who were suffering from the after-effects, and were therefore able to continue their struggle to find light in the darkness. The parents said: "It was the Morinaga Milk Company who mixed poison with the milk, but it was we parents who gave the poisoned milk to the children. Therefore it is our responsibility to take care of these poisoned children. We must live and fight a ten-year battle."1

In 1956, when the company announced that there were no more aftereffects of the poisonings, many of the children were still the victims of very definite after-effects. It was also becoming more and more evident that the after-effects multiplied as they grew older. However, some of the children, who had shown intractable retardation, eyesight problems, central nervous system involvement, skin diseases, irregular physical development, mental disorders, and difficulties in studying, were diagnosed as victims not of the poisoning but of congenital disorders. Further, some of the parents, in whose children no clear after-effects were seen, were in a constant state of worry that problems might rear their ugly heads any day.

Fourteen years had passed and yet no survey had been made of the problem. At this point the children were 14 to 15 years of age. There were those who thought a survey should be made before the children left compulsory education. These were persons involved in special education programmes for the handicapped and in nursing the said people as well as doctors in the same fields. This group organized a survey of the Morinaga arsenic-poisoning victims under the guidance of Professor Maruyama of the Medical Department of Osaka University. They interviewed many of the parents of the victims in order to discover what the after-effects were, how the children were getting along at 14 years of age, and what the parents were thinking and feeling. The survey was completed and made into mimeographed copies containing 93 pages. The title of the work was "Visit after 14 Years" and contained interviews with 68 people. 80 per cent of whom were found to have definite aftereffects and abnormalities.

With Associate Professor Hideyasu Aoyama of Okayama University Medical Department, Professor Maruyama held a press conference on 18 October 1969 to publicize "Visit after 14 Years."2 It was a time when there was increasing public interest in the issue. The Victims' Protest Association continued its struggle with some hope of light at the end of the tunnel. On 30 October, the same survey was reported to the Japan Academy of Public Hygiene. It was expected that there would be interference in the report by other scholars who did not want the old style of the academy assembly disturbed by the likes of Maruyama. But many of the younger researchers were determined that the report should be made and did everything in their power to allow Maruyama to complete his presentation. These efforts enabled the parents of the victims to speak at the meeting. Therefore, in autumn 1969, after a period of 14 years, the matter of the arsenic poisoning was once again discussed in the Japan Academy of Public Hygiene.3

Many of the victims" parents were encouraged by the Maruyama Report, and once again a Morinaga Arsenic Milk Poisoning Protection Association was formed. The new association met for its first national convention on 30 November, and decided to create an amalgamated association in order to further study the after-effects of the poisonings, methods for bringing about a complete cure, and steps to be taken in regard to the limits of the company's responsibility for the problem. In December, the association issued its first publication named Hikari (Light) and also set up its headquarters in Osaka. In 1970, branches of the association were set up in Nara, Hiroshima, Kagawa, Kyoto, Hyogo, and Osaka in order to expand the influence of the organization and to provide suitable measures in relation to local problems. The organization expanded but the members took great care lest the mistakes of the past association be repeated. At the new protection association national meeting, the following four goals were decided upon with the shared understanding that the past organization had been divided over demands for compensation, and that it had been won over by the company:

1. To demand a complete cure as well as full protection for the victims.

2. To make further surveys of the after-effects of poisoning in co-operation with humanitarian medical doctors.

3. To discern and define the extent of responsibility for the problem that should be shouldered by the Morinaga Company.

4. To unite in solidarity in the protection association in order that demands be met.

In comparison to the situation surrounding the 1955 protection association, the new association had a much better chance of success, for there were growing public demands for control of pollution and the anti-pollution movements were in the making. The mass media were also calling for pollution elimination. Again, at this time, in the latter part of the 1960s, students were struggling against the arbitrary authority held by professors and scholars.

The Morinaga Company responded to this new situation by saying that it could not believe that there were so many people who were suffering from the after-effects of the milk poisoning, and promising that it was not thinking of stopping its compensation to patients. The company further pledged that it would pay for hospital treatment. Even though it showed surprise at the findings of the association and the Maruyama Report, the Morinaga Company had ignored the demands made by the parents of the victims for the past 14 years. Because of the irresponsible attitude taken by Morinaga and the Ministry of Public Welfare, conscientious scholars and young researchers began to make patient examinations in a co-operative effort with the parents of the victims and the protection association in January 1970. The researchers found some very definite after-effects of the poisonings, tried to discover effective treatments for the problem, and provided immunological analyses relative to victim medical prognosis. Osaka and Okayama universities became the centres for these studies, and Professor Maruyama organized a committee to survey the after-effects of the poisonings in co-operation with the Japan Public Hygiene Academy, the Japan Paediatrics Academy, and the Japan Hygiene Academy.

The parents making up the protection association gave their support to these efforts in co-operation with medical doctors and citizens' groups. In order to increase inter-group support the parents communicated with the PCB poisoning victims and Minamata disease patients in various districts,4 and visited labour unions, co-operative groups, consumer groups, small research groups, and universities in order to make their appeal in regard to the Morinaga poisoned-milk problem. One year after the Maruyama Report, the protection association had grown from a few family members to 800 persons. On 6 December 1970, the ninth national board meeting of the protection association decided to respond to Morinaga's proposal to carry on two negotiations at the same time - negotiations at the headquarters of the protection association and also with local associations. For negotiations at the headquarters, the protection association would select the date. On 12 December, representatives of the Morinaga Milk Company met with those of the protection association in Okayama, and thereafter, once a month until 11 July 1971, they met eight times for negotiations. The Morinaga Company tried purposely to delay the negotiations, and at the eighth meeting the company announced that no further discussions would take place. Thus negotiations were suspended until the conclusions of the Okayama Prefectural Powdered Milk Arsenic Poisoning Survey Committee had been submitted. Once again Morinaga sought for solutions through the intercession of a third party from the government administration.

V. Expansion of the movement to save the victims

Bowing to pressure from the protection association and also from public opinion, the Ministry of Public Welfare agreed to make examinations of the poisoning victims. However, playing on an old theme, the government commissioned a third-party group composed of so-called scholars and authorities, and this group came up with the conclusions that no after-effects existed. The Ministry of Public Welfare decided to examine victims in Okayama City, where the headquarters of the protection association were situated, and commissioned Okayama Prefecture to carry out the study. The Okayama Prefectural Public Health Department, the organ responsible for the examinations, in October established another committee for Okayama Prefecture arsenic-poisoning victims. However, this committee was composed of doctors who were critical of the survey made by the protection association and of the doctors who were co-operating with it. Citing the need to respect the privacy of the children involved, the contents and results of the examinations were not made known to the protection association or to the doctors who had made their own private examinations. The protection association was afraid that the same conclusions would be reached as in 1955, when there was a closed-door policy that was not responsive to the real needs and facts of the case. It therefore protested to the Ministry of Public Welfare and to Okayama Prefecture. But the administration forcefully carried out its closed-door policy. The report was made to Okayama Prefecture in December 1972, and the conclusion was that there was no special need for the patients to worry. This was the type of conclusion that the protection association feared most.5 It was clear from the exchanges in the National Diet sessions in relation to the findings of the report that Morinaga had paid 10 million yen (about $34,000) and the Ministry of Public Welfare 1.3 million yen (about $4,320) to have the report completed.

The protection association fully understood the aim behind the "official examinations," and roundly criticized the Morinaga Company for its intention to use the report as a means of reducing its liability. Further, public opinion was at this time in full support of the protection association. Many citizens who were fully aware of the seriousness of the pollution problems at that time started a boycott movement against Morinaga products in the hope of forcing the company into accepting proper responsibility for the poisonings. The boycott of Morinaga products was accepted by the Fukushima Cooperative Association as one of its resolutions, and from autumn 1970 this boycott began to spread to all parts of the nation. The Morinaga Company had not expected this, and, five months after withdrawing from the negotiations, company headquarters personnel came again to the table in order to try to avert the bad publicity they were sustaining. The company kept repeating publicly that it would accept responsibility for the problem and pay compensation to the victims of the poisoning,6 but at the negotiation table it continued to evade responsibility, proposing to move to a "permanent solution" to the problem. "Permanent solution" was a kind of quibble, and Morinaga did not admit that it had caused the arsenic poisoning. Therefore, the protection association did not accept the company's proposals.

Because of Morinaga's insincere response to the initiatives of the protection association, the movement decided to strengthen its bargaining position vis-a-vis the company. In August of 1972 at the fourth national assembly of the association, it was decided that permanent measures should be specified for the victims of the Morinaga arsenic milk poisoning,7 and thereby guidelines were created for negotiations that would specifically designate the responsibility of both the company and the government for the problem, as well as create conditions for the realization of the demands of the association. This involved the payment of compensation for those who had died as well as those who were still suffering the after-effects of the poisoning. The demands for compensation included remuneration for all victims who were drinkers of Morinaga Milk in 1955, including even those patients who were not registered as suffering from the after-effects. This demand was qualitatively different from other demands made in regard to pollution-related diseases, because in the other cases the victims were recognized as patients for compensation only on the basis of specific symptoms caused by specific pollutants ingested in specific amounts. This was epoch-making within the context of victim compensation negotiations related to environmental destruction.

The subsequent negotiations between the protection association and the Morinaga Company did not develop further because of the company's delaying tactics. In December 1972, at the fifteenth negotiation meeting, the Morinaga Company went back on their promise and the meeting ended in failure. As a result of this reneging on the part of the company, the meeting was converted into the protection association's second national meeting on the spot and a resolution was passed to further boycott all Morinaga products until the company met all its obligations and to take the damage claims to the civil courts. The boycott movement against Morinaga products was already nationwide, and with these resolutions it spread like wildfire all over Japan. Morinaga stocks had dropped in value ever since the "Visit after 14 Years" report, and the Meiji and Yukijirushi companies had taken up the slack in Morinaga business, so that Morinaga now found itself in third place among the big three milk-product companies. Before the boycott movement had got under way, the Morinaga Company held 45 per cent of the market for powdered baby milk, but after the boycott started that share went down to 17-18 per cent, because Morinaga's milk was seen to typify unsafe food products, just as it had ten years before. In this situation the company's management orientations continued to worsen.8

In April 1973, members of the Kinki branch of the protection association filed a suit for damages against the Morinaga Company in the Osaka District Civil Court. In the same year a lawsuit, was begun in the Okayama District Court in August and in the Takamatsu District Court in November, in the hope that the civil cases would work to clarify Morinaga's responsibility for the poisonings.9 The Tokushima District Court case was reopened and in March 1973, after the Public Prosecutor had brought charges, the director and production chiefs of the Morinaga Company were sentenced to five years in jail. the longest sentences of this kind in Japan's legal history. The company faced its most difficult test ever in the civil and criminal courts.

The boycott of Morinaga products and the court cases were the two most important aspects of the protection association movement and both were long-term measures. The government was criticized for its collusion with the Morinaga Company, but the former was forced to distance itself from Morinaga when the company began to experience difficulties. In September 1973, the government finally recognized its responsibility, at least in part, and proposed a three-party negotiation arrangement between the protection association. the government administration, and the Morinaga Company. At the fifth negotiation session on 23 December, an agreement was reached between the chairperson of the protection association, the Minister of Public Welfare, and the President of the Morinaga Company. This signed agreement contained five items. In summary, the agreement reached attributed full responsibility to the Morinaga Company for the original problem. It designated the establishment of a committee as proposed by the association, which would work out all unsolved problems. The said committee would respect all proposals of the association as well as have all its expenses paid by the Morinaga Company. The company would co-operate in the realization of a long-term reorganization plan proposed by the Ministry of Public Welfare. Finally, the three-party negotiation meetings would be continued until all problems could be completely solved.

In April 1974, the sixth negotiation meeting was held, followed by a seventh meeting for the establishment of the Hikari Foundation as an organ designed to help relieve the Morinaga milk-poisoning victims while various other specific issues in relation to the Foundation were being discussed and decided. The three-party negotiations between the protection association, the government, and the Morinaga Company continued alongside the litigation and the boycott. Then, on 28 November 1973, the Tokushima District Court also sentenced the production section chief of the Morinaga Company to three years in prison. The boycott movement continued to spread with increasing rapidity.

VI. Establishment of the Hikari foundation

1. Work of the Hikari Foundation

In April of 1974, the Hikari Foundation was established in order to help the Morinaga poisoning victims. It took 19 years for this organization to be formed. The protection association held a national board meeting in May and decided to stop the boycott against Morinaga products, as well as withdraw their lawsuits, as agreed by the three-party negotiations. The protection association continued in its work, which was focused mainly on the strengthening of the Hikari Foundation. Except for a few scholars, the executive members of the Foundation were mostly parents who had been involved in the protection association. The membership of the two organizations was very much the same. The Hikari Foundation was headquartered in Osaka where a committee, composed of professional doctors and educators, was founded. The district offices were located so as best to provide services to the many victims of the poisoning. As of 1981, there were 17 district offices, managed by parents involved in the protection association. There was also a great deal of co-operation from medical doctors and from people working in special education.

By the end of March 1983, there were 13,396 victims of the Morinaga milk poisonings, and 6,389 of these were in communication with the Hikari Foundation.10 The work of the Foundation centred mostly on the development of the victims' independence as well as on creating social conditions for that development. The Foundation is involved in many areas, such as the distribution of available funds and helping with health care, education, counseling, and occupational therapy, and providing for the victims a place and the ability to meet each other.11 The relatively severely poisoned victims receive basic compensation and medical fees. For those who need funds for daily needs, a certain amount of financial aid is provided. In March 1981, 593 persons were receiving basic compensation support funds, and of these 181 were badly handicapped (table 3.7). The Hikari Foundation provides financial aid to "Taiyo no Kai," which was organized by the victims, and to the protection association for activity funds.

Table 3.7a. Number of Recipients of Basic Services (a) and Respective Expenditures (b) (unit for b: 1,000 yen)



























































allowance 1




















allowance 2




















allowance 3






























Special health









control allowance




























































































514 844













Total recipients









New recipients








Table 3.7b. Budget (B) and Actual Expenditure (E) (unit: 1.000 yen)




























Source: Zaidan Hojin Hikari Kyokai. Kokyuu kyuusai. no. 17 (October 1982): 23.

The annual budget of the Hikari Foundation was 348.9 million yen (about $1,186,000) in 1974 and 927.6 million yen (about $4,174,000) in 1981. These funds are covered from amounts provided by the Morinaga Milk Products Company. As the Foundation's activities increased, so also did the need for funds.

2. Remaining Issues

Through the activities of the Hikari Foundation it would appear that the needs of the poisoning victims are being met. However, there are still a number of unresolved issues. Table 3.8 indicates the number of victims recognized by the Ministry for Health and Welfare and those who were later recognized by the Hikari Foundation. The question still remains as to what should be done with those persons who would rather not be labeled as arsenic milk-poisoning victims.12 Another problem has to do with compensation for people who died as a result of the poisoning, as well as compensation in relation to past damages. A third unresolved issue concerns compensation to the adult victims of the poisoning - that is, those persons who were adults at the time they ingested the powdered milk. Some of the persons who have been involved in working with the victims of the poisoning are criticizing the Hikari Foundation for not extending its work to include the resolution of these outstanding issues. In this regard, the coverage of the government and the Morinaga Company is all too inadequate.13

By way of conclusion, the issues generated by the Morinaga arsenic-poisoned milk incident can be summarized as follows. First, there were large numbers of victims discovered over a very wide area. It should be noted that the problem raised its ugly head just as Japan was entering its high-economic-growth period. In this context, young women were hired as cheap labour and as such met the requirements for an expanding labour force. In order to participate in these production activities, young women and working mothers would use powdered milk.

Secondly, in the context of these economic conditions, people were caught up in a headlong and unquestioning race towards "modernization," because it was assumed that modernization could solve all problems. The use of powdered baby milk was seen as a step in the direction of modernization and therefore the demand for this product was very great. Thus the mentality that placed modernization above all other values was in part a cause of the tragedy seen in the arsenic milk poisonings. Immediately after the Second World War, the Japanese suffered greatly from shortages of food and consumer goods, and thus there was a very strong desire that the factories be reopened and that new ones be built utilizing new technologies; these were seen as a means of fulfilling the desire for consumer goods and the materialistic culture of the West. From this came the energy that was needed for Japan to "catch up" with the West, whose life-style they envied. The powdered milk situation provides a good example of this. After the Second World War, knowledge of nutrition was introduced from the United States and statistics became the basis for judging food nutrition in the modernizing age. This produced an excessive degree of trust in nutritional analyses, especially in relation to processed foods, and as a result one misguided social phenomenon was to be discerned in the absolutizing of the so-called "science" of nutritional analysis. People were charmed by the powdered milk that had been produced by a well-known company and were duped by the pretty cans upon which nutritional analyses were recorded. Every company competing in this field advertised that their product was better nutritionally than any other; they also claimed that it provided better nutrition than mother's milk and that, because of this, babies fed on it would grow and mature better. And so, instead of making efforts to breast-feed their own children, young mothers were led to purchase expensive powdered milk.

Table 3.8. Changes in the Number of Service Recipientsa


Group 1b

Group 2c









12 490
















13 356

















a. For details, see note 12.
b. Those recognized by the Ministry of Health and Welfare as MF milk victims.
c. Those recognized by the Hikari Foundation.
Source: Zaidan Hojin Hikari Kyokai, Kokyuu kyuusai, no. 22 (January 1984): 9.

A third reason why the poisoning produced so many victims is related to the problems created by health professionals such as paediatricians, gynaecologists, and local public health nurses. The excessive trust in powdered baby milk and in nutritional analyses, along with the powerful product advertising, greatly influenced the vast majority of health professionals. The responsibility for the poisoning incident and the tremendous increase in the number of victims rests not only with the doctors and nurses who assumed the same stance as the profit-seeking company, but also with local medical practitioners who uncritically accepted powdered milk as being of significant value. These medical professionals told young mothers that the powdered milk was very nutritious, but failed to indicate that it should only be used as a last resort under circumstances where natural breast-milk is not available or cannot, for some special reason, be supplied. In this regard, is it not best to build a society in which it is unnecessary for young mothers to work while they are feeding their infants?

In the fourth place, there still exists the issue of how to deal with the problems created by the arsenic milk poisoning incident. The Hikari Foundation method was different from the avenues of approach taken in other environmental poisoning cases. The specific measures provided were determined by the victims and their associated supporters, and these were the best measures possible at the time. However, in practice, this orientation was not able to provide help to all the victims. There are two aspects to this problem that should be considered in the future. The first relates to the fact that the Hikari Foundation is totally dependent on the Morinaga Milk Company for financial backing. The day will come when the company and its management practices will lead to another crisis, and funds for the victims of the poisoning will be cut off. Even though the Hikari Foundation has been established with a sufficient degree of independence so that it is not excessively subjected to the whims of company management, we are still greatly concerned by the fact that the relief plan for the victims is based only on the viability of a private company, which seeks only profit, in the economic market-place.

In relation to this, the government, which also carries a very heavy burden of responsibility for the problem, did not make clear its administrative responsibility for the incident and did not include the poisoning in the protection provided by the social security and medical care systems. The government should recognize the deficiencies in the social security system in this regard, and should seek to redress these problems, especially in respect of the miserly security provisions allowed to the handicapped. The government did not accept any responsibility for this problem, though it promised some degree of co-operation with the Hikari Foundation. But in this respect also, it has been no help at all. The example of foundations such as the Hikari organization was adopted in other environmental destruction cases, such as that of the thalidomide poisonings, but continued government support for such foundations is important; we must therefore ensure that government help is forthcoming over the long term.

The fifth issue is related to the fact that the Hikari Foundation continues under the leadership of the Morinaga Milk Poisoning Protection Association, and as such is a third-party organization. This, then, is the public forum for the victims and the members of the protection association. In other words, the Hikari Foundation is in fact the locus of confrontation between the victims of the poisoning and the Morinaga Company. The continued relief of the poisoning victims is totally dependent on the members of the protection association, who are fully supportive of the Hikari organization. But the active members of the protection association are ageing and they are looking for younger volunteers who are capable of understanding the situation. It is important to rejuvenate the association, which is being run chiefly by victims who were relatively lightly poisoned.


1. Morinaga Arsenic Milk Struggle - 20 Years (Ijiyakugyo Shimposha, 1977), p. 28.

2. Asahi shimun, 19 December 1969.

3. "Indict the Academy," Young Public Hygiene Workers Meeting, 1970.

4. The "Kanemi" incident was a food-pollution problem that was discovered in October 1968. The cause of the widespread poisoning was the leakage of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), used as a heat-transfer medium for edible oil processing, into the oils being manufactured. The victims numbered 100,000 and this case is still being tried in the courts, especially in relation to the problem of compensation.

5. The Group to Indict the Morinaga Company, ea., "Arsenic Milk 3" Survey Committee meeting notes from the Okayama Prefecture Baby Milk Arsenic Poisonings (1974) supplementary material, p. 7. This paper explains the manner in which the official report to Okayama Prefecture tried to undermine the victims and make their problems seem of little consequence.

6. Words of Isamu Ono, President, Nihon keizai shimbun, 13 December 1971.

7. Morinaga Arsenic Milk Poisoning Protection Association, Hikari, no. 39 (20 October 1972).

8. Nihon keizai shimbun, 11 April 1972, and Hiroshima shimbun, 24 August 1972.

9. Morinaga Arsenic Milk Poisoning Victims' Lawyers' Group, ea., Morinaga Arsenic Milk Poisoning Incident and the Court Struggles.

10. Zaidan Hojin Hikari Kyokai, Kankyo kyusai, no. 22 (January 1984):9.

11. Refer to Kankyo kyusai, the publication of the activities of the Hikari Foundation.

12. These figures were registered with the local government offices and with the Ministry of Public Welfare in 1955. Some of the victims who did not register became the central issue of negotiations between the victim families and the Morinaga Company. The decrease in the number of victims is an indication that some of them died. After the establishment of the Hikari Foundation, the victims recognized by the Foundation were immediately recognized by the Ministry of Public Welfare. There were some people who had been poisoned by MF milk which was not withdrawn from the market until later or who did not realize that they were victims; they were refused recognition simply because there was no authentic proof that they used to drink MF milk.

13. Asahi shimbun, 7 May 1981 (evening edition).


Dai 27-kai Nihon Koshu Eisei Gakkai Jiyu Shukai, Wakai Koshu Eisei Jujisha no Tsudoi Jimukyoku [Office of the Assembly of Young Public Hygiene Workers], ed. Gakkai o kokuhatsusuru [Indict the Japan Academy of Public Hygiene]. 1970.

Leff, S., and V. Leff. Health and Humanity. Lawrence & Wishart, 1962.

Matsuo, M. Rakuno to nyugyo no keizai bunseki [Economic Analysis of Dairy Farming and the Dairy Industry]. Toyo Keizai Shimposha, 1966.

Morinaga Hiso Miruku Toso 20 Nenshi Henshuiinkai [The Compilation Committee for the 20-year History of the Struggle against the Morinaga Arsenic Milk Poisoning], ed. Morinaga hive miruku toso 20 nenshi [The 20-year History of the Struggle against the Morinaga Arsenic Milk Poisoning]. Iji Yakugyo Shinposha, 1977.

Morinaga Miruku Chudoku Higaisha Bengodan [advocates' Group for the Morinaga Milk Poisoning Plaintiffs]. Morinaga miruku Chudoku jiken to saiban [The Morinaga Milk Poisoning Incident and Lawsuit]. Minerva Shobo, 1975.

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(introductory text...)

Jun Ui

The Minamata disease was the most massive pollution problem to strike Japan in the post-Second World War period. The total picture in relation to the epidemiology of the problem has yet to unfold. The number of victims and deaths produced has not yet been determined. Twenty-five years have come and gone since the disease was first discovered and the number of people adversely affected is still on the increase.¹ Further, no treatment for the condition has been discovered. Serious attempts to ferret out the cause of the original disease were shelved, and it was not until the occurrence of the same disease in another location that determined efforts were again undertaken in this regard. If it had not been for the second outbreak of the disease, no one would have bothered to look for the cause. The orientations assumed and the reactions exhibited by the business sector, governmental administration, the scientific community, and public opinion were all typical of the Japanese socioeconomic situation in relation to pollution issues.

As the leader in the chemical industry field and the original Minamata disease polluter, Nippon Chisso's manufacturing facility in Minamata City is characteristic of the Japanese chemical industry sector, in which great efforts were made to adapt to various modes of Western technology. There were many chemical substances produced for the first time in Japan at the Chisso Minamata complex and the corporation maintained a tight hold on production secrets, to prevent competition from other manufacturers. Before the Second World War, this same corporation expanded into those nations colonized by Japan. Even though there were delays in Japan's capital expansion, the company built Japan's largest electro-chemical industrial complex, which provided the initial thrust for Nippon Chisso chemical industries in China and Korea. After the end of the war, the company seemed certain to collapse, but like the phoenix it rose again from the ashes, beginning the mass production of plastics from which it derived large profits because of its monopoly practices and the mass-consumption economy in which it operated. The Chisso Minamata complex, being representative of Japan's chemical industries during the post-war years, proved again the importance of technological prowess in the successful production of chemical substances. The complex achieved the highest economic growth-rate in Japan and at the same time caused the greatest environmental destruction that the country has ever seen.

I. The Nippon Chisso Company: Beginnings

The village of Minamata, located on the west coast of southern Kyushu, was traditionally supported by rice farming and by a cove in the port which allowed the production of salt. All this was well established by the beginning of the twentieth century. Across the bay is Amakusa Island, which produced some coal; there was also a gold mine in the mountains. These materials were brought into Minamata village and wood and mountain products were shipped from the port. Otherwise, Minamata was no different from other villages found throughout the country.

With experience in a successful venture to establish Japan's first industrial carbide production, Jun Noguchi, a young college-educated electrical engineer, was looking for a site to construct a new carbide production plant that would use surplus electricity from a hydro-electric power plant he had helped build as a power source for the gold-mining operation in the hinterland mountain area. At about the same time, the salt production, Minamata's only local cash-earning industry, became a government monopoly and was about to lose its viability as a profitable enterprise. The leaders of Minamata village, sensing an urgent need for new industries, approached Noguchi and urged him to build the new carbide plant in the village. To the hesitant Noguchi, who maintained that there were a number of other good locations to site the plant, the village leaders offered to provide free, or at extremely favourable rates, the use of the land that had been used for salt production, together with industrial water and the port facility; they also offered to shoulder the cost of extending the power line from the power plant to the carbide production facility.

With these inducements, the company decided to build its factory in Minamata. Those who had been working in the coal mine and had been put out of work by the introduction of electricity were hired at low wages to work in the new Chisso plant. This was seen as another important reason for providing inducements to the Chisso manufacturing facility to come to Minamata. The furtherance of Japan's high-economic-growth policies, which were based on the exploitation of cheap local labour and instituted under the guise of industrial restructuring, had already begun with the introduction of the new Chisso factory.

The Nippon Chisso Company production facility began functioning under very favourable conditions, but the product itself did not sell well, since the demand for carbide was low; its main use was as a light source in night fishing. The company then began using carbide as a material from which to derive calcium cynamide, which was then used to produce metamorphic ammonium sulphate to be used as an agricultural fertilizer. In this manner the company was saved from going under, but, in the face of fierce international competition in chemical fertilizers, it was taken over by a railway concern and also bolstered by the injection of Mitsubishi Corporation capital. For this small fertilizer production facility, the advent of the First World War meant a firmer grasp on survival. The importation of fertilizers was halted and Chisso gained a monopoly position in the domestic market. The losses incurred at first were covered and Japan's chemical industry became prosperous. Nippon Chisso began with capital assets of 1 million yen, and in 1920, after the First World War, had assets of 22 million yen; within the ensuing half-year period it was paying dividends at the 104 per cent level. Immediately after the First World War, Noguchi visited Europe and on that occasion decided to introduce the new Casale ammonia synthesis technology into Japan, although it was still at the pilot-plant stage. This was for Japan the first experience of ammonia synthesis and the first introduction of high-pressure gas technology.

In the depression after the First World War, it was difficult, from both a managerial and technical point of view, to construct a new manufacturing facility, based upon new technology, that would also be able to produce a greater amount of fertilizer in a shorter operating period. In this regard, the Nippon Chisso technical staff worked very hard to overcome various difficulties. In 1923 the first ammonium sulphate compound was produced at the Nippon Chisso Nobeoka complex. From that year on, management was able to weather the depression period with a relative degree of calm. Nippon Chisso was not only dominant in the expanding fertilizer market but also based its solvency on the provision of inexpensive hydro-electric power. Since the major hydro-electric power plants in Japan were provided and controlled by the major Japanese zaibatsu, Nippon Chisso went into Korea, on the basis of hydro-electric power-plant provision, at a time when many Japanese companies were contributing to the colonization effort. At the same time, the Nippon Chisso Minamata facility began using the Casale process for the mass production of ammonium sulphate, a method that had been successfully introduced at the Nobeoka facility. Although there were many explosions resulting from the use of this new high-pressure gas process, in 1927 ammonium sulphate production was successfully instituted, and this gave Nippon Chisso the new status of a rising capital venture based upon the cyclical production of fertilizer compounds. In that same year construction of the Nippon Chisso Hungnum (Korea) facility was started. It was to become the largest electrochemical compound production facility in Asia, with the largest attendant electric power station seen at that time. In 1930, the Hungnum plant started operations, and the corporate advance into the colonies of Japan was assured. In the trial and initiation periods of the 1920s, the fertilizer production facility was a major pillar in the recently rising chemical industry. The newly founded Nippon Chisso company was able to weather all pressures from both inside and outside the country, and to take a major role in the chemical industry through the technical prowess that comes with experience. Although the original technology was introduced into Japan from outside, the company was able to expand and increase both its base of operations and its production facilities so as to be ready for the next series of developments, which originated from its own technology.

II. The beginnings of the carbide organic chemical complex

It was in 1930 that Japan's chemical industry turned to organic chemical compounds derived from calcium-carbide-generated acetylene. It was known at that time that acetylene blown over mercuric sulphate would pick up one water molecule to produce acetaldehyde. Industrial production was late in coming but Nippon Chisso developed its own techniques and produced not only acetic acid, which is a direct derivative of acetaldehyde, but also, on an experimental basis, such downstream products as ethyl acetate, cellulose acetate, vinyl acetylene, acetone, butanol, and isooctane. From the introduction of foreign technology into Japan came unique methods suitable to the conditions in Japan and, on the basis of this, effective policies were developed. In this manner the development of organic chemistry in the factory placed Chisso on the most advanced chemical engineering level.

Production of the new product was first tried on an experimental basis at the Minamata facility, and then full-scale production was initiated. The same production techniques were then used in other installations, such as the one in Hungnum, Korea, with total output increasing very rapidly. These technical advancements were made possible by the highly trained technicians and workers at the Minamata facility. For instance, unless a person was proven to be among the top graduates of the Department of Engineering at Tokyo Imperial University, where the highest educational levels in Japan were to be attained, he would not be allowed to sit for the employment examinations at the Minamata complex. The same thing was true for the regular workers who sought employment. Only the very best graduates of junior high schools were employed on a probational basis as assistants to company staff; then, only after the probational period had been successfully completed were they hired as fully fledged factory personnel. Noguchi would say that factory workers should be used like cows and horses, and in fact they were treated like animals, being made to work under the most dangerous conditions and with very little remuneration. In the experimental pilot plants, there were often explosions and accidents, and dangerous materials were kept on hand, and, unless the workers acknowledged a willingness to work under conditions where they would be risking their lives, they were not employed. Through the pre- and post-Second World War periods, the employment of high-quality low-paid workers was the basis upon which Japan's industrial strength was built, and the Minamata complex was a perfect example of this phenomenon. If the workers were able to endure the most severe working conditions, they would in all likelihood be given the chance of being appointed as experts in the Chisso manufacturing complexes built in Japan's colonies. Working in the Minamata factory was considered to be one of the best tests of human endurance.

As the Chisso Minamata production facility grew, the village of Minamata prospered. With an increased population, the village became a town and then, during the Second World War, a city. The economic prosperity of the city depended on the Chisso plant, and public investments in roads and other infrastructures were prioritized around the manufacturing plant as the basic unit of industrial expansion. The town grew around the factory and the fundamental nature of the preprogrammed urban development was determined before and after the Second World War. The consciousness of those living in the city developed in such a way that they began to understand themselves as sharing, on the community level, the destiny of the Chisso chemical plant.

In the 1930s, when militarization in Japan was on the upswing, industrialization in Japan's colonies was also in an expansionary phase. In the early colonization period, the Nippon Chisso capitalists were closely allied with the military power of Japan that ruled the colonies. In this regard the company found itself in a favourable position or at least to have the same favoured status relative to facility construction preconditions, labour-force supply, and resource procurement as parallel zaibatsu-financed manufacturing facilities. In 1934, the company became independent of Mitsubishi capital, with which it had been associated from its inception, and then went on to establish its own zaibatsu in conjunction with the Kogyo and Chosen banks. Since Japan lacked natural petroleum resources, the energy for aeronautics and the materials that were otherwise derived from different aspects of petroleum chemistry became very important to the military, but the only alternatives had to be produced from acetylene-chemistry-based organic compounds. In this context Nippon Chisso was in a position to develop materials that were badly needed by the military, and with this background the company forged ahead in Korea and China. Acetaldehyde, which was produced from acetylene, was a key material, and Nippon Chisso was well advanced in the field of acetylene chemistry. In 1938, I.G. Farben, one of Germany's monopoly capitalists, announced the production of a vinyl chloride plasticizer, and in 1941 the Minamata plant successfully produced the same material. This was the only vinyl product made by Japan before and during the Second World War, but this fact alone indicates the relatively high level of acetylene chemistry that had been achieved in Japan.

It is an undeniable fact that the initial plans of Nippon Chisso were oriented toward the development of large-scale hydro-electric power-generation projects and major machine-industry capacities in relation to the construction of dams and hydro-electric generation projects, especially in Japan's colonies. However, since these technological pursuits required large-scale human labour resources and were also based on excessive human suffering, new developments in the machine-engineering and transportation fields were not forthcoming.

All the waste products that were the result of the rapid expansion of the Minamata production complex and of other manufacturing ventures were dumped without treatment into Minamata Bay, where they destroyed the fishery resources. The fishermen of Minamata brought their protests to the company many times but they were no equal to this massive industrial giant backed up by a powerful military establishment. The fishermen received compensation twice, once in 1926, and then again in 1943, at that time with the stipulation that there were to be no further demands on the company for compensation. The fact that the second series of negotiations took place during the war, and that the conditions for compensation included a demand by the company that no further requests be made, indicates the degree to which the aquatic environment had already been destroyed by the discharged wastes. One of the causes of Minamata disease was the company's monopoly power, which was characteristically blind to the damage produced by unbridled technology, as efforts were made to increase production without any regard for the problems caused to the human environment.

III. Recovering from the defeat of the Second World War

As a result of Japan's defeat at the end of the Second World War, Nippon Chisso lost all of its overseas assets - a total of 80 per cent of all assets held. The Chisso zaibatsu was ordered by the occupation forces to disband, and the Minamata complex had been destroyed by bombing during the war. However, out of this destruction the Minamata complex, which had a long-standing tradition of high technology combined with the samurai spirit, came back to life like the mythical phoenix. In the period of near starvation immediately after the war, food production was the highest priority, and for this the production of ammonium sulphate was needed as an agricultural chemical. In this situation the Chisso complex restarted production two months after the war ended. The workers went to villages with ammonium sulphate and salt to exchange for food. In this context also, the complex began again the production of acetaldehyde from acetylene. By employing the hydro-electric power-generation stations that had not been so heavily damaged during the war, the fertilizer and carbide electric hearth facilities recovered quickly. At the same time, one of the typical consumer products imported was polyvinyl chloride plastic. In the post-war period companies imported plastic-coated electric wire from the United States and reprocessed the coverings into nylon sheets and belts, which sold very well. The only installation in all Japan that could produce polyvinyl chloride was the Chisso Minamata complex, and in 1949, when the occupation army granted permission to reopen the facility, it once again marketed a monopoly product. The workers from the Chisso facilities in Japan's former colonies returned to Minamata and began energetic preparations for the rapid production revival that was to begin in the 1950s. In the confusing period after the war, the Minamata complex technicians worked very hard and, on the basis of their knowledge of acetylene-derived acetal-dehyde, in 1953 they successfully produced DOP, which is an essential plasticizer for the production of PVC.

The technical and commercial monopoly in relation to the expanding Japan PVC market was held through occupation army orders by American technology and capital, but the monopoly on the production of DOP for the Japanese market was fully retained by the Minamata complex. Within the context of the competitive 1950s, especially in relation to greatly expanding PVC markets, the Chisso Minamata complex was able to rebuild itself with phenomenal speed. For the production of octanol, the raw material from which DOP is made, the dual-carbon-atom acetaldehyde molecule was modified through a very sophisticated attachment of four more molecules. All of this was based on the long experience of acetylene chemistry maintained since before the war. Only the Minamata complex retained this high-level capacity for chemical synthesis, and because of this there were no other chemical companies able to recover so fully during that difficult period. It was in this way that the Minamata complex experienced a second golden era during the 1950s and regained a leading position in Japan's chemical industry. The Minamata complex, able to rebuild itself through the creativity of its personnel and the strength of its technology, stood in stark contrast to the old zaibatsu-supported chemical companies which, after the war, sought to revive their technological prowess through the purchase of foreign technology from the USA and other countries.

During the period when the Minamata complex was enjoying its greatest economic success, 60 per cent of all city taxes came from the chemical company and other related income sources. The mayor of the city was a retired director of the complex and a majority of the city council members were related in one way or another to the manufacturing facility. In the post-war period of so-called democratic politics, the city of Minamata was structured along typically feudalistic interactions and relationships centring around the chemical company and its manufacturing complex. Everyone knew that the level of economic prosperity enjoyed by the city depended on the rise and fall of the chemical company.

In the 1950s, the Minamata complex was able again to increase its capacity for the production of acetaldehyde and PVC and through this went on to sustain the largest production capacity in Japan. For production purposes, the company made use of large amounts of mercury compounds as reaction catalysts. The increased volume of production wastes was discharged into Minamata Bay without any treatment, and the aquatic environment was damaged even more than before the war, with devastating effects on the fishery industry there. The number of dead fish in the water increased and the number of fish caught was once again reduced. The local fishermen's association went to the chemical company for the third time to negotiate compensation. They managed to extract further amounts of money from the management, and exchanged certain areas of the bay with the company for use as reclaimed land, but all of these concessions were on condition that the association never again lodge protests with the company over company-induced pollution problems. At about this time people living in the city began noticing a strange new phenomenon, in which cats living in the city would go through a frenzied dance and ultimately throw themselves into the bay. The fishing community named this phenomenon "the suicide-prone group of dancing cats," and began to wonder if it did not portend misfortune in the future.

IV. The discovery of Minamata disease and the difficulty in determining its cause

In May 1956, four patients suffering from a yet unheard-of disease were brought to the city hospital. They all had common symptoms such as severe convulsions, intermittent loss of consciousness, repeated lapses into crazed mental states, and then finally permanent coma. Then, after the onset of a very high fever, they would die. Dr. Hosokawa, the director of the hospital, began an epidemiological survey of the immediate area in co-operation with local medical associations and health centres. The same type of patients had indeed been discovered in the fishing villages surrounding Minamata City and it was determined that 17 people in all had so far died after showing the same symptoms. This initial stage was characterized by a profound sense of shock at the high death-rate.

The initial survey indicated that the disease had not occurred suddenly but had been noticed by doctors before, except that it had not been recognized as a new disease. The one factor that was common to all patients was that they ate large amounts of fish from Minamata Bay. At first there were suspicions that the disease was contagious but this fear was laid to rest after more intensive surveys had been taken. Then there were thoughts that the cause might be related to toxic substances. At this point efforts at determining the cause of the disease were handed over to a medical research group at Kumamoto University in Kyushu. The group continued investigations for about two years but was not able to discover any definitive cause for the disease. It was, however, deduced that the fish and the shellfish in Minamata Bay were poisonous: toxic symptoms did in fact develop in laboratory animals which had been fed these same poisonous fishery products, but their symptoms seemed to be completely different from those seen in human patients.

The initial survey indicated that the common conditions surrounding all the patients made it almost certain that the problem was related to the Chisso Minamata chemical complex, but it was completely taboo to speak of this possibility in the community, with its complete economic dependence on the facility. The fish from Minamata Bay were poisoned to a much greater extent than fish taken from other locations, and all of the wastes from the chemical complex had been discharged into the bay for a very long period of time. Waste sludge taken from the bay contained so many different kinds and such huge amounts of poisons that there was no telling which of them was the cause. The sludge contained great amounts of manganese, selenium, and thallium, substances which could conceivably be related to the disease, although animal experiments resulted in very different symptoms. The research group asked the chemical company to indicate what substances were being used for production synthesis apart from the materials contained in the waste discharge, but the company was unwilling to co-operate in this regard. Furthermore, the engineering department of Kumamoto University, which had more precise information on the inner workings of the Minamata chemical complex, was predisposed not to co-operate with the medical research group. Finally, when the medical research team indicated that the probable cause of the Minamata disease was heavy metal poisoning, the chemical company provided their own report to dispute this theory.

Then, after two years of survey work, the medical research group was able to eliminate every pollutant one by one, until they came upon mercury as the last heavy metal in the list. At that time they did not know that mercury was employed in massive amounts in the chemical complex, and they also presumed that the company would probably not waste mercury, for it was a very expensive material. The company kept the use of mercury a production secret, although industrial circles and engineers were aware of it. There were massive amounts of mercury in the sludge taken from the bay, as well as in the poisonous fish and in the patients who had died of the disease. The epidemiological distribution of the disease among the human population was the same as the distribution of poisonous fish in Minamata Bay. The characteristics of the disease were the same as those encountered in alkyl mercury poisoning. The medical research group, which was severely criticized by the Chisso chemical company, continued its survey efforts for another year and in July 1959 came to the interim conclusion that mercury was the most probable cause of the Minamata disease.

V. Social trauma and the fishermen's riot

Three years had passed since the discovery of the disease, and the local fishermen's groups had had no grounds for expressing their pent-up resentment against the chemical company, because of the lack of hard evidence as to the cause. When, therefore, it was heard that the disease could possibly be the result of an organic mercury discharge, they exploded in anger. It was obvious that the managers of the chemical company would flatly and indignantly deny any culpability for the problem, stressing all the time that they had not discharged mercury, even though mercury was in fact essential to their chemical reactions. But the fishermen, concerned that their fish were no longer saleable and strengthened by the medical statement in their belief that the chemical complex was the cause of the disease, went again to the company management to demand compensation. At this time there were new disease patients discovered in an area along the sea-coast where the company had relocated its waste drainage pipes away from the original discharge location. As a result, fear spread to all areas of the Fushimi Sea and fish taken from the sea could no longer be sold because of fear of contamination. The economic base upon which the livelihood of the fishermen was built lost its viability, and the once proud and prosperous fishermen of the Fushimi Sea became beggars and wanderers.

From the summer and on through the autumn of 1959, the Minamata Fishermen's Association and the Fushimi Sea Fishermen's Association demanded compensation from the company for damage perpetrated by the chemical complex. The company refused to make any payments on the grounds that the cause of the disease was not understood to be related to the operation of the chemical complex. However, the company did decide to pay a small amount of sympathy money. During these negotiations with the fishermen the company would call in the police without hesitation. The social tensions in and around Minamata City rose to a crescendo, and on 2 November 1959, 4,000 Fushimi Sea fishermen congregated to demand a National Diet members' inspection of the polluted area. On the way home from this rally they broke into the grounds of the chemical complex and destroyed office equipment. This event was magnified by the national news media and the Minamata disease at last came to the attention of the Japanese populace as a whole, some three-and-a-half years after it was discovered. With the Minamata chemical complex labour union in the forefront, many groups, including the Japan Socialist Party, criticized the fishermen's riot. If this action had not been taken by the fishermen, the Minamata disease would never have become national news.

The then International Trade and Industry Minister, Hayato Ikeda (who in later years as Prime Minister initiated Japan's high-economic-growth policies) criticized the publication of the Kumamoto University research group's organic mercury theory, saying it was the cause of social conflict. As they were less than willing to make public any disagreement among members as to the relationships between organic mercury and the chemical complex effluent, the Ministry of Public Welfare's Minamata disease research group could only provide a very ambiguous and non-conclusive report, after which the said group was immediately disbanded. On the basis of very cursory and incomplete surveys of the problem, scholars and other public personages commissioned by the chemical company and the Ministry of International Trade and Industry came up with all kinds of differing theories as to possible causes of the Minamata disease.

During this period, Dr. Hosokawa, the director of Minamata City Hospital, while paying special attention to the treatment of disease patients, was also very interested in the organic mercury theory espoused by the Kumamoto University research group. He carried out animal experiments using cats, and, by feeding them the waste effluent from the chemical company's acetaldehyde production unit, was able to induce Minamata disease symptoms in them; he was later able to confirm the presence of disease through autopsy and pathological examination. The company executives were surprised by the fact that Dr. Hosokawa, the company doctor, was doing this kind of re search, but, while they forbade him to continue with these efforts, they used certain excerpted portions of his research report to support company contentions that the chemical production effluents were not to blame. As of October 1959, the Chisso Minamata Chemical Company was fully aware of the fact that the Minamata disease was related to the effluent discharge from the acetaldehyde production unit, but since this production unit was the keystone for all organic compound production processes, the company continued, in its relations with the outside world, to deny culpability.

By the end of 1959, as a result of intervention by the prefectural governor, the company decided to pay a total of 100 million yen (about US$ 27,800 at 1959 rates) to the fishermen's associations on the condition that the cause of the disease be discussed no further. At the same time it was decided that the Minamata Disease Association should be paid condolence money at the rate of 300,000 yen ($830) for each death caused by the disease and 100,000 yen ($278) for each living victim. The company emphasized that the money was only meant as condolence for people in trouble, and was not to be construed as an admission of culpability. However, the articles of negotiation prepared by company management as a basis of an understanding with the disease victims included both a prohibition on any further demands for compensation, even if it should be determined that the disease was caused by company-produced effluents, and a clause providing for an end to compensatory payments should it be proven that the disease was not related to production effluents. From these facts alone, it can be easily surmised that the company was fully aware of the cause-and-effect relationships between production effluents and the disease, and negotiated for small condolence payments on the basis of this knowledge. The government's Ministry of Social Welfare established a Minamata Disease Patient Examination Council, composed of selected medical practitioners, in order that patients could be screened so as to qualify for company-provided compensation. Only officially designated Minamata disease patients can qualify to receive money from the Chisso Chemical Company.

VI. Counteraction and unconcern

Public opinion was critical of the fishermen's direct action against the chemical company, though thinking varied as to the purported cause of the disease. Therefore, with the disease victims actually receiving monetary compensation, it was thought that the social conflict surrounding the Minamata disease had come to an end. With the start of the 1960s the problems laid bare by the Minamata disease were forgotten because of the overshadowing political and foreign-relations dimensions of the Japan-United States Security Treaty. The fishermen who were involved in the riot were punished. In order to come to some fair and definitive conclusion as to the causes of the disease, two third-party research groups were formed, one by the government and the other by the Japan Medical Association. Because of lack of funding the government group was disbanded within the year without reaching any conclusions. In spite of the fact that Dr. Tamiya of the Medical Department of Tokyo University - Japan's supposed authority on the subject, who was supported by the Chisso Chemical Company and other mercury-handling industries - was named convenor, the Japan Medical Association group was disbanded in 1962, also without reaching any conclusions. In this manner the issue was neutralized without the problems really being confronted.

Governmental funding for the Minamata disease research group at Kumamoto University was cut off, but the university continued its efforts to discover the causal mechanisms involved in the disease. In 1962 hygienics professor Irigayama was able to separate methyl mercury compounds from the catalytic wastes derived from acetaldehyde production processes. He made it very clear that these wastes were the cause of the Minamata disease, but he was ignored by much of the academic community. At the community hospital attached to the Chisso chemical complex, Dr. Hosokawa was working on orders from the company to provide evidence that would counter the methyl mercury poisoning theory, but he was able to convince Chisso executives that his original research should be continued in order that the Minamata disease cause be determined on the basis of company-developed methods. In 1962 Dr. Hosokawa came to the same conclusions about the cause of the disease as Kumamoto University's Professor Irigayama. However, the Chisso Company ordered that these findings be kept secret. At about the same time the Kumamoto prefectural government was doing research on levels of accumulated mercury found in human hair as indicators of mercury contamination in the body. The results of those efforts indicated high levels of mercury contamination in fishermen and their families who were living in communities surrounding Minamata City, but mercury contamination was also found in island communities in the Shiranui Sea. Unfortunately the results of this research were not announced and they passed into oblivion. Because of the heavy criticism that was brought to bear against the organic mercury theory advanced by Kumamoto University, Minamata disease recognition and designation was limited only to those patients where very special and obvious methyl mercury poisoning symptoms were recognizable as medical textbook cases. At the same time it must be remembered that the diagnosis of the disease in living patients was made for the purpose of getting monetary compensation from the chemical company, and these factors produced their own restrictive sociological consequences. As a result of these factors, there were no new disease patients discovered for a few years after 1960, and it was thereby concluded that the Minamata disease had run its course and was no longer a problem. During the early 1960s, then, the problems related to the Minamata disease were thought to be things of the past, and no more attention was paid to the particular issues involved. In Minamata City the greatest concern of the people had turned to a long strike in which the labour union was fighting a Chisso company plan to rationalize operations, but the company was victorious in that it was able to divide the labour union into smaller groups. Owing to a combination of all these factors, the problems of the Minamata disease were forgotten, and the victims themselves also wished to be left alone.

VII. Rediscovery of the Minamata disease in Niigata

In June 1965, several patients who exhibited the same symptoms as seen in the Kumamoto Prefecture Minamata disease were discovered among fishermen living along the lower reaches of the Agano River, on the outskirts of Niigata City in Niigata Prefecture, a location far away from Minamata. This was the famous second Minamata disease, and methyl mercury was discovered in the victims' bodies as well as in the fish that they were eating. Along the upper reaches of the Agano River, and also in the area of the river mouth, there were two more acetaldehyde production plants. The second Minamata disease was recognized at an earlier stage and therefore there was a lesser degree of contamination than in Minamata, but even so, in the year of its discovery five deaths were attributed to the disease and 26 persons were designated disease patients. Even though mercury was very clearly the cause of the problem, the task presented to the newly formed Niigata University Medical Department research group in determining cause-and-effect relationships was by no means an easy one. In the areas surrounding the highly industrialized city of Niigata, besides the two above-mentioned acetaldehyde production plants, there were several other manufacturing facilities that used mercury; to add to the complications, mercury-based agricultural chemicals were also widely used, and therefore had to be considered as possible disease vectors. Furthermore, in 1964, the year before the discovery of the disease, there had been a major earthquake in Niigata, and it was suspected that there might be some relationship between that quake and the development of the disease the following year. In this way the research group ruled out, one by one, each of the many possible causation theories through the application of careful investigatory techniques. In the spring of 1966, the research group named, as the probable cause of the disease, the methyl mercury waste effluent from the Showa Denko Company's Kase factory, located on the upper reaches of the Agano River.

From this point on, in exactly the same manner as with the first Minamata disease, an identical course of events unfolded. The industry-related government departments evolved their own theories to counter that of the university research group, pressured the research group to hold back on publicity, and cut down on research funds. Scholars receiving trust funds from industry sources would produce differing opinions that resulted in support for industry. When university medical department research scholars were called before the National Diet to give testimony on the problem, high government officials would secretly try to have them obscure the cause-and-effect relationships. The situation was exactly the same as with the first Minamata disease. At long last, after a year of this kind of deviousness, research firmly established the fact that the disease was caused by the effluent output of the Agano River Showa Denko plant. Industry responded by indicating that even if the government found them at fault, they would not abide by any ruling. Furthermore, since the university research group's findings were a year-and-a-half old, and the government was still in the process of making its own determinations, the research group's findings could not be called official.

Among the Minamata disease victims who could no longer abide by the government's ineptitude and indecision were the extended Miike family from Niigata, a group who had lost more members and suffered more from the disease than any other. This clan decided to take their case to the civil courts in order to obtain reparations for the damage done to them and in order to establish responsibility and define the cause-and-effect relationships. These people, whose incomes were from fishing and farming, were among the lower social classes, and throughout their family history they had never gone to court, which for them was a place to be feared and avoided. But having no other recourse, they were forced to take this course of action, which for them required a tremendous amount of courage. As for the lawyers involved, this case required scientific knowledge in order to pursue litigation over the cause-and-effect relationships, and as such was a new and challenging experience. The lawyers entertained no hopes of success from the very beginning. This was the first time that an environmental destruction case had gone to court in the post-Second World War period. The lawyers were forced to study elementary chemistry from highschool textbooks, and, since this was the first such case, they sought the co-operation of scientists, and proceeded with the full knowledge that there would be a great deal of difficult scientific material to contend with, and that they could expect a powerful counterattack from corporation lawyers. After presenting their initial brief in court, the Niigata victims of the Minamata disease visited the victims of the Itai-itai disease (caused by severe cadmium poisoning affecting the bones) in Toyama Prefecture, and then met the victims of the Minamata disease in Minamata City. Through this they learned more of the history of environmental destruction in Japan and at the same time offered great encouragement to pollution victims all over the country. After this visit, the Itai-itai disease victims took their own case to court. In 1968, with the visit of the Niigata victims to the Minamata area victims, a citizen-based victim support organization was begun, and this organization has continued caring for Minamata disease victims up to the present time. At the same time, the First Chisso Minamata Chemical Company Labour Union, which had split from the original labour union in 1959, made a statement of support for the Minamata disease victims known as the "Shame Resolution." This was the first time in the company's labour-relations history that the union evaluated as "shameful" the action taken against the fishermen who had trespassed on company property. These various actions and movements by the victims of the Niigata disease brought many pollution-related problems back into the national consciousness after they had been forgotten for some time. The Minamata victims were encouraged by the Niigata victims, who were able to walk with pride even though they were diseased. The Minamata victims, supported by a citizens' organization that represented a small minority at the time, were then once again able to begin their own series of actions.

VIII. Government understandings, renegotiations, and interventions

In September 1968, a full 12 years after the initial discovery of the Minamata disease, the government gave full recognition to the cause-and-effect relationships involved in the disease problem, and publicly acknowledged that the disease resulted from environmental destruction. However, during this same 12-year period, the Chisso Minamata complex had lost its leading industrial role in the fields of electrochemical and organic compound chemistry, for within the context of the social forces at play in the 1960s, and in relation to the rapid advances made by the up-and-coming petrochemical industry, the Chisso Company was unable to accommodate itself to rapid movements in the chemical and allied fields and thereby became a second-class enterprise. The problem lay basically with the company's sense of technological nationalism and an overemphasis on corporate pride; these factors became the brake that stopped the company making the necessary changeover to petroleum chemistry. The citizens of Minamata City began to fear for the future of the city as the company began to decline in importance, and insult was added to injury when the government recognized the company's mercury-laden wastes as the cause of the Minamata disease. For the sake of the future of Minamata City, the majority of the people living there hoped that the pollution problem could be solved without friction and with a lessened burden on the company, and therefore sought a community consensus. The national, prefectural, and city governments had much the same attitude as that of the citizens of Minamata City, out of a concern for the consequences of their inaction and irresponsibility as reflected in 12 years of ineptitude and non-involvement in efforts to find a solution. The victims, who were demanding both clarification as to responsibility and negotiations for reparations, became, as a result of their demands, an isolated minority within the context of that special social climate. The Chisso Company refused to negotiate directly with the victims, indicating that negotiations could only take place through a third party such as the national or prefectural government. Seen from a historical perspective, it is a well-known fact that third-party negotiations, especially in relation to environmental pollution, end by favouring the industrial polluter at the expense of the victims of the pollution; a good example of this is the sympathy money negotiations that took place in 1959.

The negotiations in this instance seemed to take much the same direction. Minamata City administration personnel went around to the many disease victims in the city to persuade them that they should sign the white paper proxy that required compliance with the conclusions reached by the mediation committee consisting of three specialists appointed by the Ministry of Public Welfare. (However, the original letter was written by the Chisso Company requesting that the government administration take up the matter.) The majority of the Minamata disease victims signed the proxy, but there were a few who, remembering the results of third-party negotiations in the past, refused to sign. In this way the victims' organization was divided into two groups, those who signed and those who refused to sign the proxy. As time went on the majority of victims who agreed to sign came to be known as the third-party "trust" group by the Ministry of Public Welfare and the minority that refused to sign came to be called the "lawsuit" group, for they were the ones who began preparations to take their case to the courts, following the example of the Niigata victims. In implementing its policy the Ministry of Public Welfare established a mediation committee consisting of a lawyer, a government administrator, and a doctor, and proceeded with preparations for negotiations on the basis of precedents established in relation to labour disasters. However, this method of setting up negotiations for compensation was inadequate, not only for theoretical reasons but because, first, it did not assign responsibility for the disease and, second, the three members of the committee were not adequately knowledgeable about the Minamata disease itself.

IX. Taking the Minamata disease case to court and citizen support

The minority group of victims who decided to take their plea to court therefore chose the hard road, as in the Niigata situation. Because there were no laws regulating industrial activity in Japan, there were no precedents upon which the victims could base their case. In cases where there were laws, there were also a number of significant limitations and loopholes. Even regulations established in 1958 regarding industrial effluents were inapplicable because effluents from acetaldehyde compound and allied chemical production facilities, such as those which caused the Minamata disease, were exempted. Therefore, the only course of action was through the application of the civil code through the related courts, in which the contention made by the plan tiffs could only be based on the illegality of certain deliberate actions or certain kinds of unpremeditated liabilities. However, the untreated effluent discharge from the chemical complex was to be understood in relation to long-standing public domain common consent precedents, which would make it so difficult to assign liability to the company for discharging the said wastes that the lawyers for the plaintiffs thought their cause was lost from the beginning.

At this time a voluntary general citizens' group was formed to support the victims of the disease, called the People's Congress for the Minamata Disease, and Kumamoto City's Association to Indict the Minamata Disease joined forces with it for the purpose of instituting a Minamata Disease Research Group to support the court struggle. Within the context of this organization, citizen volunteers, researchers, journalists, Chisso Company labour union members, and various other people came together in order to continue research on the historical course of the disease. When the company tried to destroy records in regard to past forms of manipulation, some of these materials were saved and taken from the company by labour union people. Dr. Hosokawa, retired from the company and on his deathbed, testified to the fact that the results of his animal experiments were kept secret by the company. The Minamata Research Group was able to piece together the puzzle from the facts that were already known and new materials that had been brought in, and through this effort was able to compile a report which clarified the Chisso Company's liability in, and responsibility for, the Minamata disease. The Association to Indict the Minamata Disease began a small newspaper to report in detail the court procedures and the activities of the various disease victims; this paper was delivered nationwide. The legal procedures were very slow and extremely difficult. There was not the same degree of activity as with the Niigata court proceedings, but news of the legal battle spread from Kumamoto to other interested and concerned persons scattered across the country. From 1968 to 1970, several books were written to introduce the facts and problems surrounding the Minamata disease. The highly acclaimed Kukai jodo, by poetess Michiko Ishimure from Minamata City, portrayed in rich and powerful language the beauty of Minamata and the misery of the disease. The book's literary merit made it widely read, a fact which further helped to sustain knowledge of and interest in this social disaster. Ms Ishimure received the coveted Magsaysay Award from the Philippines for her masterly work.

The negotiating team appointed by the Ministry of Public Welfare proposed in 1970 that the Chisso Company pay small amounts in compensation without being held responsible for the disaster. This proposal was criticized by many, but the majority of the victims, who were dependent on company fortunes, accepted the proposal and signed in resignation. In this way the "trust" victims' group made a compromise and the "lawsuit" group experienced some loss of direction regarding future action. Around that time the basis for certain important actions was being developed. It all started with one person's inquiry as to the real meaning of the Minamata disease.

X. In search of the Minamata disease

In general, Minamata disease was characterized by symptoms typical of methyl mercury poisoning, and it was described and recognized in patients who developed these same severe symptoms between 1953 and 1960. The Kumamoto University Medical Department, which became the centre for examining patients, was, as such, under constant criticism from many parties that had a vested interest in opposing the university's organic mercury cause-and-effect theory. In order to protect themselves from excessive criticism of this sort, the medical department tended to designate patients as disease victims only if the patients exhibited the most classic symptoms of the disease, such as narrowing of the visual field, lack of motor co-ordination, and damage to the sensory nerves. In the case of the second Minamata disease in Niigata, careful epidemiological surveys were made of the disease and it was discovered that the disease symptoms varied to a great extent, depending on the severity of the poisoning. In spite of the fact that they knew full well that they were victims of the disease, many patients did not apply for recognition as official Minamata disease victims because of local community pressure or because of economic interactions and dependence on the fisheries industry. Furthermore, there were many people in the various communities around Minamata who were aware that their friends and neighbours unknowingly had the same symptoms as the recognized disease patients, but were not examined by the committee of doctors set up to designate disease victims. This committee was set up to decide who should receive sympathy money from the Chisso Company, and as a result was under pressure to make very careful screenings so as to limit the number of recipients. There was a rule maintained by the committee that any death from the disease should not be designated a disease-related death. Therefore the medical evaluations were cursory, with a resulting reduction in the number of patients that Chisso had to compensate. This helped to keep the company economically viable, for the entire Minamata community was dependent on it.

Teruo Kawamoto, a fisherman who lived in an area where there were many Minamata disease patients, decided to take not only his own case, but also that of his father who died in 1966, to the examination committee for designation as Minamata disease victims. He presented these cases to various medical institutions, and also to the Human Rights Protection Committee, but was always treated as one who was merely seeking an easy source of income. Not only was his own case rejected, but that of his father was determined non-admissible on the grounds that there was no way that a person already dead could be examined for a particular disease. On the basis of these experiences, he visited other people who complained of the same symptoms, and presented their cases also for designation as patients, but all these applications were rejected. He then learned that there were other avenues of appeal, and, with the support of the Minamata Disease Research Group, made a request to the Ministry of Public Welfare (later to become the Environment Agency) that the cancellation by the Kumamoto Prefecture committee of his application for designation as a disease patient be reversed. Kumamoto Prefecture responded to this initiative by indicating that medical diagnostic decisions, other than those provided through the prefectural committee, could not be accepted as a basis for patient designation. The Minamata Disease Research Group countered with detailed samples and analyses which proved beyond a shadow of reasonable doubt that the results of any thorough medical examination in the Kawamoto cases would provide a wholly adequate base for designation as Minamata disease victims. However, the symptoms of non-Minamata disease pathological processes were often used to mask the symptoms of pathologies caused by methyl mercury poisoning. For example, high blood pressure and diabetes were frequently designated as causes of patients' symptoms when in fact the cause was mercury poisoning.

However, in 1971, on the basis of evidence supplied by the Minamata Disease Research Group, the Environment Agency decided that patients should be designated victims of the Minamata Disease if the symptoms of organic mercury poisoning were present to any discernible degree. This governmental agency introduced changes in the patient examination ground rules and made official attitudes fairer, as contrasted to earlier procedures which had been unduly influenced by political pressures that had been brought to bear. An unavoidable change in the circumstances affecting the fated symbiotic relationship between the Chisso Company and the Minamata community then came about because the number of Minamata disease patients increased. All this was the result of the work of only 100 persons, but the news of the official change in the social and medical ground rules quickly spread across the nation. The most obvious factor was the management crisis that the Chisso Company would face if there were a great increase in the number of designated Minamata disease patients. Furthermore, the news of the Niigata disease victims' victory in the civil court increased the fear of economic instability among the citizens of Minamata City who were dependent on the Chisso Company. Re-examination of patients began, and victims who had once been rejected were able to get themselves designated as disease patients. But the Chisso Company still refused to enter into direct negotiations with the patients' organization, and continued to insist on the third-party method of interaction. The citizens of Minamata feared an increase in the number of designated patients, concerned that increased reparations would further compromise the economic viability of the company, thereby jeopardizing their own prospects for a viable economic future. These citizens brought pressure to bear on patients who were demanding adequate compensation. The majority of the people living in Minamata City were in favour of maintaining the viability of the company and thereby the general welfare of the city. Furthermore, many of the citizens feared that they might also be disease victims, and this fear provoked persecution of the minority Minamata disease patients' organization. This new patients' movement, which was basically in favour of direct negotiations with Chisso Company directors, found its own development greatly impeded by opposition from public opinion as well as by obstructionism from the company and city administration. Under this kind of pressure, some of the patients changed their minds and decided to co-operate with the third-party negotiations. As a result the disease victims were divided again into the previous "trust" and "lawsuit" factions.

XI. Sit-down strike at Chisso Company Headquarters - Seeking direct negotiations

Kawamoto and a few of the other Minamata disease victims, having no further access to negotiations with the company in Minamata, decided to go to Tokyo where the general offices of the company were located, in order to negotiate with the company President, the one person most responsible for Chisso policies. There they were joined by a contingent of supporters from Tokyo and its environs. Since the company President would not make himself available for talks, the demonstrators started a sit-down strike inside the corporate offices, determined to stay there until the President agreed to a direct confrontation. At this point, the police were called in, and the strikers were forcibly removed. They remained on the street in front of corporate headquarters for 18 months, beginning in December 1971. Also, Kawamoto went to other Chisso Company manufacturing plants to seek the cooperation and understanding of Chisso workers and their labour unions. When he visited the company-loyal labour union at the Goi plant in Chiba Prefecture, he was met with violence. One of the causes of the early death of the famous American photographer, Eugene Smith, was an injury received as a result of accompanying Kawamoto to the Goi plant. This kind of violence against the Minamata disease victims' movement was bitterly criticized in every quarter, and these events strengthened citizen support for the sit-down strike at company headquarters. The social symbiosis between the company and the citizens that existed in Minamata City was not operative in Tokyo. Between 1968 and 1969, when campus-based student demonstrations were at their peak, young people became very much aware of social issues and problems, and these same students came voluntarily to the aid of the Minamata sit-down strikers. When for so-called security reasons the city called in the riot police to break up the strike, supporters were united in nonviolent demonstrations. This event was to become the longest and the largest sit-down strike in the history of Japanese social movements. These demonstrations also had a profound effect on Chisso management.

The United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, held in Stockholm in June 1972, unofficially welcomed the participation of the Minamata disease victims, and through this the world came to know not only of the seriousness of the pollution problems in Japan, but also of corporate and state attitudes toward environmental destruction. The first official Japanese government report to the Stockholm conference, on the state of Japan's environment, made no mention of Minamata disease. People in Japan, in reading the official report, were angered by this lack of honesty on the part of their government, and in response produced a citizens' report which described not only Minamata disease but also the many other pollution diseases and problems that Japan was suffering from. This same citizens' group decided also to send both Minamata disease victims and Kanemi PCB poisoning victims to the United Nations conference. Faced with this reality, the government of Japan hurriedly produced a special supplementary report on the Minamata disease and other pollution-related problems, so as to maintain a semblance of integrity at this international gathering.

The Minamata disease victims who attended the various non-governmental organization (NGO) meetings in Stockholm reported to the world on the misery of the many pollution victims in Japan, and pleaded for a world in which such misery would no longer be allowed. At that time Japan was seen from outside as being a model of perfection in its rapid economic development and modernization programmes encouraged by the government's high-economic-growth policies; but the Minamata disease and other serious pollution-related diseases and problems showed the other side of the high-economic-growth coin, and the revelation of such great pain and suffering in Japan made the world, and especially the developing nations, much more aware of the extreme social costs inherent in excessively rapid economic development and industrialization. Within this context also, the Minamata disease victims became aware of the well-developed social welfare programmes in Sweden, and were amazed at the difference between these and the almost non-existent programmes in Japan.

The sit-down strike of the Minamata disease victims in front of Chisso corporate headquarters became known worldwide. As far as the Chisso Company and the Metropolitan Police were concerned, the strikers were nothing more than troublemakers' and administrative officials were anxious for a chance to remove them from their encampment. Many attempts were made to throw them off the premises but such efforts were unsuccessful. For example, there would be daily encounters between the strikers and company employees aimed at stirring up the kind of trouble that would result in the arrest of Kawamoto and his supporters. In October 1972 the Chisso Company attempted to remove the tents of the strikers and at the same time demanded withdrawal of the legal suit against the company. Kawamoto refused to yield to this pressure, so the company brought a counter-indictment charging Kawamoto with injury. Later this charge was thrown out of court as injurious to the Minamata disease victims. This was the first time in Japan's legal history that such a suit was to be rejected by a court as out of order. At the same time the effect of this counter-suit against Kawamoto was a change in the negotiating stance taken by the many Minamata disease victims in Minamata City who were dealing with the company through the pollution negotiation committee established by the government. Some of the direct negotiation group began to question the motives of the government's negotiating committee and in the process decided to investigate the veracity of the seals on the proxies presented to the committee from some of the patients. This led to the discovery that some of the proxies had been forged. This kind of injustice was not rare in pollution-issue struggles, but this was the first time that such a practice had been discovered and verified. With proof of this kind of perfidy, the government's negotiation committee lost its credibility and thereby its authority, and because of this it was unable to complete any negotiations before the civil court handed down its verdict. In March 1972, the Minamata civil court case ended with a verdict in favour of the plaintiffs, the Minamata disease victims. The patients who won the lawsuit then went to Tokyo in order to negotiate compensation details with the Chisso Company, and joined in the struggle there with the direct negotiation group. In July 1973, through the direct mediation of the director of the Environment Agency, the Chisso Company promised to pay to all designated Minamata disease patients more in compensation than was guaranteed by the court decision. With this series of events the sit-down strike, which had gone on for more than a year and a half, was brought to an end.

XII. The third Minamata disease and administrative-level perfidy

The Medical Department of Kumamoto University, which in 1971 had begun making surveys in relation to a second outbreak of Minamata disease, instituted research on a broader epidemiological basis designed to provide predictions about the situation ten years into the future. Symptoms among patients in heavily polluted and more lightly polluted areas were recorded and compared. In order to compare these two levels of pollution, the research team also made a survey of the Ariakecho area. Here also, in spite of its distant location from the original pollution sources, people were discovered who had disease symptoms very much like those of the Minamata disease patients. Furthermore, there was no denying the possibility that there also could be mercury pollution in other areas. In May 1973, the mass media reported this fact, calling it the "third Minamata disease." With news related to PCB and mercury poisoning springing up all over Japan, the report of a "third Minamata disease" brought panic to the fishing industry. Between 1972 and 1973, just before the "oil shock" struck, Japan was at the peak of its high-economic-growth period and there was also extraordinary activity in the money markets; all these factors created a great deal of national anxiety. Also, because of the excessive overloading of petrochemical complex production capacities, there had been a continuing series of fires and explosions. Groups of local fishermen began to react by cementing up the sea-polluting effluent discharge pipes from various manufacturing plants, and the entire nation was subject to a great deal of social apprehension. The government of Japan could no longer ignore the great increase in environmental destruction. With the co-operation of selected medical professionals, the government began to make surveys of the general health of the people living in the most polluted areas, in order to deal with the fear and consternation that had been created by an ever-expanding circle of discoveries revolving around Minamata disease. The results of the survey indicated that 158 Minamata disease patients had been discovered in a sample of 50,000 persons. However, 114 of the 158 had already been designated Minamata disease patients, and later surveys indicated that even greater numbers than reported in the survey had also been designated as victims. Therefore, it came to be understood that this medical survey had been carried out only to manipulate public opinion. The survey doctors were told that the disease patients who came to be examined were only there in order to obtain reparations. The third Minamata disease patients were examined in this light and were recognized as victims only when they displayed typical and classic symptoms of mercury poisoning. Thus, through these procedures, a group of so-called medical professionals concluded that there were no third Minamata disease patients.

Within this context, organic mercury poisoning, as seen in the case of the Minamata disease, was understood not in terms of its effects on the whole body, but rather in terms of localized pathologies relative to specific target organs. Within the context of these new and yet unencountered medical situations, the medical profession was unable to make investigations on the basis of the realities at hand, but simply applied generalizations based on theoretical orientations derived from the work of others. This of course is a serious problem that constantly haunts the development of scientific methodology related to environmental destruction, as research is always limited to quantifiable phenomena. As a result, no meaningful surveys were carried out in relation to the problem of mercury poisoning.

The Minamata Disease Patient Examination Committee, which was instituted by Kumamoto Prefecture, was dissolved when the terms of the individual members came to an end (1974-1975), and this brought to an almost complete halt any attempts at designating Minamata disease victims. The results of this were no measurable increases in the number of designated patients. From 1975 onward, the work of the prefecture in designating disease victims declined, and even those persons that were considered either were treated as marginal cases or had their applications rejected. At this very time, encouraged by the successes of Kawamoto's movement, the number of persons who were applying for recognition and designation as Minamata disease patients was on the increase, and by 1975 there were more than 3,000 people seeking this kind of help.

In many instances, journalists for sensationalist newspapers would write articles about so-called fake Minamata disease victims. A good example of this was to be seen in 1975 when the chairman of the Kumamoto Prefecture Special Committee on Environmental Pollution made some remarks about non-genuine Minamata disease victims while visiting the Environment Agency. Because of his position as a public servant, his words carried a lot of weight and had a resounding effect on the mass media. In response to this irresponsible sensationalism, the Minamata disease victims staged a public direct action protest which resulted in the arrest and prosecution of many of them. This same kind of irresponsible agitation through the mass media was repeated both in central and local government-related politics, with many believing that there was a continuing effort to manipulate public opinion against the disease victims.

The effluent discharge from the Chisso Company's Minamata complex was halted only after the operation of the complex ceased owing to worsening profit margins. Under the depressed economic conditions of the time, a plan, funded through public investment, was proposed to remove several hundred tons of mercury-contaminated sludge from the bay. With the Minamata facility suffering from economic hard times, and the payments to disease victims ever on the increase, people welcomed this large-scale reclamation project as a way of refloating the local economy. But some of the Minamata disease patients were very apprehensive about the plan, for stirring up the sea bottom could easily cause an increase in the human suffering caused by mercury poisoning. With this opposition in mind, Kumamoto Prefecture' in cooperation with the university, formed a committee to determine the safety of the reclamation project. In fact, the purpose of the committee was to legitimize the project. An opposition group consisting of Minamata disease victims and local citizens sought a legal injunction against the plan, but the battle was lost in court and the reclamation of the mercury-contaminated area is now in progress.

The Chisso Company management, which was suffering under the burden of the large payments that had to be made to designated disease victims, was also experiencing further difficulties because of the depressed condition of the chemical industry sector of the economy. As a result, it gradually came to a point where it could no longer make payments to disease victims, and asked for help from public funding sources, asking the government to pay reparations to patients on a temporary basis. The government decided to loan money to the Chisso Company on condition that the prefectural government, backed up by the national loan office, issue bonds for the purpose and that the funds be raised from bank purchases of the bonds. This system of using publicly guaranteed funds to shore up private enterprise was much criticized, but for the next three years on an experimental basis, and then after that on a permanent basis, this system was operated.

In the summer of 1978, a Vice-Minister of the Environment Agency issued new guidelines for Minamata disease patient designation standards according to which disease designation would only be allowed in medically established high-probability cases and deaths would not be admissible for designation unless an examination found hard evidence as to the probable cause of death and the body was made available for research purposes. The disease victims recognized these moves as a governmental attempt to limit the number of disease patients when the number of applicants for examination was on the increase. In reality, after this change in the ground rules, the number of applicants whose cases were rejected greatly increased.

In 1973, when Takeo Miki, the Director of the Environment Agency, visited Minamata, he promised to make a complete survey of the epidemic area as a high-priority state project, and as a result the National Minamata Disease Research Centre was built in Minamata City. However, in the process of planning the project, Dr. Takeo Tamiya, who was a leading figure in one of the former non-functioning Minamata disease committees set up by the government, was once again made head of the survey project, and, as in the case of the former committee, the voices of the Minamata disease victims were not heard. As a result of these factors, the disease patients refused to cooperate with the work of the new centre. Although the centre housed the best and most modern medical equipment and facilities available anywhere, it was unable to function at all. As is very clear from this and many other examples, lacking the participation, recognition, and co-operation of disease victims, governmental action in regard to the Minamata disease has been and remains inept.

XIII. Minamata disease victims' movements and efforts at renewal

Up until the time of the first civil court decision in 1973, the movement involving the disease victims and their supporters was mainly oriented toward a protest against the Chisso Company, with the company trying to negotiate by means of a third-party system established through governmental intervention. As a result of these reverberating interactions and interrelationships, the disease victims' movement was divided, in response to company and administrative obstructionism, into smaller factions employing differing tactics that were broadly characterized by direct negotiation and court settlements. after the end of Japan's high-economic-growth period in 1974, systematic pollution policies created by various governmental organs produced more problems for the disease victims than the company ever did. This government-induced oppression of victims' movements, such as was seen in the attempted indictment of Kawamoto mentioned earlier, and in many other lawsuits and legal manoeuvrings, had the effect of heightening public debate but did not bring about a meaningful resolution of outstanding problems and contentions. The most salient problem for the victims' movement was the system established for designating official disease patients, for, given the legal circumstances of the times, lawyers came to take a leading role in determining which of the disease victims should give up their legal struggle for patient designation, and which should go on to a second- or even third-level court. In some of these court battles, the judicial system was able to achieve, at least for some of the victims, legal designation as verified Minamata disease patients, but for all the effort involved in this process, the results have been minuscule in every respect. The indictment brought against the company by the victims in 1960 found the company to be in error, but the court struggle continues to this day without any clear end in sight. Although, from the beginning, a great deal of the fault in relation to the continuation of the Minamata problem rests with government administrative error and ineptitude, as represented by the continued obstruction of justice and limiting of due process, there exists no effective means of designation and punishing governmental duplicity. The administrative organs of government were asked by the Minamata disease patients to provide thorough examinations and observations of disease victims in order to compile a complete epidemiological picture of the disease, but the fact remains that such work, even on the most fundamental level, has yet to begin. Within the context of the present political climate, there is very little hope of change in the Minamata situation. There are no records of the exact number of disease victims, nor is there any likelihood that primary policy orientations will change in such a manner as to respond more adequately to the plight of the many victims that probably exist.

However, even in these difficult circumstances, the disease victims have continued with their rehabilitation under their own auspices. Kawamoto once said: "Because there was no Minamata disease patients" movement, and because the said patients are weak, the truth about the Minamata disease is still unknown." Although the victims and the various supporters view the problem from varying perspectives, the words of Kawamoto are recognized by all as portraying the truth of the situation. It goes without saying that there have been efforts at disease-victim rehabilitation, but these have been sporadic and limited.

The results of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment have already been mentioned, but this conference provided the first instance of physically handicapped disease victims being sent abroad through the support of a coalition of supporting citizens' groups.

In 1975, as soon as it became known that the same kind of disease was being discovered among certain Canadian Indians, the Minamata disease victims invited the Indians to Minamata and Niigata. In 1976, some of the disease victims from Japan participated as delegates in the Habitat Conference in Vancouver, and visited Indian reservations in Ontario and Quebec. In 1982, delegates from Japan went to the Environment Conference in Nairobi, Kenya, and spoke on problems and developments during the ten-year period since the last environment conference in Stockholm. At that time warnings were sounded in relation to the spread of environmental diseases in certain other Asian countries.

The Minamata Research Group, which was formed at the time of the first civil court struggle, was able to provide reports and survey results of high academic quality. They provided Kumamoto University with well-documented Minamata disease sources, and this work still continues. In this regard, the contribution of Seirinsha must be remembered.

Seirinsha was the creation of Noriaki Tsuchimoto, who led Japan in the production of documentary films on the Minamata disease and the supporters' movements. These films were shown in many places and this contributed greatly to spreading knowledge of the disease. His works have also been recognized internationally. In 1978, over a six-month period, the Seirinsha group took their movies to 133 locations in 65 villages within a radius of 30 km of Minamata City, in and around the Shiranui Sea area. In 1975, Tsuchimoto produced a three-part series on the Minamata disease from a medical perspective, the results being a compilation of the many differing aspects of the disease. The narrative was written in collaboration with the Minamata Disease Research Group using all available material, including that of Dr. Hosokawa and a number of other co-operating medical practitioners. In 1979, the medical textbook The Minamata Disease - 20 Years of Research and the Problem Today was compiled through parallel efforts. The book, which meets the highest international standards, was produced by the moviemakers and the people, not by government-sponsored academics.

Dr. Masazumi Harada and the group of medical doctors who participated in the Minamata Disease Research Group tried to understand the total picture through research centring on the patients themselves. It is a well-known fact that Minamata disease patients exhibit symptoms characterized by high blood pressure, diabetic-type responses, and liver ailments, all of which are complicated by Hunter-Russel-type responses. These factors have been identified from pathological investigations that have traced the distribution of mercury poisons in various organs of the human body.2

Long-term observations in real-life situations have shown that the absorption of even small amounts of mercury over an extended period result in undeniable dangers to human health. However, the combination of clinical symptoms characteristic of the Minamata disease is similar to that seen in the pathological processes of ageing, and as a result it is difficult to differentiate the Minamata disease from geriatric problems in cases where the degree of mercury poisoning is limited. Various treatments aimed at ameliorating the sustained degenerative effects of the Minamata disease have been tried. Certain rehabilitation exercises may be of some use in regaining lost motor functions, but there is no hope of recovery from the pathological processes brought on by mercury poisoning.

1976 saw the formation of an academic research group incorporating both the natural and social sciences; subsequently a report, Shiranui-kai sogo chosadan (General Research on the Shiranui Sea), was published.3 Several young people who were involved in disease-victim support movements now live in Minamata and continue their various activities. One of their projects is the building of the Soshisha (Mutual Concern) Centre with contributions sent from all over Japan. The centre functions to provide work for patients whose handicaps are not severe, as well as offering training activities for young people; to this end it gives one-year internships to young people from urban situations. This project is similar to programmes in India in which urban youths participate in rural community camps.

Akira Sunada, a professional actor, lives in Minamata with the patients, earning his livelihood from organic farming. At the same time he has continued his mission, and through the presentation of his unique but traditional plays has told the story of Minamata and the disease patients to a large and varied audience. Through these activities people are reminded that this problem is still very much with us, and that there is a need for continued financial and moral support. A network that provides sales outlets for the organic agricultural products has been established with the help of various consumer organizations. Treatment of patients with oriental medicine has been tried, and many other projects have been launched. All activities are sustained on a voluntary basis and are not supported by any established funding organizations a fact that gives the community a certain feeling of autonomy.

In front of the Minamata City railway station there is a clinic to serve the needs of the Minamata disease patients. This clinic was set up by the Japan Association of Democratic Medical Organizations to provide a broad range of medical services to disease victims. It has a great deal of meaning for this community which once revolved around the lordship of an industrial complex, and great strength is derived from the knowledge that adequate care is available at the hands of professionals. Attempts to renew the local community have just begun, but the problems of the Minamata disease are far from over.

XIV. Conclusion

Minamata disease came into being as a result of one chemical complex that was, at a certain point in time, positioned at the heart of a new and rapidly growing industry. Because of the company's pride in its own technological prowess, it was blinded to the dangers of the waste effluents that it allowed to enter the human environment. The industry and various governmental organizations understood pollution problems only in terms of economic viability, and these same sectors of society tried to evade and cover up these problems through an initially successful series of oppressive measures. However, the problem reared its ugly head again, and this time the company was forced into a situation in which it could no longer continue operations. The way in which these problems were dealt with is beyond the comprehension of the present age. When industry and government circles were faced with this crisis, instead of attempting to deal in a straightforward manner with the realities involved, they simply initiated a cover-up in order to maintain traditional social structures and relationships for the sake of profit. Because of this obstructionism and perfidy, the destruction of the environment was worsened to a such a degree that all attempts at a solution have failed. Within the context of this crisis, the Minamata disease victims themselves, their supporters, and citizens' movements have worked to arouse public opinion, and to encourage the struggle of all disease victims. The majority of victims endured their suffering in silence in the hope that someday people would forget their existence. Through the application of universal democratic social action, a small minority of disease victims, refusing to be beaten, brought about a new start for the many victims of the disease. Where there are no people's movements, no progress is made toward meaningful solutions and the complexities are finally forgotten. Through active citizens' movements, new methods are discovered and new ways opened up. Most Minamata-disease-related citizens' movements employed non-violent direct action. In this way, the disease victims, even though they were socially weak, did not lose the battle, but were able to turn their deeply shared mutual experiences into powerful weapons for the fight. When such movements aim at returning basic human rights to the people, and when the appeal is directed at the full humanity of all persons, success is assured and progress can be made on a firm basis of human support.

One issue that has not yet been fully dealt with is that of the potential contribution of the disease victims to a full assessment of the damage done to the human environment by methyl mercury poisoning. The magnitude of the problem is such that, on the basis of present knowledge, it cannot be left to experts in the environmental sciences alone. It is obvious that Japanese political circles, and the related administrative organs of government, are totally incapable of coming to terms with the multitude of problems centring around this massive pandemic. Thus the adequacy of the work ahead depends upon how positively the socially weak disease victims are allowed, and able, to participate in the much needed overview of the problem, and in the process of finding solutions. These experiences are ones that we should all learn from, as we look ahead to other potential environmental disasters brought about by human greed.


1. According to the Environmental Agency of the Japanese government, the number of Minamata disease victims as of December 1990 is 2,239, including 987 deaths. There are 2,903 people who are seeking official recognition as disease patients (White Paper on the Environment, 1991).

2. Hirotsugu shiraki, suigin osen no jitai [The Reality of Mercury Poisoning], Kogai kenkyuu, vol. 2, no. 3 (1973): 1.

3. Daikichi Irokawa, ea., "Minamata no keiji" [Minamata Revelation], Shiranui-kai sogo chosa hokoku, vols. I and II (Chikuma Shobo, Tokyo, 1983).


Arima, S. Minamatabyo - 20 nen no kenkyuu to kyo no kadai [The Minamata Disease -20 Years of Research and the Problem Today]. Seirinsha, 1979.

Harada, M. Minamatabyo [Minamata Disease]. Iwanami Shoten, 1972.

—. Minamatabyo ni manabu tabi [Journey to Study Minamata Disease]. Nihon Hyoronsha, 1985.

Ishimure, M. Kukai jodo [Bitter Sea. Nirvana]. Kodansha, 1968.

Kondo, Y. Rhuuan [Ammonium Sulphate]. Nihon Hyoronsha, 1950.

Kumamoto Daigaku Igakubu Minamatabyo Kenkyuuhan. Minamatabyo - yuuki suigin chuudoku ni kansuru kenkyuu [Minamata Disease - Organic Mercury Poisoning Study]. 1966.

Minamatabyo Jishu Kosho Kawamoto Saiban Shiryo Henshuu Iinkai. Minamatabyo jishu kosho Kawamoto saiban shiryoshuu [Independent Negotiation, Kawamoto Court Records]. Seirinsha, 1981.

Minamatabyo Kenkyuukai. Nintei seido heno chosen - Minamatabyo ni taisuru Chisso gyosei igaku no sekinin [Challenge to the Recognition Process - Responsibility of the Corporation, the Administration. and Medicine]. Minamatabyo wo Kokuhatsusurukai, Tokyo, 1972.

Minamatabyo wo Kokuhatsusurukai. Kokuhatsu [Indictment] pocket edition. 1974.

Minamatabyo wo Kokuhatsusurukai (Kumamoto). Minamatabyo ni taisuru kigyo no sekinin - Chisso no fuho koi [Corporate Responsibility for the Minamata Disease - Chisso's Illegal Actions]. 1970.

Nihon Chisso K.K. Nihon Chisso Jigyo taikan [Survey of the Japan Nitrogen Co.]. 1941.

Tomita, H. Minamatabyo [Minamata Disease]. Minamatabyo wo Kokuhatsusurukai, 1969.

Tsuchimoto, N. Waga eiga hakken no tabi - Shiranuikai Minamatabyo gannen no kiroku [My Journey to Rediscover the Cinema - Recording the Discovery of the Shiranui Sea Minamata Disease]. Chikuma Shobo, 1974.

Ui, J. Kogai no seijigaku - Minamatabyo wo otte [The Politics of Pollution - Chasing the Minamata Disease]. Sanseido, 1968.

(introductory text...)

Yoshiro Hoshino and Nobuko Iijima

I. Energy-source conversion and coal-mine labour

The Miike coal mine was first developed during the Meiji Restoration of 1868 and was nationalized in 1872. After nationalization it was government policy to use prisoners to work in the mines. In 1888 there were 3,102 people engaged in mining, 2,144 or 69 per cent of whom were prisoners. In 1890 the Mitsui Coal-mining Company bought the Miike mine from the government and continued to use prisoners to mine coal. It was normal to force these people to work like beasts of burden in a system which produced a minimum of expenses and in which there was no need to advertise for labour.

In fact, after the mine had been taken over by the Mitsui Company, the number of prisoners employed began to decrease, though it continued as a prisoner-based operation until 1930. Although the mine was operated under favourable natural conditions, the treatment dispensed to the labourers was very bad. Indeed, modernization of the mine began using prisoner-based slave labour.

When the Japanese military machine invaded China in 1931, many of the labourers working in the mine were taken as cannon-fodder. The resulting shortage of labour became acute and, in order to make up the shortfall, the company used Koreans and, later, Chinese prisoners of war. In reality these people were subjected to the same harsh treatment that had been meted out to the former prisoners.

In 1945, after Japan's defeat in the Second World War, the Chinese and Korean labourers were released from servitude in the mine. Japan's production of coal in 1941 was 56,470,000 tons, decreasing to 20,380.000 tons in 1946, a level that was 36 per cent of the 1941 total, just one year after the close of the war. The Miike mine was no exception to this trend. and the maximum production of 4,000 tons decreased to 300 tons in 1946.

In the post-war period the coal industry faced some very difficult problems. Even though it had an important role to play in Japan's post-war economy. the occupation forces of the United States were not interested in the production of coal. Since the price of coal produced in Japan was much higher than the international price, the Japanese government had to provide supplementary aid to the industry, but in 1945, on the instructions of the occupation forces, this aid was cut. United States economic aid was invested in major industries which could expand on limited capital; aid to the coal industry was first reduced and then dropped completely after 1949. When coal prices went up as a result, the effects were felt in the electricity-generation and steel industries. The occupation forces abolished all limitations on the importation of coal and on the use of oil. With this, the fate of the coal industry in Japan was sealed.

In January 1950 the occupation forces issued a memo which allowed the importation of oil and the operation of a refinery on Japan's Pacific coast. At that time the Standard Vacuum, Caltex, Tide Water, and Shell oil companies had begun negotiations with companies in Japan for joint venture capital tie-ups. In the Middle East vast oil discoveries were being made, and the change from coal to oil as an energy source was going on all over the world.

Not only the occupation forces but Japanese economic circles welcomed the change from coal to oil. However, the coal-miners opposed the change because of a desire to preserve their jobs. The Miike coal mine became the centre of the opposition movement against this change. Between 1959 and 1960 disputes arose between the mining capitalists and the labour union, but the miners were defeated. In this instance about 1,200 miners were forced out of their jobs. After the defeat of the union movement, the switch from one energy source to the other came into effect very swiftly. Table 5.1 indicates that in 1955 coal as a primary energy source provided 50.2 per cent of energy needs, but that after the Miike dispute the level decreased, dropping to 16.4 per cent by 1975, while the use of oil increased from 20.2 to 73.3 per cent.

Through this rapid change in the energy picture, coal mines were forced to reduce prices and increase productivity in order to compete with oil as an energy source. Coal production at the Miike mine was 14 tons per labourer in June 1958, but this was increased to 44 tons per person as of October 1963. Mined coal was transported by a belt conveyor system, leading to an increase in coal production. In 1958 over 6,000 tons per day left the mine, rising to over 10,000 tons in 1962 and 13,000 tons by October 1963.

Table 5.1. Primary Energy Source Comparisons






























Source: Resource and Energy Agency, Sogo enerugii tokei.

Table 5.2. Death and Injury Rate per 1,000 Man-days at the Miike Coal Mine


Rate (persons)















1960 November


1960 December






1963 August


Source: Kaneko Tsuguro, ´´Rodo saigai," Kakaku (October 1966).

Attendant upon the increased coal production, there also came an increase in coal dust in the mine, resulting in an ever-expanding risk of mine explosions. The coal-dust problem should have been made a priority, but in fact the importance of this problem was minimized as production increased. Twelve conveyor belts were installed in the first mine rationalization, with one person assigned to each belt drive motor and five charged with spreading water and rock dust in order to contend with the coal-dust problem. This brought to 17 the number employed to control the hazard, but with the dispute between the miners and the company this was reduced to two.

The Miike coal mine was then once again on the upswing, experiencing a great increase in production. Not only was there a decrease in the number of workers used for explosion security, but the number of coal-transportation and machine-operation workers was also reduced. The number of workers employed outside the mine was also decreased so that they could be used in the mine. As a result of these factors, many accidents occurred. In 1961, 16 labourers were killed, which was a higher toll than for any other year since 1951. Also, 1,922 persons were seriously injured. Table 5.2 provides an indication of the death-rate per 1,000 man-days. In November 1960, before the reorganization of the mine following the labour dispute, the death-rate was 0.4 persons per 1,000 man-days, but after the dispute it climbed to 1.2 persons. Leading up to the worst disaster in the Miike mine, month by month and year by year these death-rate figures increased.

II. Modernization of the coal mine and labour conditions

The increases in production levels at the mine produced an intensification of labour activity; the modernization and mechanization was motivated by the strong rivalry with the oil industry. Because of the mechanization of the mining and product transportation methods, labourers suffered from ever-increasing hardships. The mechanization of the coal mine in the post-war era started in 1948 when a flat-bed-type belt conveyor was imported from the Federal Republic of Germany. If the speed of mining operations was too slow, the belt would not function properly, and this increased pressure on the labourers to speed up their extraction efforts.

In 1956, a coal planer was introduced from the Federal Republic of Germany. This equipment, which cut the bottom of the coal seam with its very sharp edges, made much deeper cuts than the equipment the miners had been using previously. Thus the coal wall, after being cut out by this new machine' would fall immediately on the conveyor belt and be carried away at once. The belt conveyor was forced up against the coal seam through the action of water pressure; then the belt conveyor with the coal planer was brought forward to the coal wall for cutting and immediate extraction. With the old method, dynamite was used to blow out the coal-seam wall, but the new system eliminated most of the intermediate mining processes.

Because of the introduction of this system, the speed at which mining took place was increased by a factor of two. The pillars that supported the ceiling of the mine had to be moved faster - water pressure was used to provide the locomotion necessary to move these supports. Also, with the use of pressurized water, the coal-seam cutter speed was increased by a factor of four. Because of this great increase in productivity all efforts had to be increased, from the coal-cutting processes to the coal-transportation systems.

With this came an increase in the activity of the miners as the pressures for increased productivity were brought ever more forcefully to the workplace. There was no room in the production schedules for the maintenance of safety or reduction of hazards. Mechanization meant that workers were forced to attend to one machine after the other in a very difficult subterranean environment. Under these circumstances, crisis conditions increased as mechanization progressed.

The working conditions in coal mines are so bad that any comparison with the worst conditions in surface factories provides no adequate understanding of the difficulties involved. The pressure on workers underground is such that they are under continual stress. When the pillars that support the roof begin to weaken, rocks fall and much injury results. There is also the risk of a sudden injection of underground water or problems produced by pockets of methane gas. Fire is the main hazard in both surface and underground mines, while rocks and water are also major sources of danger. Any crisis is magnified by the enclosed spaces that are an inherent aspect of underground operations. The transportation systems for taking out the coal and bringing in tools spread throughout the underground maze like a great spider's web, and hold the potential for even greater crises. Rocks fall on the workers, and the coal and rock dust produces any number of lung ailments. Increased productivity is bought at the cost of workers" health and safety. It was inevitable that the mechanization of the coal mine should result in a vast increase in the number of crisis situations.

Table 5.3. On-the-job Injury Rates for Different Industrial Sectors




Iron and steel




Transport and communications









































a. Injury rate = (Deaths and injuries)/(Man-hours x 1,000,000)

Source: Rodo tokei yoran (Labour Statistics).

During 1959, the labour union at the Miike coal mine was very active in the safety movement. Among the 11,711 persons in the union, there was one death, 1,190 serious injuries, and 1,753 slight injuries: thus injury and death were at a 25 per cent level. After the dispute between the union and the company in 1961, there were 10,946 union members and the injury and death rate went up to 38 per cent of the membership, or 4,230 persons.

The death and injury rate was higher for coal and other mineral mining than for any other industry, as is clearly seen from table 5.3.

The most dangerous hazard in any type of mining is that of coal-dust explosions. At the end of the nineteenth and into the beginning of the twentieth century, in confluence with the rapid worldwide growth of the mining sector, mine explosions occurred with ever-increasing frequency and scale in Europe, the United States of America, and Japan. In 1906, the Curie mine in France experienced a massive explosion which killed 1,000 people. From that time on, the mechanisms of mine explosions were clarified and their number decreased. However, in Japan alone there was no reduction in coal-mine explosions. The lessons learned by the international community on this score were not applied in Japan.

As was indicated earlier, safety personnel at the Miike mine had been greatly reduced in number in order that more people could be placed on the production lines. In a word, the mine was being operated with almost no attention to safety and explosion prevention. On 9 November 1963, an explosion occurred in the Mikawa area of the Miike mine, as a result of which 458 persons were killed and 839 suffered from carbon monoxide poisoning. It is clear that this tragedy occurred as a result of the neglect of mining safety.

III. The worst of the coal-dust-related mine explosions

In relation to coal mines, and also to other large-scale plants like petrochemical complexes, the most important aspects of plant planning and construction are the preparations for possible worst-case accidents. In the case of coal-mining, coal dust represents the greatest hazard.

In the first place, the scale of coal-mine explosions is considerable. Explosions can be sparked by methane gas filling certain areas that are not properly ventilated. Coal-dust explosions, however, present a particular problem, because coal dust is something that is produced at every point in the mining process and accumulates, through the movement of air and the transportation of coal, on the floors, walls, and ceilings of the mine, all the way from the mine entrance to the deepest shafts. Therefore, when a small explosion occurs somewhere in the mine, it is followed by a chain reaction fuelled by the coal dust, and the resulting explosion envelops the entire mine infrastructure.

In the second place, coal-dust explosions are the worst type of explosion because there is a great amount of carbon monoxide produced. As a result of this, many mine workers continue to suffer from the long-term after-effects of carbon monoxide poisoning even if they are lucky enough to be rescued alive. Methane gas explosions create carbon monoxide when the density of the gas is high, but if there is not much gas it is more often than not dispersed in the air. However, in coal-dust explosions the story is a very different one. Coal dust, being a solid rather than a gas, does not burn completely, and high-density coal-dust clouds can be formed. This prevents adequate air circulation, contributing to the production of carbon monoxide. Even if a coal-dust explosion does not spread throughout the length and breadth of the mine, the resulting carbon monoxide gas does in fact spread in this way and all the workers are poisoned. The Miike mine explosion of 1963 was a good example of this.

There is very little methane gas in the coal seams of the Miike mine. Thus, the possibility of a gas explosion is relatively low and, even if such an explosion came about, the possibility of its initiating a coal-dust explosion is likewise low. Therefore, in the case of the Miike mine, it is clear that some factor caused the dispersal of the coal dust throughout the mine and some ignition source produced the explosion. There are two possible locations where the conditions for starting an explosion are ideal; one is at the seam working face, and the other on the mining slope.

The Miike mine owners were very careless in relation to coal-dust prevention procedures during mining operations. In order to prevent coal-dust explosions it is necessary to keep the dust out of the air by continuously sprinkling the area with water. Alternatively, rock dust, which is incombustible, can be mixed with the coal dust to prevent a chain reaction.

However, on the first mining slope, there were absolutely no preventative measures taken in relation to the problem. According to the testimony of mine workers at the Fukuoka Prosecutor's Office, one to two centimetres of coal dust had accumulated even at the location of the switch-box for the high-voltage system in the mine, and the walls were black with dust. The Fukuoka Mine Safety Department required that coal dust be cleaned away once a week, but, in locations where cleaning was difficult because of the height of the walls and ceiling, no such cleaning had taken place. Thus, the risk of a large dust explosion was inherent in the coal-mining operation, especially when conditions existed that could provide the initial detonation.

IV. The Miike coal-mine explosion of 9 November 1963

At 3.12 p.m. on 9 November 1963, a thunderous explosion took place. At the bottom of the first mining level, ten of the four-wheeled carts filled with coal were being hauled to the surface. One of the lower three carts derailed and, because of the tension thereby created, the chain of the third cart broke. At 1,180 metres from the entrance, eight cars began a free-fall run to the bottom of the mine. They ran free for about 360 metres, increasing their speed by 33 metres per second, the momentum breaking archway support frames in the mine. Then all of the carts were derailed and turned over. At this point the explosion took place.

The rapid air displacement caused by the high-speed carts created air cur rents which caused the settled coal dust to mix with the surrounding air. It is possible that the friction caused by the carts turning over produced the spark that ignited the coal dust; alternatively, the crashing carts could have damaged the high-voltage cables, and this could have been the ignition point for the explosion. The compression caused by the explosion moved toward the mine entrance, and, 100 metres from the first explosion, a powerful second explosion was created. It has been estimated that the wind created by this second explosion was probably travelling at a rate of 1,000 metres per second. The compression from the second explosion, as it headed toward the bottom of the mine, fortunately did not touch off another explosion, but the carbon monoxide that was created by the two explosions spread throughout the entire mine, creating a disastrous poisoning situation.

At that time the second shift of workers (2 to 10 p.m.) had just started entering the mine, and some of the first-shift workers (6 a.m. to 2 p.m.) were in the process of leaving. Twenty people were killed by the direct effects of the explosions, but 438 died from acute carbon monoxide poisoning, and 839 suffered the after-effects of poisoning. 1,197 of the 1,403 workers in the mine at the time were either killed by the explosions or suffered from carbon monoxide poisoning. There is to date no other coal-mine accident in the world that has produced such a large number of casualties.

Amazingly, the Mitsui Coal Mine Company management had no knowledge of the coal-dust explosion problem. Most labourers believed that coal-dust explosions were caused by methane gas explosions and therefore were not open to ignition from other causes. Since the coal mine contained almost no methane gas it was believed that coal-dust explosions there were an impossibility. This explosion was to dislodge that myth very effectively. If management had shown a greater sense of responsibility toward the potential for coal-dust explosions, appropriate methods of avoiding such disasters would have been taken, cutting down the damage done and minimizing the danger to life and health.

V. Increased numbers of gas-poisoning victims due to a lack of education

The number of deaths and injuries resulting from the explosions was greatly increased by the carbon monoxide problem. In other words, had the carbon monoxide and other poison gases generated by the explosions been isolated in the immediate area, the amount of death and injury could have been kept to a minimum. However, the mining company did not make any efforts to provide for such eventualities. Moreover, it would seem that the company neglected to educate its workers in relation to the potential for gas poisoning. Indeed, it provided misinformation by spreading the "myth" that coal-dust explosions were impossible in the Miike mine.

If the company was unaware of the relationship between dust explosions and the generation of poison gases, then it can only be said that it was irresponsible in the extreme. In most cases the explosion victims were not injured in a physical manner, and many of the corpses recovered from the mine showed no scars or scratches at all, since they were victims of monoxide poisoning. Many of those rescued alive showed very severe symptoms of monoxide poisoning.

The Mitsui Coal Mining Company was aware of these facts but made no attempts to rescue the workers. It indicated that, because of the breakdown of electricity and telephone communications in the mine after the explosions, conditions inside were unclear, and therefore it was too risky to send in rescue crews. One must infer from these statements that management was willing for the 1,400 workers trapped inside the mine to be subjected to the possibility of pervasive monoxide poisoning, with no hope of rescue.

The miners of Miike were angered by the situation, feeling that responsible persons should go immediately into the mine with oxygen tanks. While management was safe from the problem, there were workers in the mine who were at 350- to 450-metre depths and 8 kilometres from the entrance in tunnels. These workers did not know about the explosions and were forced to remain below ground without electricity or telephones. Figure 5.1 is a sectional layout of the mine where the explosion took place. The encircled numbers above the line indicate those who died because of the explosions, and those below the line indicate those workers present when the explosions took place.

Fig. 5.1. Manning Chart at the Time of Explosion (after Miike Roso, "(s.38. 11.g mikawako daibakuhatsu) shozoku rosobetsu hisai basho hyo," Miike karano hokoku dan 3 shuu).

Note: Circled figures indicate the number of miners assigned (figure below the line) and the number of deaths (figure above the line) at each station.

The workers who knew about the explosion numbered approximately 200, who were located close to the bottom of a neighbouring mine shaft. About SO who were close to the site of the explosions died as a direct result of the conflagration or from the poison gas generated by the sudden combustion. Another 150 workers heard the explosion at a location where they were waiting for the lift out of the mine. They were told by officers not to move but to wait. These people lost their chance to Bet away from the destruction and died as a result of monoxide poisoning. Therefore, of the 200 people who knew about the explosion, none of them were able to go and tell the other workers of the seriousness of the problem. Figure S. 1 indicates that at a depth of 450 metres there were 120 workers, none of whom died. At 350 metres more workers died. It is said that at 450 metres there was air circulation from the Mitsui Company's Yotsuyama mine, whereas at the 350-metre level there were no provisions for isolating the poison gases and a ventilation fan worked to increase the rate at which the gas filled the area. The workers who were at this level knew nothing of the explosion and, believing that clean air was being brought into their area, died while on their way to the lift.

Instead of stopping the air-circulation fan, management continued its operation, thereby ensuring a more rapid spread of the poisons. The workers did not know about the gas problem and followed directions to use the passage that was normally used for ventilation; however, this was already filled with poisonous gas.

As a result of these management blunders, 438 persons lost their lives unnecessarily. There were 939 workers saved, but 839 of these suffered from serious carbon monoxide poisoning. Many more might have been saved if the company had taken immediate emergency action or had made preparations beforehand for such eventualities.

VI. Almost complete absence of a security policy

The rules for rescuing carbon monoxide victims are as follows:

1. If a person looks well and is running out of the problem area, his stage of poisoning is probably well advanced.

2. Poisoning victims should not walk.

3. Poisoning victims should be carried out of the problem area into fresh air for treatment as soon as possible.

These three rules were laid down in 1936 by a medical doctor who had experienced many explosion accidents and had treated many patients at Mitsui Mining's Yamano Mine Hospital. However, the Mitsui Mining Company did not follow these rules.

In the first instance, it took more than two hours after the explosion for a rescue team to be formed with the participation of workers outside the mine and from other mines. When the first crew of 22 workers reached the 350-metre depth it was already 6 p.m.' and the poisoning victims had already been breathing poisons for about three hours. The situation was such that victims could in no way be carried out into the fresh air as soon as possible, since the rescue operations had been considerably delayed.

The Mitsui Mining Company must have been aware that the explosion took place at 3.12 p.m. and that 30 minutes after the explosion the gas victims were already suffering in the mine. Some victims escaped to the entrances to the Yotsuyama and Miyaura mines through connecting tunnels (fig. 5. 1), and through this the Mitsui Mining Company headquarters most likely received a report on the poisoning problem. By 4 p.m. at the latest company headquarters had received news of conditions at the three locations (350, 450, and 520 metres) from which workers had been evacuated. In spite of this, rescue teams were sent into the mine two hours after these reports had been received. During this two-hour period, workers trapped in the mine were suffering from gas poisoning and were trying to help each other find safe areas in the darkness. During this same period also, many workers died.

The second problem lay with the fact that the rescue teams made a miscalculation in that they were concerned only with rescuing those who looked most seriously ill. In other words, they carried out only those who had lost consciousness, while those who looked as though they were still able to move or who looked well were required to walk to the mine entrance. Some whose legs below the knees were completely numb still had to walk out of the mine supported by others. The rules for handling carbon monoxide victims are, first of all, those who look most well are most probably very seriously sick, and, secondly, victims should not be allowed to walk. Neither of these rules were followed in any way.

The third problem lay in the fact that those who were monoxide poisoning victims had to help rescue other workers. Those same poisoned workers who looked unharmed went back into the mine as rescue workers. Information gleaned after the accident indicates that 227 workers who were already poisoning victims were employed to help those who could not walk out of the mine. Furthermore, those who had been initially involved in rescue work should not have been made to go back into the mine a second time for further rescue efforts. Table 5.4 compares the number of workers who appeared to be well after coming out of the mine with the small number of those same workers who were able to work afterwards.

There is no other explanation but that the original intention of the company was to use the poison gas victims as rescue crews in order to minimize the labour force losses that would have followed an increase in the number of workers involved in the rescue operations. If the company had been concerned with the health of workers, the instituted measures would have been very different. Rescue crews should have gone into the mine at once and safety provisions should have been made for the rescue workers. But neither of these measures were taken. The company knew that rescue crew members would suffer from monoxide poisoning after entering the mine, and the measures taken to deal with this problem were as poor as those taken to rescue workers from the mine. As a matter of fact, of the 800 people assigned to rescue work only 323 were brought in from the Mitsui Company's Myaura and Yotsuyama mines, leaving the rest of the workers at these other mines unaware of and uninvolved in the rescue of 1,400 of their endangered fellow-workers.

Table 5.4. Physical Condition of Miners Engaged in Rescue Work after Suffering Monoxide Poisoning

Condition of consciousness at the time of mobilization

Post-incident condition


Number mobilized


Regained consciousness prior to mobilization


Relatively normal


Resting at home



Elevator 21 (down)









Retired 2

Elevator 26 (up)









Retired 7

Elevator 36 (up)









Dead 1







Unknown 1












Source: Kyoto Kenkyuukai Hen, Kyuuen dankai ni okeru mitsui kozan no fuho sekinin no tsuikyuu, p. 58.

As was indicated previously, rescue crews went into the mine without knowing anything about the carbon monoxide problem and without any protection against it and the other poison gases present. Not only that, the company gave no explanation to the rescue crews as to the nature of the accident or the purpose of the rescue mission, and many of the crew members were sent into the mine reluctantly. After reaching the problem area they saw at once that the problem derived from a coal-dust explosion that resulted in poison gases. They were told to hold hands with each other as they went into the rescue area, and were also ordered to bring out first only those who were still breathing. This was done without oxygen tanks and in an area that was filled with poison gas.

Besides the rescue crew members, who had no protection from or knowledge of the nature of the problem and the poisons involved, there was a group of people in white uniforms and with oxygen tanks whose business it was to determine the density of the carbon monoxide using special instruments. But these people were sent into the mine not to help with the rescue operation but to determine the damage done and to replace the telephone lines and other equipment items in order that the mine could be reopened as soon as possible. In contrast to the rescue workers, they were very well equipped, which indicates that management was not serious about rescuing the victims of the explosion. Therefore, because the company showed so little concern for rescue operations and followed none of the rules for saving carbon monoxide poisoning victims, the Mitsui Miike explosion resulted in the largest coal-mine disaster in the history of mining.

VII. Fatal mistakes made in the early stages of treatment

Carbon monoxide poisoning victims should be treated on the basis of the following ten principles.

1. Physical examinations should be provided for all workers immediately after they have come out of the mine.

2. Correct information on each of the workers should be gathered so that there are data on location during the accident, the degree of consciousness, the condition of the location where the worker was, and the manner in which the worker escaped.

3. Workers should be reassured and kept quiet.

4. Good ventilation and warmth should be provided.

5. Emergency treatment should be provided for the seriously injured.

6. Immediate action should be taken to give blood transfusions, etc.

7. Individual examinations and treatment should be provided relative to the condition of each patient.

8. Regular observations should be provided for a certain length of time.

9. Appropriate treatment should be provided for mental conditions, especially in the early stages.

10. Families should be given guidance in the care of patients.

Even though the situation after the explosion was confused, the response of the Mitsui Mining Company was far from appropriate as far as these ten principles are concerned. It is not a question as to whether the victims came out of the mine on the same day or were rescued the next day. The point is that 939 people reached the entrance to the mine and, even with differences in the concentration of the carbon monoxide gas, all were carbon monoxide poisoning victims; however, they were not treated as such. The company ordered the hospitalization of only 412 workers and 572 were made to walk home.

The company management made judgements as to who should be hospitalized and who should not on the basis of whether workers could walk or not. They did not ask questions as to the condition of the location from which a worker had come, whether the worker had felt the explosion or not, or how the worker got out of the mine. They paid no attention to workers who were conscious but complained about headaches and nausea, hospitalizing only those who were unconscious or who seemed in a serious condition.

Figure 5.2 shows the conditions of the workers coming out of the mine as criteria for hospitalization. Among the workers who were directed to go home on foot, over 20 per cent were suffering from dizziness or faintness. For those who have any knowledge of carbon monoxide poisoning, it is easily understood that allowing victims to walk home is a very dangerous policy.

Management gave only a shot of vitamins to workers who had lost consciousness and mandarin oranges to those who appeared to be well. Absolutely none of the essential principles for treating carbon monoxide poisoning were maintained. Instead of allowing 530 of the workers to go home immediately, these workers should have been kept still and given appropriate medical treatment, and then the families should have been given guidance on how to handle the effects of monoxide poisoning. If this action had been taken, there would have been fewer cases of worsening health.

After the victims had gone home, they were kept busy meeting family and friends who were overjoyed to discover that they were alive. Furthermore, they also had to attend the funerals of those who had died in the disaster and visit their sick friends in hospital. In the meantime, they drank alcoholic beverages freely, which is the worst possible thing for a monoxide poisoning victim to do. Therefore, the basic rule of keeping quiet was very difficult to maintain. Most of those who went home were at a stage in the poisoning that needs very careful handling.

The monoxide poisoning victims who were hospitalized were also not treated according to the rules pertaining to this type of poisoning. They were not allowed to remain quiet because of the noise and confusion in the hospitals, and thus were subject to constant agitation. The company's hospital had 384 beds, but on the day of the mine explosion there were only 83 available. Against this backdrop, a very large number of unconscious patients were carried in and placed in operating rooms, preparation rooms, doctors' examination rooms, and waiting rooms. All of the floor space available was used to house victims, but no more than 361 additional patients could be taken in. The rest of the victims were divided among the other hospitals in the city.

Fig. 5.2. Conditions of Surviving Victims at and following the Time of Rescue (after Kyoto Kenkyuukai Hen, Kyuuen dankai ni okeru mitsui kozan no fuho sekinin no tsuikyuu, p. 76).

After coming out of their comas, many of the patients would go into wild shouting spasms, start crying, or become violent. Patients would look around the hospital in search of their relatives, and this would cause agitation that resulted in inter-family feuding. The rooms were filled with tobacco smoke. The conditions in the hospitals were of the worst possible kind.

There was no treatment available, no medical examinations, and no medicine. Most of the victims were left to fend for themselves, as the doctors were too busy taking care of the seriously ill patients and disposing of the corpses.

VIII. Carbon monoxide poisoning

Carbon monoxide poisoning is a condition in which there is an extreme lack of oxygen in the bloodstream and the body owing to the fact that carbon monoxide (CO) combines with blood haemoglobin (Hb) more readily than oxygen; with the oxygen replaced by monoxide in the body, the nerve cells of the brain, which need oxygen more than any other cells, begin to degenerate rapidly and within a short time are destroyed. Once the brain cells are dead, even if bodily health returns there are certain functions associated with the brain which never return. This is fully understood in medical circles. In serious cases, the brain is destroyed to the extent that the personality is lost and the patient becomes a living vegetable. In lighter poisoning cases, such as those seen in the Miike mine disaster, patients would regain their health but the poisoning problem would remain dormant until triggered by some change in the balance of forces in the body; they would then suffer convulsions' vomiting, headaches, dizziness, loss of the sense of balance, loss of concentration, loss of memory, and other personality changes. These facts are well known to the medical profession.

From table 5.5 it can be seen that the mine workers had been exposed to the extent that they had a 30 to 40 per cent concentration of CO-Mb in their blood. However, if oxygen levels in the blood are reduced because of carbon monoxide, and patients are then taken from the gas-polluted area and given oxygen, gradually the carbon monoxide in the blood will be replaced by oxygen so long as this oxygen is not being consumed by other forms of bodily activity. This is the most effective way of dealing with monoxide poisoning in its early stages.

Therefore, the most basic rule in mine rescue work is to prohibit walking and other bodily exercise, and this means that very careful attention must be given to people who look as if they are perfectly healthy. A good supply of fresh air is another basic form of treatment in the early stages of poisoning. In reality, however, no suitable treatment was provided for several hundred workers and these workers suffered various degrees of brain damage because of the misjudgements of mine management.

Table 5.5 Symptoms Resulting from Various Levels of CO-Mb in the Blood

CO-Mb %



No symptoms except shortness of breath after physical labour


Slight headache with feelings of pressure toward the front of the head. Shortness of breath with medium exertion


Bad headaches, feelings of emotional excitement, insecurity, increase in the number of mistakes made, loss of memory, and rapid tiring


Severe headache, weakness, vomiting, dizziness, loss of sight, confusion


Great confusion, hallucinations, difficulty in walking, difficulty in breathing, mental stupor


Unconsciousness, coma, periodic convulsions. difficulty in breathing, weak and fast pulse, pinkness or pallor of face

60 70

Deep coma, loss of sphincter control


Deep coma, loss of reflexes, weak pulse, shallow and irregular breathing, involuntary bodily movement

Over 80

Breathing stops and death follows rapidly

Source: Koichi Ushio, "Carbon Monoxide Toxicity," in Toyohiko Miura, ed., New Handbook for Workers' Health, p. 772.

IX. Unlimited human rights exploitation

The loss of life and health cannot be compensated with money or other material goods. But for those who are victimized by the system, it is necessary to provide living expenses and to guarantee medical treatment. In the case of the Mitsui Miike coal-mine explosion the victims received very poor compensation.

For the 458 deaths, compensation was set at 500,000 yen ($1,400 at an exchange rate of 360 yen to the dollar) or 400,000 yen ($1,120) for condolence money and 100,000 yen ($480) for the funeral costs. The initial proposal by the company was 100,000 yen ($480) per death, but the Miike mine labour union demanded one million yen ($2,800), and the negotiations concluded at the 400,000 yen ($1,120) level.

Up to that time the mining companies had not paid any money to victims' families when a death occurred. This common understanding among mine-owners was brought into question when the Miike mine union demanded compensation. The executives of the union thought that the one million yen ($2,800) demand was rather high, as did the Sohyo (National Organization of Labour Unions), and in this regard the Miike mine workers were heavily criticized even by their own union organizations. This is a reflection of just how cheap life is when it comes to the profit-oriented use of working people.

On the same day as the Miike coal-mine explosion, there was a double train crash that took place at Tsurimi on the Tokaido Line in the Yokohama area. The families of the 161 people who lost their lives in this accident received 5 million yen ($14,000) per person, with a baby being compensated to the tune of 2 million yen ($5,600). Against this background the labourers at the mine would say that if one is to die it is better to die in a plane or train accident than in a coal-mine explosion, simply because the level of compensation is higher. The women who lost their husbands realized that the lives of their men were valued at much less than the baby who died in the double train accident.

Of those killed in the mine accident, 163 were members of the Miike mine labour union, 242 belonged to a second union called Shinro, 25 were members of the Shokuin union and 28 were from a supply of day-labourers. Only the Miike mine union demanded compensation for the families who lost their menfolk. However, even this union was unable to get the company to cover medical expenses for those suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning, as opposed to simple compensation for the family.

Not only those who lost sons and husbands. but also many of the families of the 839 living victims, had to endure great suffering. Of the latter, 744 victims received notices that they were considered recovered and that their medical payments would end on 26 October 1966, just three years after the incident. Only 26 people were entitled to long-term medical cover, and 59 depended on company decisions as to whether their medical payments would continue or not. Ten people were still missing.

Most of the 744 victims who had been declared "recovered" by the Ministry of Labour were. in fact, still suffering from the after-effects of carbon monoxide poisoning, showing such symptoms as mental disorder or physical weakness. However, the Mitsui Mining Company sent back-to-work orders to these people after their medical treatment had been terminated. Under these circumstances the 744 had to return to work in the mine or be forced to quit their jobs.

Because of the untenability of the situation the Miike labour union returned the back-to-work orders and the medical treatment termination notices with a request that the patient victims be re-examined. Twenty per cent of the Shinro union members and 1 per cent of the office workers' union took the same action. Those who did not return the back-to-work orders were to receive training so that they could begin work again. In this situation there were two possibilities to choose from: to go back to doing the same mining work as before, or to work outside the mine. Work in the mine was very dangerous for the victims of the previous accident; however, work outside the mine, while being less dangerous, only paid half the income of work inside.

Table 5.6 provides some indication of the status of the victims as of 1978. A very small number of the total went back to mining operations, but the number of day-labourers who went back was greater. The Miike mine union was at loggerheads with the company over the question of preventing a recurrence of the same kind of accident in the mine, insisting that people made sick by the explosion should not have to return to the work they did before. They insisted that their work should be safe, even if they had to accept lowered payments, and on this basis the union was determined to find other avenues for compensation.

Table 5.6. Status of 839 Victims of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning (as of 31 July 1978)





Day labourer








Victims declared







Returned to work

In mine











I 185













Missing after retirement






Retired with pension






Died while receiving pension






Died while under observation












Source: Miike Kogyosho Shirabe, S 38 nen CO chuudoku kanjato genkyo shirabe.

The poster showing the instant of the coal-dust explosion publicized a protest mass rally held at Ohmuta City Hall 17 years after the disaster.

Most of the day-labourers who had been accident victims went back to the mine. In this situation they were placed in the most difficult and dangerous circumstances. Those who had carbon monoxide poisoning symptoms walked unsteadily, and had great difficulty keeping their balance. As a result, more people were injured. These victims did not have the power of concentration needed to operate the machines, and some of them were killed or badly injured in accidents with machines.

The Miike mine labour union demanded a re-examination of the level of compensation provided by the company, but this demand was rejected by management. Finally medical expenses were provided for 737 victims of the disaster, as the company came to recognize the needs of these people. The Miike mine labour union continued their efforts to get the company to provide safe working conditions outside the mine for the victims, with the idea of rehabilitating them. In 1971, such working places were provided, and these were called the Manza and Shinko shops. At the Manza shop there was mainly flower-growing, tree nurseries, farming, and bamboo work; this was designed to employ the badly affected victims of the mine explosion. The Shinko shop was for those less affected and offered work repairing mine equipment. These programmes were established in order to protect the human rights of these workers as well as to provide meaningful employment so as to maintain pride and emotional stability.

X. Filing of suits for damage compensation

Compensation annuity payments were made to victims who had been so severely mentally damaged by the carbon monoxide as to be unable to recognize their own wives. In many cases the victims would offer violence to their family after they had returned home from the hospital, and it became increasingly clear that they were often unable to control their own emotions. In these situations, wives were required to earn the income to support the family.

These personality changes were seen among the less obviously affected victims, and for family members this radical alteration in the sum and substance of personality was difficult to deal with in the extreme. On 6 November 1972, two families who included four monoxide poisoning victims took their cases to court and demanded compensation from the Mitsui Coal Mining Company. The demand was for 20 million yen ($84,000) per family and 30 million yen ($126,000) per victim. By April 1973, a total of four families and eight victims had taken their cases to court.

On 11 May 1973, 161 families who had lost sons and husbands in the explosion, along with another 259 victims of the accident, had also entered the court struggle to seek damage compensation. The court struggle of the 259 victims is supported by the Miike coal-mine labour union, while the family cases are being fought by the particular families involved. The demands made by the 259 victims are 34,500,000 yen ($151,800) per death, 23,000,000 yen ($101,000) for patients requiring long-term hospitalization, and 11,500,000 yen ($50,600) for each of the other victims.

Ten years before, the demands were at the one million yen ($2,800) level for each death, and even this small amount was criticized by the labour unions as being too much. But with the changes in the social climate. these demands were more in line with damage claims made in relation to other forms of death and destruction emanating from technological civilization.

The court battles being waged in the civil courts are oriented toward the extraction of compensation funds from the company, but the real goal of the struggle is to get the company to change the conditions in the mine that lead to coal-dust explosions. The court proceedings provide a forum through which it has been demonstrated that the mine management completely ignored the safety of the workers, to the extent that conditions in the mine were dangerous in the extreme. A coal-dust explosion was the inevitable result of this neglect and irresponsibility.

Another purpose of the court struggle is to clarify the rights of mine workers in general. Their lives were treated as being of less value than that of a baby lost in a train accident. The families of the Miike mine workers, after their long struggle, have come to realize that the labour union movement should have as a priority the protection of the lives and health of labouring people.


Hoshino, Y. Mitsui miike CO saiban niokeru kokuhatsu no ronri [The Logic of Prosecuting Mitsui in the Miike Carbon Monoxide Case]. Hoshino Yoshiro chosa-kushuu [Collected Writings of Yoshiro Hoshino], vol. 7. Keiso Shobo, 1978.

Kyuushuu Kozan Gakkai. Sekitanko Bakuhatsu Yobo Chosa Iinkai Hen. Bobaku taisaku tanjin bakuhatsu hen. Hakua Shobo, 1950.

Mashiko, Y. Mitsui jigoku kara haiagare [Climb up from the Hell Created by Mitsui]. Gendaishi Shuppankai, 1975.

Miike Tanko Rodokumiai Hen. Miike 20 nen shiryouhen [20 Years of Data on Miike]. Rodo Junposha, 1968.

(introductory text...)

Nobuko Iijima

I. Toward an understanding of pollution victims

Pollution, occupational hazards, and consumer health problems caused by flawed or poisonous products have been more effective in inducing citizen-based mass movements than any other type of social disaster since the beginning of Japan's period of modernization. All these problems are interconnected through a single extensive root system.

Pollution problems are derived from a set of conditions that are related to health damage caused in the work environment; the effects of this are felt far beyond the industrial workplace in the form of health problems related to consumer goods. The problems extend outward from the factory, to the small circle of the community. and then to the larger circle of the nation - a process in which labour disasters' pollution problems, and then consumer problems are all interconnected in a single nexus of cause and effect.

Theoretically, and in reality, workers occupational hazards precede environmental pollution problems, but public understanding in regard to the initiating phenomena and the ever-widening circle of related events is very different. There have been many situations in which a problem is perceived first as an environmental issue within the context of wider public response, and then afterwards industrial disasters and occupational diseases come to be understood as stemming from the same causes. Historically, occupational hazards have not been seen as serious problems by the workers themselves, and by the time some workers come to realize the gravity of a particular set of circumstances. the problem has already spilled over into society as a whole and has assumed a new level of seriousness.

As potential victims become victims in reality, the situation gives rise to an ever-widening circle where people are given neither relief from the problem nor monetary compensation for their suffering. These people simply give up.

In most instances, the victims of pollution problems and occupational disasters are people on the lower rungs of the social ladder. Similarly, those who have been poisoned by consumer goods are widely dispersed, so that it has been difficult to organize meaningful protest and resistance. Even if an organization has got off the ground, those wishing to suppress it have easily been able to exploit its weaknesses.

With the exception of a few resistance movements that had their roots in the turbulent times before the Second World War, pollution victims have only been able to organize in the last 20 years or so. However, there are still many disaster victims who have not yet been able to understand the cause of their problems nor take any corrective action, and in such instances the related destruction simply continues, claiming more and more victims.

Under these circumstances, government administrative organs, which are supposed to discover which people have been victimized and then to try to find a remedy, simply take advantage of the ambivalence of the situation. For example, the publications of the Environmental Protection Agency contain various statistics on publicly recognized pollution victims, but these statistics include no reference to the adverse effects of the problems on the families of those victimized. Governmental agencies are interested not in the quality of human life but rather in lowering the numbers of officially recognized pollution victims.

There is little hope of change in the social attitudes of government organizations while the government continues to base its authority on the very business organizations that are at the root of the environmental problems. There also will be little chance of obtaining financial aid for the weak in society who have sustained such incredible suffering. But even within this context, it is essential that the conditions surrounding pollution victims be fully understood, so that the damage that is done can be minimized and help for the suffering provided.

Therefore, it is necessary to clarify the structures at the root of the problems that are being ignored by Japanese corporate structures, the Japanese government, and the community of scholars - all these groups being co-originators of the environmental problems.

II. The structures of environmental destruction

Environmental destruction and its attendant social structures are an interwoven fabric made up of the loci, or levels of damage, and various social factors.

1. The Four Loci of Destruction

The four loci of pollution-related destruction, occupational hazards, and consumer health problems are (1) human life and health, (2) living situations, (3) personality, and (4) community environment and local society. Destruction related to 1, 2, and 3 is of a limited nature, while the concepts connected with 4 relate to a wider area of concern, in which whole family and community groups are affected. All of these levels or loci of destruction are, however, interrelated: the first three are initiated through close family interrelationships and come close upon the heels of collective disability derived from the wider destruction of a local human environment. The victims of destruction are people within local communities who fall prey to pervasive environmental damage, major industrial accidents, and faulty and dangerous consumer goods.

The first locus of destruction - an attack on life and health - includes such examples as the Minamata disease (organic mercury poisoning), Itai-itai disease (cadmium poisoning), arsenous acid poisoning, and air-pollution-related asthma. In relation to the work environment, industrial accidents and occupational diseases cause health problems in individuals, while in the consumer field, disasters caused mainly by medicine or food additives, such as the thalidomide poisonings, SMON (subacute myelo-optico-neuropathy) disease, Morinaga arsenic milk, and the Kanemi PCB-tainted rice oil, all result in the loss of individual life and health.

These problems are all serious and they result in a series of other interlocking problems centring on the second locus of destruction. When breadwinners die or their health is seriously compromised, this greatly affects all other family members. Not only is there a loss of economic viability but every aspect of life, such as living space, available time, living standards, human relations, and planning for the future, are also affected. The important aspects of life are all delicately balanced, and when there is destruction of life and health all the other elements are thrown out of kilter.

This destruction of health and life also leads on to the third locus of destruction, which is an adverse effect on the personality. In negotiations with the original polluters, with government agencies, in the reception of medical treatment, and in communication with members of the community and the mass media, pollution victims experience personality changes when not supported by others, and these changes manifest themselves in an accumulation of anger, hatred, and sorrow.

With the compounding of all these environmental problems, local communities become the victims. In the Ashio copper-mine incident, after a long history of protest. the results were the destruction of vast areas of farmland, the debilitation of countless victims and their families, and finally the creation of villages without inhabitants. In the areas around Minamata City where some of the victims have been restructuring their lives with the help of support groups, human relationships have been so badly ruptured that there is no hope of repair.

Environmental destruction that appears, on the surface at least, not to be related to individual families has in fact very serious social consequences for individual and family interrelationships, especially within the context of the socially and linguistically closed islands of Japan. Environmental destruction is directly related to the destruction of individual lives and to the quality of the life for all people. while the attendant destruction of community life also leads inevitable to further environmental destruction. In this same context, pollution-related destruction of the family unit extends outward to encompass also the totality of the human community.

Problems in the workplace that degrade the quality of life for workers also impinge on the families of these workers, wreaking havoc with the social relationships involved, especially in situations where families are geographically located within the vicinity of the workplace. Consumer disasters affect much wider communities. If the deleterious effects of pollution problems or industrial accidents are reflected in problems caused by consumer products, the destruction to individuals and society may be felt on the national level.

If local community dissolution and national environmental destruction are to be avoided, then the first line of defence should be the family. If the destruction of an ecosystem or a set of environments has already started, then policies that will encourage recovery should be adopted.

Besides these levels of destruction, the following elements are related to disaster situations, the extent and character of the damage being determined by various of the many conditions involved.

2. Social Factors Regulating the Degree of Environmental Duress

The degree of individual and social stress created in situations of environmental destruction depends on many factors such as the condition of the victim's health, the role of the victim at home, the social position and class of the victim's family, and the family's and victim's social groups. External factors that influence the situation are derived from the type of business the polluter is in, the orientations taken by the various levels of government administration, the access to medical care, the degree to which scholars from the academic community are involved in the problem, the role of the people at large, and interaction with the mass media.

1. The Degree of Damage to Human Health

The extent of the damage done to the victims of polluted environments will have greatly differing results for individual people, as secondary problems related to their living situation and personality bring their varying forces to bear.

If the damage is not serious and the individual victims are able to return to work, the ensuing problems will not be overwhelming and there will still remain the possibility of recovery, both for the victim and the family involved. But when the victim requires many years of treatment before even partial recovery is possible, or where remaining in bed is the only course open to the victim, then the suffering involved is almost impossible to measure because of its depth and gravity. The worst scenario is where there has been a loss of life, and the death of the victim leaves the family in a very difficult, if not impossible, situation.

2. The Role of the Victim and Interaction with the Family

If death due to an industrial accident has been visited on the breadwinner of a family, the complications that ensue are all too obvious. In such situations, the wife is forced to obtain income-producing work and children are sometimes obliged to give up school in order to care for younger children or to obtain work themselves. However hard they try to overcome the disaster, they are unable to regain the same standard of living, and all aspects of their lives become retrogressive in character.

If it is the wife and mother of the family that has become a victim of environmental pollution, the health problems involved are often so very extensive that the human relationships in the family become greatly altered.

If a young child is the victim, the burden on the mother is greatly increased, and family viability can be threatened. This is particularly the case for thalidomide babies and newborn infants suffering from mercury poisoning (Minamata disease). Even though the cause of the disaster may have been fully clarified, the suffering inflicted on the mother is increased by the fact that the poisoning was unwittingly administered through the food chain by the mother herself. This suffering and pain is often transformed into enormous energy that is devoted to the struggle against the polluters; at the same time, this externally directed energy can lead to the destruction of family relationships.

In these ways the social roles of the victims and the positions held by them in the families involved also determine to a great extent the degree of damage done to the family infrastructure. It cannot be said that when the breadwinner of the family becomes the victim of pollution, the strains on the family are greater than when a baby or child is the victim. It is generally understood that the differing familial roles held by the victims of pollution or industrial disaster result in differing levels and types of stress within the family.

3. Social Position and Class of the Victim's Family

When environmentally induced health problems are discovered in economically advantaged families, a great deal of medical attention can be purchased, thereby bringing about a greater possibility of recovery through rehabilitation. But when the family is economically disadvantaged, often the rehabilitation offered is inappropriate or treatment is given too late. Social status has a strong influence on whether the problems are discovered early or late and on whether treatment is delivered appropriately and at the right time. In other words, the degree of recovery is determined, at least partly, not only by the family's economic status but also by the extent to which it has social and economic contacts who have knowledge of medical treatment and information about possible avenues for rehabilitation. The information that is available to society as a whole should also be made available on the community level, and victims who are less well off should have access to the same benefits as the economically advantaged, so that problems of income loss do not have a disastrous effect upon the family and medical treatment is also assured. These benefits are simply not available to working people and to the mass of poor farmers and fishermen.

If the damage to health is stopped before it attains catastrophic proportions, then the secondary effects of poisoning and environmental disasters will be of a different nature. An early estimation of the damage done is the best method of containing the extent of the destruction. However, differences in socio-economic class and status have a great effect on the responses available to the victims of environmental pollution.

Even in the case of severe damage to health, victims' suffering will depend on the impact of the disease on their life as a whole. This differing degree of response depends on differentials in social status and economic class. The serious symptoms displayed by the victims of environmental pollution are a great shock to the families involved, but whether or not the burden to the particular family is lightened or not will depend greatly on economic level and access to sources of information.

4. The Social Group Surrounding Victim and Family

In these modern times, besides the various primary groups that people belong to, such as the family and neighbourhood groups, there are also other groups and activities that allow one to go beyond the boundaries of class and social status and attain a degree of upward mobility. Within the community there are neighbourhood organizations, women's groups, political organizations, and volunteer religious groups; and within the workplace there are the various social outlets and groupings associated with labour unions.

Some of these groups support members who have become victims of environmental disaster, providing back-up support to compensation demands made by the victims themselves. If these support groups are effective, there is a possibility of reducing the extent of the damage done, regardless of the victims' social group.

The Minamata disease was regarded as taboo within the affected community for a full 12 years after the first victims were discovered; but at that point support organizations were established, for example those related to certain political parties, those supported by volunteer organizations, or those organized under traditional leadership orientations. These were victims' organizations which confronted the polluting industry instead of being exploited by it, and in so doing were able to increase national understanding of the Minamata disease. The organizations sought to define and isolate the polluter by calling the activities of the polluter socially sanctioned murder. The health of the various victims compromised by the disaster will never return to normal, but, through their activities and organizations, they have been able to avoid the total destruction of their own personalities. They have also managed to get a certain amount of compensation, which has gone a long way toward sustaining a decent life-style. However, many of the disease victims refused to belong to any of these groups and rejected the Minamata disease victim label. These people remain in very dire straits economically, and regard the group-oriented victims with mixed feelings of envy and hatred.

In the case of the Miike coal-mine explosion, the victims belonged to four different groups - the Shokukumi (office workers' union), the Miike mine labour union, the Shinro (new union), and the Kumifu (day-labourers' group) - but only the Miike mine labour union, which is a Sohyo (national labour) organization, supported the victims. The Miike labour union established rehabilitation centres for those that found it difficult to return to work in the mine. The pay provided by these centres was low, but the working conditions were guaranteed safe and there was the constant support of the other union members. This was a good example of group action being able to reduce the number of secondary problems affecting the victims. This same Miike union also supported victims' families and the families of those who had died in the disaster, making efforts to reduce the amount of damage inflicted on those groups.

5. External Factors

While the victims and their support groups were involved in efforts at self-recovery, external factors generated by the polluting industry, governmental administrators, medical professionals, scholars, pro-industry citizens' groups, and the mass media more often than not had a negative impact.

The polluting industry would often ignore the victims and their families, at the same time contributing to the further injury to the already compromised social milieu. The situation was often aggravated by the activities of governmental bodies, medical practitioners, and the community of scholars. The mass media was completely uncaring in its attitude to the victims, and the wider community looked down on them, wounding the sensibilities involved and acting to violate further the integrity of the violated families.

The destruction occasioned by these varying interactive forces would differ with the level of the individual victim's health, the social position held by the victim, the role maintained by the victim in the family structure, the groups to which the victim belonged, and the relationships maintained with the varying sets of impinging external factors. The level of damage done and the conditions created by the damage would have a strong relation to the social structures involved. We are therefore concerned with the whole range of factors that make up the social structures surrounding the victims. Below, three such structures will be dealt with and examples of each offered.

III. Destruction of life and health: problems of damage recognition and certification

Loss of life and damage to health are the worst problems faced by pollution victims, though other problems related to these are also very serious.

In reality there are people who are not able to see the relationships between these issues. In first place come those in industrial circles who would rather not deal with the seriousness of the problems, while the government, in the form of its administrative agencies, shares this same extreme myopia. Further, medical professionals, who receive vast amounts of funds for their research projects from industrial sources, make every effort to change the statistics so as to make it appear that there are fewer victims of pollution than there in fact are; all of this they accomplish through using their positions of power within the academic and wider professional communities. There have been cases where even the neighbours of victims were led to believe, out of ignorance of medical matters, that the victim involved really had no particular medical problems.

Often industrial circles, governmental administrative agencies, and medical professionals have made use of a technique designed to question the veracity of the victim's claim to patient status. In the instance of the Minamata disease, government agencies, medical professionals and representatives of the polluting industry would without hesitation spread rumours that most of the damage victims seeking certification were only doing so in order to receive monetary compensation. These methods have not changed, although their effects have been resisted by the victims and their support groups. In reference to the Miike coal-mine explosion victims, the supporters of the mining industry and industry-paid medical professionals would call the victim's medical problems the "union disease." The labour union requested that this designation no longer be used, but this label continued to shape the understandings of the local community. The victims were further compromised by these tactics, and the government, along with the medical community and the advocates of industry, combined into a biaxial power dedicated to further striking down the various victims of industrial wastage.

The problem was even further exacerbated by the tendency of certain of the victims to support the denials of government and industry by asserting that they themselves were not victims of a particular pollution- or disaster-related infirmity. In the Ashio copper-mine incident, it was not the health status of the farmers that was at issue but rather the environmental destruction of the farming infrastructure. This was clear from the character of the negotiations between the farmers and industrial capitalists. It is often very difficult to establish clearly delineated causal relationships between an environmental poisoning and resulting health problems.

Until recently, the health problems experienced by working people in the work situation were understood to be the sole responsibility of the workers themselves. In the case of the Chisso Corporation, which was responsible for the Minamata disease. there were many cases of ruined health and loss of life among the labouring employees caused solely by the activities of the company; this was the case even prior to the discovery of the mercury poisoning disease among the general population. Although the Chisso Company labour union was a Sohyo (national labour organization) affiliate, it was unable to confront the Chisso Corporation in relation to the life-threatening and health-destroying conditions under which Chisso employees were forced to work. The main themes of worker life within the company were lunch-boxes and industrial-accident injuries.

Labour unions in Japan are organized into different groups according to the particular industrial sector involved. Thus it is difficult for them to confront their company counterparts in management because they are constantly told that their livelihood depends upon company profitability. In addition, the attitude of union leaders toward corporate management is typical Japanese human relationships in general, and is characterized by cohesiveness between the two groups.

In the post-Second World War period the labour union movement, as the vanguard of the many mass movements seen in that difficult period, were very much this type of organization, and in 1955 when the Morinaga arsenic milk poisoning case surfaced, or when the Minamata disease appeared in 1956, the general public did not think of these problems as violations of basic human rights. The victims and their families did not know what they could or should do when faced with the contamination of baby milk by arsenic or the poisoning of whole households by the mercury-tainted fish caught in Minimata Bay, after centuries of fishing in the same area with no sign of an environmental problem.

The companies causing this kind of destruction took advantage of the victims and their families, knowing that those who had been subjected to loss of life or health were isolated from other people and that they could therefore get away with paying very small amounts of money in compensation. These families, who found it very difficult to accept these small amounts, did not have the knowledge necessary to judge the adequacy of the solatia offered, and accepted them because they had no other choice in the matter. It took ten years for people to realize that these small amounts were entirely inadequate and that the companies' attitude of ignoring human rights should be challenged by demanding much higher levels of compensation. These realizations came not through the direct activities of the victims themselves, but through those of the victims' support organizations.

It was in the middle of the 1960s that the victims of the Miike coal-mine explosion received a minimum amount in compensation from the mining company. The mine workers were also aware of the fact that there were great differences in the amounts of compensation provided to them and those awarded to the victims of the railway train accident that took place on the same day. When people became more aware of the value of life, there was also an increase in the awareness that a premium value should be placed on health. Thus their increased awareness resulted in demands that both life and health should be restored. There is no way to return life once it has been lost, and it is also very difficult to restore lost health. As time passed, people realized that life and health are beyond human control and came to understand that corporations which profit from damage to life and health have a profound and abiding responsibility for the negative results of their activities. Genuine demands made by the victims of environmental destruction can only be based on this kind of awareness.

There are many types of damage to human health. In the case of the Miike coal-mine explosion, carbon monoxide victims were reduced to human vegetables, a condition that is tantamount to being dead. The health of many other victims was also compromised to various degrees.

All the symptoms cause extreme pain to the victim. If they are not visible to other people, then the victim also suffers because no one in his family is able to understand what he is going through. Except in very mild cases, once health is destroyed the problem affects the entire family, degrading the quality of all human relationships.

IV. Destruction of life-support structures

When pollution problems continue to destroy the human environment, the effects on health become inexorably apparent. As in the Kochi Pulp incident, where hydrogen sulphide was discharged from the pulp-processing factory, those living along the river began to experience health problems that became life-threatening. The Kochi Pulp incident is understood to be a question of simple environmental destruction, but apart from the ecological issues involved, people's very lives were put at risk.

Before the Ashio copper-mine problem became a celebrated case, the problem was understood only in terms of its ecological consequences, that is, the deleterious effects on farming and fishing. After the problem worsened, there came a period when the health of the people was affected; this was reflected in an increased death-rate and in higher infant mortality. At a certain level of environmental destruction, the situation becomes life-threatening, with calamitous results for the human life-support system.

1. Death and Debility Caused by Environmental Destruction

The Miike coal-mine explosion in 1963 was the worst industrial accident of its kind in the history of coal-mining. There were 458 deaths and 839 people were instantly affected by carbon monoxide poisoning. All 1,297 persons were the breadwinners of dependent families. Four hundred and fifty-eight families were permanently deprived of their breadwinner and 839 saw their central supporting member struck down by varying degrees of sickness and infirmity. This left the wives to cope with a burden of mental deprivation and social problems, along with the need to support the family. Instead of staying at home and feeling sorry for themselves, they went out to find work. The effects of this shift in family relationships and tensions were to be seen first in the youngest children, then in the grandparents, and finally in the other family members. Not only was there the loss of the central family figure, but the small children and the old people were also greatly depressed by the situation.

Further, the company's methods of dealing with the compromised families were also problematic. The Mitsui Mining Company treated them as though they had retired and died a natural death, providing 500,000 yen (about $2,272) for each family and assuming no other responsibilities. In some cases, families were requested to leave company housing. The attitude taken by the company aggravated the situation of the dead victims' families, who were in desperate straits. The Miike mine union had no time for the families of their dead fellow workers, and other families who had not been members of the union were completely ignored and lost all sympathetic support. The destruction of all aspects of life such as economic viability, human interrelationships, living conditions, and future planning, came to a crescendo.

In the situations surrounding the infant deaths from the Morinaga arsenic milk incident, the mentally destabilizing impact on the families involved was very great indeed. The mothers felt guilty about having fed their babies the poisoned formula, and suffered both because of this and as victims in their own right.

2. Damage to Health and Related Effects on Daily Life

The following is a report of the situation of victims and their families in 1978, 15 years after the Miike explosion.

There were at that time 63 hospitalized victims, 12 outpatients, 30 who had died, 17 missing, 394 retired, 138 returned to the mine, and 138 working outside the mine. The 63 first-class patients in hospital were unable to get out of bed. The brain damage was so great that they had difficulty in maintaining consciousness, and did not recognize the members of their own families. Not only were their outward appearances changed but also their personalities. The wives and children had to face problems quite different from simple economic incapacity due to the death of the breadwinner. The annuity for the husband or father became a source of financial help for wives and children. Although the financial needs of the family were met to a very basic degree, the burden was increased by having to deal with a living vegetable instead of a healthy and alert human being.

The second class of victims who were also hospitalized could manage for themselves, but memory, intellect, and expressions of feelings were seriously compromised and many suffered from states of psychological depression. These victims could carry on conversations with other people and thus they were able to go home once a month. They would often offer violence to their wives and children because of a basic inability to control themselves. For instance, there would be constant fights with the children over which channel to watch on television. These victims would become violent towards the children, tying them up, and then moving on to assault the wife. Thus this once-a-month home stay was a fearful time for the whole family. In such a situation there is no happiness in the home.

Those labourers who were able to return to work in the mine were classified in a category that is fourteenth down the list from the first-class victims. These people were light carbon monoxide poisoning cases who experienced only mild physiological damage. But some of the workers who were classified in victim classes 7, 8, and 9 also returned to work in the mine. These victims looked as though they had no physiological symptoms, but usually they experienced difficulty in sleeping and loss of memory, and found their bodily resistance to disease to be lowered; all these conditions made work in the mine too difficult for them. However, in many cases they were forced to return in spite of the increased danger, because of the need for income for the family. The company and the Miike labour union did not stop those that wanted to work from working. But in these situations, not only were their relationships with other workers in the mine strained, but their tiredness after returning from work was extreme, and this contributed to a variety of family pressures. Even in the lightly affected cases, the adverse effect of the poisoning on their daily lives was in no way small.

The adverse effects of pollution-related diseases are different when the victims are breadwinners, as opposed to infants, as in the Morinaga arsenic milk poisoning case, or the entire spectrum from infants to old people, as in the Minamata disease.

When the victims of an environmental poisoning are infants, they have no way of expressing pain and suffering, which means that the surrounding adults worry more. Since, in the Morinaga arsenic milk poisoning case, the cause of the sickness was unknown, the pain and suffering of the family was extreme because the doctors could find no treatment for the diarrhoea, vomiting, and weight loss. It took three months for the Ministry of Public Welfare to determine that the cause was arsenic poisoning, and their only response was to try to stop the production of the milk and provide treatment for arsenic poisoning, without making any effort to deal with the problems faced by the victims or in any way consult with them. This way of doing things ignored completely the condition of the victims themselves. In reality, the infants suffered from the damage inflicted, but medical treatment was offered only to those who could pay for it. It was 14 years later that Osaka University's Professor Maruyama offered his research report to the public, and during all those years the victims and families involved were completely ignored by the offending company. During that time the economic burdens piled up, and although there were differences in family background, generally speaking living standards in all of the affected families were compromised, family relationships were strained in the extreme, and plans for the future were radically altered. These effects could also be seen in the labourers who lost their livelihood.

When one family member is sick, all the members suffer. In the case of the Minamata disease, there were instances where many members of a single family became victims and suffered some degree of debility. Husbands would eat the fish caught from the bay, the wives would be involved in fishing and would eat the same tainted fish, and then the children, while still in their mother's womb, would also become poison victims.

When the cause of the sickness was still unknown, it was thought that the illness was contagious because all the victims would experience the same symptoms. Once multiple victims were discovered in one family the resulting confusion was very great. Moreover, because of the strangeness and unknown character of the disease, entire families would be isolated from the rest of the local community. Medical expenses would also rise. When the cause of the sickness was discovered to be the mercury-tainted fish, the entire fishing industry became depressed. The economic viability of an entire community was absolutely destroyed.

V. Personality changes

Personality changes constitute the third level of environmental pollution-related damage, and as such are inextricably bound up with the second level of damage, the destruction of health. Some of the victims of environmental problems who suffered physiological disorders also suffered from changes in personality. But it is not clear whether these changes were a response to the sickness or were inherent in the pathology of the sickness. Such cases are found among victims who suffered nerve damage, for example Minamata disease (mercury-poisoning) patients, the carbon monoxide poisoning victims, and the victims of SMON (a medicine-induced iatrogenic disease). The symptom common to all of these patients is that they are easily angered, and this fundamental change in personality is endemic to the disease process.

As indicated earlier, the victims of the Miike coal-mine explosion all became violent, a fact that seriously undermined family relationships. It is essential to understand that, to some extent, the attitude of the family toward the victim also fostered violence in the victim. At the same time there were changes in the personality. caused by problems of altered physiology and social factors.

Patients who suffer from nervous system problems are unable to stand the adverse reactions of family members. Therefore, the patient's personality progressively deteriorates, and as a result the entire family suffers from a worsening of interpersonal relations. These personality changes are very evident. Some of the wives of the Miike disaster victims were forced to admit that their husbands suffered from a complete personality alteration.

These changes were also caused by the manner in which victims were treated by the offending industry, by governmental organs, by medical doctors, and by the mass media, and they became more obvious as the negotiating process between the company and the victims progressed. The offending companies would usually use negotiations methods that aggravated the patients and increased their nervous tension. The government and the medical profession were only interested in maintaining corporate profitability and in protecting their professional status. The mass media treated the victims as objects of curiosity, showing an absolute minimum of sensitivity for their plight.

VI. The battle against oppressive structures

1. The Adverse Conditions Suffered by Pollution Victims

The accumulation of adverse effects suffered by the victims of environmental pollution are so profound that their life-styles are radically altered, as seen in the example of Yanaka Village of Ashio copper-mine fame, in which a whole community was erased from the face of the earth. The place itself gradually came to resemble a ghost town. There are other areas that suffered from the same pollution-induced problems as those seen at Ashio, such as the Doroku area of Miyagi Prefecture, which was affected by arsenous acid poisoning, and the Jintsu River basin, which suffered the effects of cadmium poisoning in the form of Itai-itai disease. Neither the poison-producing industrial organizations nor any of the governmental structures has taken the initiative or responsibility in caring for these victims of a ravaged environment. The governmental organs were interested only in the continuing economic viability of the offending industrial corporations, and the government therefore shares culpability with the corporations. Concern for individuals, for the victims and their families, is something the government seems incapable of.

If the victims waited for the helping hand of governmental organizations to be extended, the problem of oppression would never be solved. History shows us that countless people have suffered at the hands of an uncaring government, only in the end to be eliminated.

When Japan was still under the feudalistic rule of the Tokugawa family, people were forced to work in mines under conditions much worse than those experienced in this century. If individuals lived to the ripe old age of 32 it was something to celebrate. The workers in those times never protested, and they died after a short and wretched existence.

With changing times and the advent of capitalism people worked in iron and steel mills, in textile mills, in mining, and in chemical plants, where the healthy sacrificed their lives, their strength sapped by environmental outrages. The majority of these workers considered that they had no choice in the matter and accepted their fate as part of the workings of destiny. Under these conditions it required a great deal of bravery to appeal to other people, setting oneself against all the industrial, political, and social structures of Japan. In the textile industry tuberculosis was so prominent among workers that whole families would have the disease. Dr. Osamu Ishihara wrote about this when making his academic presentation on the situation of workers in the textile industry. If the victims of these circumstances had protested, the damage would only have increased and the discrimination against them would have escalated. A modern example of this phenomenon in Japan is the discrimination suffered by the victims of the atomic bombings.

In relation to environmental destruction, the protests mounted by the farmers who were victims of the Ashio copper-mine poisonings were silenced through government pressure, as a result of a policy which promoted industry and was bent upon strengthening military power.

It was not until the late 1960s, about 20 years after the end of the Second World War, that at long last the victims of environmental destruction were able to speak with one voice in order that social conditions could be changed. During this period a number of infamous pollution diseases, such as the first and second Minamata diseases, the Morinaga arsenic milk diseases, the PCB poisonings, the thalidomide poisonings, and the SMON disease, were all brought to the public's attention. Also, at this time air pollution conditions were worsening and asthma victims were on the increase. In other words, the time had come to pay for the rapid economic growth of Japan's industrial society, and those who were required to pay these social costs were those without power in society - the consumers and the workers. It was also a time when the so-called post-war democratization processes were beginning to take hold among the people. Along with this there were the movements against the Japan-United States Security Treaty, and a growing alliance of forces against environmental pollution, industrial disasters, and poisonings involving consumer products.

It was also a time when people were beginning to recognize the fact that environmental and related poisonings are a violation of fundamental human rights and that unquestioning acceptance of these unethical and immoral practices was not an unalterable fact of destiny but rather a form of exploitation that needed to be challenged and rectified. Pollution cases were brought to court one after another following the initial suit filed in 1967 by the victims of the Niigata Minamata disease.

The struggle for adequate compensation for victims of mining disasters began to intensify after the Second World War, but it was not until the 1970s that a movement for the protection of mine workers came into being. In 1972 two of the Miike coal-mine explosion victims' families took their cases to court. The damage done to the victims of that disaster was so extensive and devastating that the workers began to go to court to indict the corporate managers.

2. Victim and Mass Movement Interaction

After the pollution victims began taking their cases to court many support groups sprung up. These ad hoc organizations included students, researchers, labourers, consumers, doctors, lawyers, journalists, novelists, and poets.

These court struggles usually involved several lawyers, medical doctors, and academic researchers who were employed by the prosecution to testify against the offending industrial corporations. People began to support the physically handicapped pollution victims. Not only was this kind of support seen on a local level, but support organizations would spring up nationwide. Some people would visit the areas most heavily affected by environmental damage and would live and work with the pollution victims in the hope of creating new communities.

New supporting organizations included groups bent on a boycott of offending companies' products, as in the Morinaga arsenic milk poisoning case. Chisso Company workers came to the aid of Minamata disease victims and the Miike coal-mine workers came to the aid of the mine explosion disaster victims. Instead of victims visiting their doctors, the doctors would go to see the victims in their living environments and learn first-hand the reality of their lives.

The victims and their doctors were supported by journalists, photographers, film producers, writers, and actors; and through the use of the communication media, these people provided an in-depth and broad-based analysis of the situation with respect to the suffering of the victims and the irresponsibility of corporate management. The voices of the pollution victims were heard at the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment in 1972 and at other international conferences and organizations. Through this increase in international pressure from outside Japan, corporate management and governmental organizations had finally to change their stance toward the victims. The pollution cases brought to court in the late 1960s were settled in the early 1970s, and this resulted in certain changes in the law and in the attitude of the government.

Mass movements of citizens supported the pollution victims and through this there were certain changes at the grass-roots level, but the labour unions in Japan - which are, more often than not, company unions - were often unable to arouse interest in the pollution victims among their rank and file. It is essential that labour unions become involved in the struggle for universal human rights if we are to change the social structures that foster the destruction of life and the human environment.

3. The Kochi Pulp Incident

Once a hole has been made in a wall, it is difficult to close up the hole again, even in times of economic depression. In the last ten years the citizens' movements, along with the victims of environmental and occupational diseases, have increased their awareness of human rights. One example of this can be seen in the Kochi Pulp incident, although it is of secondary importance compared to the Ashio, Miike, and Morinaga cases. The reason for its inclusion here is that action by the victims was very effective in changing the situation, and this action was brought to bear at a time when there was rising national involvement in protests against environmental destruction, together with a deepening concern for finding solutions to the radical problems presented by a runaway industrial society.

This situation began when the Kochi prefectural offices invited a pulp-processing industrial concern to set up a manufacturing facility at Urado Bay in Kochi City. From the Tokugawa period (1760) onward Kochi City has been famous for the production of paper from natural resources, and paper manufacture has been a major industry there from time immemorial. As time went on the rivers of Kochi became more and more polluted by paper-manufacturing discharges, and the people, particularly the fishermen, were increasingly threatened by the problem. In the 1930s a pulp-processing plant was constructed, releasing even more effluent into the environment. In 1948 a new pulp complex was proposed for the old pulp plant site. The city administration and prefectural government supported the project while the local fishermen and the citizens were against it. The site was located well within city limits and the plan included no facilities for treating industrial waste. The plan meant that the river running through residential areas to Urado Bay would be thoroughly polluted and there would also be sulphurous anhydride air-pollution problems to contend with as well. This groundswell of opposition continued even after construction of the factory had begun in January 1949. In July of the same year the anti-factory citizens' movement and the company came to an agreement in relation to pollution prevention. This was a time when Japan was moving ahead with full-scale reindustrialization, but the agreement fully represented the will of the people, who opposed the establishment of the pulp factory.

The agreement read in part as follows:

(a) The company will assume responsibility for damage done to the environment by factory operations, and will pay compensation.

(b) In order to ensure that compensations are fully paid a management committee shall be established with more than half of its membership made up of local citizens. The company will retain in the bank at all times a sum of 2,000,000 yen (about $5,500) for industrial pollution compensation purposes and this fund will be managed by the committee.

(c) If pollution-related compensation amounts are paid from the said funds, the amounts withdrawn from the account for such purposes will be replaced immediately by the company. If this supplemental funding is not provided by the company, then the management committee can demand these same funds from the company.

(d) If the amount of money needed for pollution compensation purposes is not covered by the amount of money in the bank and if it cannot be provided by the company, factory operations must be halted. In this instance the factory will remain closed until a problem-solving policy is established.

This agreement was signed by the mayor of Kochi City and the governor of Kochi Prefecture.

As it turned out, the construction of the factory was temporarily halted owing to the economic depression, and the city and the prefecture were not able to meet construction expenses. Responding to an initiative from the Daio Seishi (pulp) Company of Ehime Prefecture, the neighbouring prefecture provided funds for the project and the Nishi Nippon Pulp Factory went into operation in 1951. As a result of this turn of events, the factory went from Kochi Pulp to Daio Pulp management, and in the process the viability and validity of the pollution-prevention agreement was seriously downgraded.

Citizens staging a sit-down demonstration against the construction of the plant were arrested by the police. The high quantities of sulphurous anhydride that the factory emitted into the air damaged human health, and a dark polluted discharge into the river and Urado Bay killed all life in the aquatic environment.

The company did not take any preventive steps in relation to the worsening pollution problem, nor did the governmental organs involved in the plan enforce corrective measures, in spite of the fact that this was stipulated in the original agreement between the company and the citizens of Kochi City. On the contrary, the prefectural office announced that the results of tests on water samples yielded no evidence as to the cause of the degraded aquatic environment or to the type of damage involved. The management committee's 2 million yen fund was used as a slush fund for entertainment. From 1950 onward, the Nishi Nippon Pulp factory and its parent company Daio Pulp grew rapidly in spite of the continued suffering of the local people.

For a period of ten years during which there was no waste treatment provided, the factory continued to discharge its noxious effluents into the river, and with this the Urado Bay fishing industry was greatly compromised. In 1962 the fishermen gave up their fishing rights to the company in exchange for compensation of 100 million yen (about $277,000). After fishing had been halted in the bay, the environment was further compromised by the operations of the company. Because of the fact that the company had changed its management, the citizens' protests were completely ignored.

In the 1960s, after obtaining the bay fishing rights from the fishermen, the prefectural offices reclaimed land around the bay in order to build more factories. With the exception of two or three cases, there were almost no protests by the citizens. In August 1970, when a typhoon hit the city, the people were immediately made aware of the problematic nature of the projects on the reclaimed land, because, as a result of the modifications made to the natural environment around Urado Bay, many more homes in the city and surrounding areas were flooded by the typhoon. The flooding washed accumulated pulp sludge into people's homes, and the damage was considerable. At this point the people realized the serious nature of the problems presented by the pulp factory and the land reclamation projects.

With this turn of events, a second wave of protests against the pulp factory was instituted in 1970, in concert with the many nationwide protests against pollution that were being mounted by labour unions and student movements. An environmental group in Kochi City and a group formed to protect Urado Bay initiated a movement to remove the pulp factory, or at least to ensure that the sludge discharged from it was fully treated before being dumped into the river and bay. The movement grew on the basis of understandings that would come to see all of nature as public property and would also see the interrelationship between human beings and the environment as important and central to the continuance of human civilization. The two groups that came together lay stress on the limits of technology - an argument never before used in the ideology of Japanese anti-pollution protest movements.

However, there remained the fact that for ten years there had been no citizens' protests and that management had changed in 1960 from Kochi Pulp to Nishi Nippon Pulp. On 31 May 1971 the Kochi Pulp management decided not to negotiate with the Urado Bay Protection Citizens' group. Therefore, the four executives of the citizens' movement decided that the situation had reached crisis point and that there was only one course of action - to pour cement into the mouth of the factory effluent outlet. This action took place on 9 June, stopping factory operations for 15 hours. This form of protest was fully supported by the citizens of Kochi City, but the prefectural and city authorities panicked, and, in all the confusion and pressure that followed, were forced to ask the company either to install pollution-control equipment or to move the factory elsewhere. Kochi Pulp management was not able to meet any of these demands, and was therefore forced to close the installation in May 1972. The pollution problems generated by this one plant continued to compromise the natural environment for a period of 20 years after the start of operations. It was stopped in its tracks by the courageous action of a few individuals and by the support for that action by the citizens of Kochi City.

Two of the four persons involved in the plugging of the effluent discharge outlet were prosecuted in court, but the court provided an ideal platform for the protesters, who contended that the Kochi Pulp Company, in its flagrant disregard for the viability of the human environment, was guilty of a criminal action. National anti-pollution groups, environmental protection groups, and the mass media all supported the two people being tried in court, and, as a result of the efforts on their behalf, the court case ended on 31 March 1976 with the two being required to pay a fine of 50,000 yen (about $200) each. In this regard the court battle was a victory for the citizens' movement.

The court struggle became the forum within which it was possible to change the structures promoting environmental destruction through united action by citizens opposed to pollution.


Iijima, N. Pollution in Japan - Historical Chronology. Asahi Evening News, 1979.

—. Kogai rosai yakugai ni okeru higai no kozo [Social Structures of the Victims of Pollution; Occupational Hazards and the Harmful Effects of Medicine]. Kogai kenkyu, vol. 8, no. 3 (1979).

—. Kankyo mondai to higaisha undo [Environmental Problems from the Viewpoint of the Victims' Anti-pollution Movement]. Gakubunsha, 1984.

(introductory text...)

Jun Ui

The examples of environmental destruction mentioned in this book are only a few of the more celebrated of the almost countless occasions upon which Japan's environment has been seriously compromised during one hundred years of modernization. The situations covered by the materials contained in these pages represent only the tip of the iceberg of Japan's environmental history. However, from all of this destruction of life and life-support systems, the following conclusions are to be reached - these are the main lessons to be learned from Japan's century of devastation.

I. Basic human rights

Even when very similar problems of environmental destruction are brought to the fore, the resulting societal disruption often varies according to the differing environmental conditions, historical contexts, and locations. Therefore, problems caused by a ravaged human environment are not solvable through the mere application of a technical "fix" or the introduction of new legal structures which ignore fundamental local differences and the need for the participation of pollution victims in the problem-solving process. This is a very important political process within the widest framework.

The most important factor for the prevention of pollution problems is the development in the general population of an appreciation for basic human rights and the need always to remain free from oppression. During the long period of modernization in Japan, the prevention of pollution rested almost entirely on the autonomous movements of the victims, aided in part by victim-support groups made up of people who have come under the influence of those victims. In this respect, it can be said that even the pollution-control laws and their attendant technical policies resulted from these citizens' movements that were centred on the victims' groups. The most effective movement orientations were derived from direct non-violent action. Very often women were central to their efforts to bring about meaningful social change. It is interesting to note that these aspects are common to citizens" movements all over the world.

In short, when there is a sense of strong local autonomy, and when decision-making is based on enlightened action by citizens, pollution problems almost never occur. In this sense the importance of political power for the local community is not to be underestimated. Without the involvement of the people in decision-making processes related to pollution, activities affecting the environment are unilaterally initiated by powerful industrial polluters, and the problems involved in maintaining a viable human environment are never solved. Fishermen and farmers who, in the context of industrial societies, are in weaker social strata, are always more dependent on the natural environment than are the powerful and economically well-to-do. When an environment is destroyed and thereby loses its productive viability, the economically, socially, and politically weakest members of society are the ones who suffer most radically from the destruction. Once there is a loss of environmental viability, a new round of poverty and related suffering is generated.

With this basic understanding in mind, priorities should be established so that the voices of the weak are heard and their participation in decision-making processes guaranteed. If this is not the case, then wealth and power will continue to concentrate in fewer and fewer hands, and those who have that power will use up all our limited natural resources and destroy the viability of the environment out of either ignorance or arrogance or both. Then the powerless in society will struggle against each other for control of the meagre resources that are left, and in the process destroy all that remains of the environment. Because of this increased competition for dwindling resources, social tension and fear increase and military power is used to suppress conflicts, thereby exacerbating the problems of the weak. These are phenomena common to all the world's peoples.

1. The Role of Industrial Corporations and Governmental

The Ashio copper-mine conglomerate, the Morinaga Milk Company, and the Chisso Corporation were profit-oriented industrial organizations that developed rapidly during Japan's high-economic-growth period after the end of the Second World War. These corporations neglected to invest in safety and pollution-prevention equipment so as not to short-circuit profit maximization. However, the causes of the pollution problems created by these corporations were revealed and monetary compensation had to be paid to the pollution victims, which drastically increased the economic burden on those organizations. Moreover, these companies experienced in the process a worsening of their management orientations because of other sequentially related factors. Since these corporations were among those with the least economic viability, once the pollution-related cause-and-effect relationships had been established the effects on corporate viability were devastating. Therefore, corporate activities that destroy natural ecosystems should be countered at the outset; otherwise pollution problems become a significant problem for the offending corporate body. The Minamata disease and the Morinaga arsenic milk poisoning cases did a great deal of damage to the public image of the chemical and food products industries. As a result these two environmental poisoning cases adversely affected the entire economy of Japan.

The political élites and related organizations, as well as governmental bureaux and agencies, treated these pollution problems purely as issues of occupational safety, and for a very long time paid little attention to the severity of the situation. The ineffectual and time-consuming negotiation processes established by government agencies that were purportedly "problem-solving" simply made things worse by extending the time period during which environmental destruction was allowed to continue. When a government lacks the political will that is needed for the realization of basic human rights, environmental destruction is exacerbated to such an extent that, finally, solving the problem is beyond human capability.

Organized industrial power is incomparably greater than any power held by the victims of ecological duress. Unless the government has a clear mandate from the people and the related political will to ensure continued environmental health and viability, as well as the protection of human rights, the implementation of effective policies that will contribute to a sound environment will never be realized. In order that environmental viability be maintained, there must be a well-organized movement of pollution victims, as well as popular involvement in this movement; in addition, social conditions conducive to true democracy must be established, so as to guarantee citizens' participation in the political decision-making processes in order that an adequate understanding of human rights may be fostered and maintained.

Through the study of past experience, it has been learned that pollution problems adversely affect primary industries such as farming, forestry, fishing, and related occupations. Throughout human history, these primary industries have been oppressed by exploitative structures that prevent the voices of their members from ever being heard, let alone influencing the decisions of those in power. As a result of this, environmental damage is simply allowed to worsen until it begins to encroach even on the urban situation. The deterioration of primary industries in Japan has been allowed to continue to an intolerable degree. As an example of this, it is to be noted that Japan's domestic production of primary food calories has dropped to 40 per cent of total caloric consumption. This damage to primary industries has been slowed to some extent, but if political action had been taken earlier, these industries could have been revitalized and pollution-related destruction halted. This is an important factor that should be taken into consideration by other nations of Asia as they head inexorably toward industrialization.

As can be deduced from the massive carbon monoxide poisonings that resulted from the Miike coal-mine explosion, occupational diseases or industrial accidents are recognized as valid human rights issues in situations where the needs of labouring people are protected by active union organization. Where labour unions are strong, the incidences of occupational diseases and industrial disasters are reduced. The majority of Japan's labour unions are organized as adjuncts to their related corporations and therefore tend to be no more than supplemental to the administrative organs of industry. The initial tasks facing the first labour unions were, therefore, the prevention of occupational diseases and industrial disasters. Other tasks have been those of discovering the cause-and-effect relationships that are involved in pollution problems and the collection of valuable data and information that will prevent potential disasters from occurring in the work environment. The protection of the human rights of working people is directly related to health problems in general.

Not only is the strengthening of labour unions essential - it is even more important to increase individual workers' consciousness of human rights issues. If this is made possible, the production of poisonous materials can be stopped and workers can be protected from occupational disasters. As an example of this, in 1970 the production of certain lead-based organometallic compounds was stopped through just this kind of action. It is important that the labour unions increase their efforts in relation to educational programmes that will increase awareness of human rights as well as willingness to take action in this regard.

II. Issues arising out of court struggles

In their attempts to solve environmental problems in the farming villages, the victims were unable to appeal on the basis of basic human rights, but were forced to accept the form of mediation determined by the polluters. However, after the Second World War the people of Japan learned that the option of taking their complaints to court had been opened up to them, and in this forum the debates regarding responsibility and cause-and-effect relationships could be exposed to public debate and scrutiny. Industries brought to court because of their anti-social activities gained a bad reputation from these encounters. In the courtroom situation the victims and the polluters were and are on an equal footing in the struggle over rights and responsibilities. Through the co-operation of lawyers, scientists, and other concerned citizens and professionals, the court struggles ended by handing down rulings that favoured the victims of pollution, together with compensation for damage inflicted. With members of active mass movements in support of the victims always waiting outside the courtroom, public opinion, through the mass media, was directed towards a position that generally supported the victims of environmental destruction; this also contributed to verdicts favouring the victims.

Around 1970, in conjunction with four major court battles that were raging over pollution rights and limits, the activities of the anti-pollution groups reached a peak. Through these activities it was possible to look back over the history of environmental destruction in Japan, and especially to examine the successes and failures of past movements, especially those revolving around the Ashio copper-mine problem. Because of the pressures brought to bear by the anti-pollution movements, industrial organizations that were causing extensive pollution began to limit more carefully their range of activities, and, with this, pollution-control methods were improved to the extent that even the Ashio, Hitachi, and Besshi copper mines abandoned certain of their more dangerous production processes. It also became clear that the act of demanding compensation alone is of limited value for the victims of pollution. The only real hope of restoring environmental sanity lay in court confrontations that ruled against further corporate activities where damaged environments were at issue. Because of these court battles, the government and supporting industries were forced to alter plans for further rapid economic growth, and were thereby compelled to undertake actions to limit corporate activities. Because of this the government was very much against these victim-generated court actions. The courts involved were in certain respects very conservative in outlook; they had no knowledge of pollution problems, were reluctant to accept on a formal basis the informational and ideational inputs of the citizens' movements, and often limited courtroom interpolations to matters that concerned only the issue at hand, thereby preventing an exploration of the many far-reaching issues involved. In many situations, cases were thrown out of court before they could be fully examined because of these and other problems of a technical and legal nature.

In certain recent cases, lawyers accustomed to pollution trials have tried to bring matters to a speedy conclusion without the benefit of legal and technical research or citizen co-operation, in the hope of saving themselves a good deal of effort. Generally speaking the results of such short-cut trials are to the disadvantage of pollution victims. Good results from legal efforts cannot be expected without mass action and co-operation. The same phenomenon can be seen with regard to the professionalism that holds sway within legislative organizations, in which citizen co-operation is simply not considered. Professionalism which excludes the people makes pollution problems even more difficult to deal with.

Public hearings have provided an opportunity to apportion responsibility for environmental damage and have been useful in winning compensation that is related to damage liability. However, in the court cases centring around pollution problems, the professionalism practiced by legal personnel becomes a barrier rather than an aid to success. It is essential that pollution victims understand the limitations of narrow-minded professionalism based on authoritarianism so that genuine co-operation with legal professionals can be nurtured. Court-based procedures are a step in the right direction when compared with authority-oriented face-to-face negotiations within the context of other social situations, but legal procedures have their own authoritarian orientations and structures which contain inherent drawbacks. It is therefore essential that citizens' movements come to the fore and demand limitations on professional authoritarianism. Japan's pollution laws, which are, on a formal level, among the most advanced in the world, have no real effect in helping to solve the problems faced by the pollution victims. In order to bring the four celebrated pollution cases of Japan to a legal conclusion, it was not the new pollution laws that were applied in the court proceedings, but rather the older civil codes and mining laws. In spite of the use of the older legal structures, certain progressive results were seen in the designation of communal action illegality, non-fault liability, and illegal actions without reference to a legal standard. The older pollution laws that were well established did have some effect in the prevention of environmental destruction. However, these court cases continue to broadcast a warning as to the seriousness of environmental destruction.

III. The role of science and technology

Environmental science standards in Japan are still not very high. Environmental sciences seek to deal with pollution problems within the traditional, narrowly defined constructs of the natural and social sciences rather than by grasping the fact that pollution generation and environmental destruction are too complicated to fit within such constructs. It is next to impossible for scientists of the traditional persuasion to understand problems of environmental destruction in their totality without co-operative interaction with the victims of pollution, who have experienced the destruction first-hand within the context of a particular community. Many, if not most, problems generated from a loss of environmental viability are brought to public awareness only after the damage has become overwhelming. Since this is the case, research in the environmental sciences should begin with an explication of damage parameters and end with an attempt to reduce or prevent the damage. Many writers in the environmental field have come to the conclusion that new methodologies in the environmental sciences can only come into being within a context of study where meaningful interaction exists between the scientist-observer and the pollution disease victims as they interact with their support community. In order that this may come about, the environmental scientist must learn humility with respect to the reality of human interactions. In Japan, as in most other countries in the world, environmental scientists do not possess the humility needed to grasp the central realities of the phenomenon they seek to study.

In the same way, it is essential that environmental administrators, within government and without, pay much more careful attention to nature and society. It is an error of the gravest kind to believe that science and technology can provide all the answers to administrative problems and concerns. This is to say that the bureaucratization of science and technology works to maintain environmental policies at a very low level of effectiveness. When this tendency to seek a "technological fix," together with its attendant overemphasis on more complicated regulations, is allowed free rein, it simply serves to increase pollution-control costs without producing any meaningful benefits. When these kinds of regulations are invoked, the energy and vitality of citizens' movements are circumvented. The effects of pollution-prevention laws and regulations are very limited unless these same regulations are supported by the people themselves and the movements that they create. Environmental assessment is also subject to the same dangers as present assessment methods, which rely heavily upon the same kind of science and technology, based on a limited understanding of nature, and this works to the detriment of environmental sanity.

On the international level, Japan's pollution regulations and technological finesse are highly overrated, while the contributions made toward environmental viability by the activities of the citizens' movements enjoy almost no publicity. This is because the government's public information sector is able to circulate its own propaganda so as to generate the impression that the government is the author of all measures taken to protect the human environment. In this regard, the information provided by the Japanese government is highly technical without any significant references to historical and social factors.

Government information highlights only the successes but fails to indicate the failures or the situations in which industrial power was allowed to ride roughshod over environmental considerations. Government policies to control pollution, such as airborne sulphur dioxide (SO2) and the heavy-metal destruction of aquatic environments by factory effluents, have seen some measure of success because of the technical ease with which these poisons can be controlled. But in relation to the control of nitrous oxides (NOx), which are much less amenable to control through simple technological fixes, the government took the easy way out by relaxing control standards. As a result, air pollution by nitrous oxide has got much worse. Policies related to sewage treatment are still based on stubborn attempts to find answers in technological fixes; as such, they have not allowed adequate controls but instead have created an environmental backlash. Sewage systems should be constructed by private concerns and engineered on the local level as small-scale projects. But government plans call for huge centralized construction and processing systems, which have become so cumbersome that completion within a meaningful time-frame, not to mention useful dispersion, becomes impossible. The present level of technological expertise is not up to all challenges, as is seen in the substitution for polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) of other more subtle chemicals, which are more difficult to detect within the hydrological cycle and therefore permeate much more easily into the natural environment. This situation has also been seen in the mixing of certain highly toxic liquid industrial wastes with mud as a means of disposal, to the extreme detriment of the environment. Ignoring these situations, the government makes exaggerated propaganda claims as to the effectiveness of its technology, and in the process shifts public attention away from the real problems. Ever since the government called the Ashio copper-mine problem one of hydrological control, the rulers of the nation have been using similar, sleight-of-hand methods to mislead the public. If pollution problems are understood within a historical perspective, these tricks of evasion can be shown up for what they are.

The people of Japan believe that problems of environmental destruction can be solved on the basis of a so-called almighty science and technology, without reference to the sensitivities of nature. The government administrators and industrial capitalists have used their propaganda to create an illusion whereby the people are led to believe that all the problems of the environment have been solved. However, the national problems of environmental destruction have taken on an international dimension with the rapid exportation of polluting technologies; the destruction is now shared with others far from Japan's shores. Policies dedicated to pollution control are not to be taken literally - they should be seen, rather, as window-dressing, an attempt to gloss over an ugly situation.

IV. The mass media

The mass media played a tremendous role in focusing national attention on the problems of pollution and in creating an enlightened public opinion. But the mass media in Japan are supported by private capital and industrial wealth, or otherwise are under government control in terms of the licensing of broadcast systems and manipulative interference in journalists' organizations. In this situation the maintenance of journalistic integrity is very difficult indeed. In spite of this, individual journalists were able to provide relatively unbiased reports on the problems of environmental destruction, while citizens' movements made every effort to bring journalists into their activities. People thought that the problems of pollution were only local issues, but in fact each problem had a counterpart in several other areas of the country. Under the influence of the media, the anti-pollution movements were supported by the public and efforts became national in scope. The government and industrial circles are fully aware of the power of the mass media and as a result there were various pressures exerted to circumscribe freedom of speech and expression. But in spite of these efforts to suppress the truth, the facts became generally known. Even before the beginning of the Second World War, when freedom of expression was strictly limited, journalists played a very important role in focusing public attention on the Ashio copper-mine problem. In the post-war period up to the 1960s, the mass media were not able to give full and continued attention to problems of the human environment. But in the late 1960s citizens' movements became more fully aware of the power of the media, and were able to make use of it through various forms of co-operation.

Determined not to rely totally on mass media outlets, the pollution victims and their supporters created their own unique methods of informing the public, and were able to make themselves heard nationwide. In the case of the Minamata disease, individual journalists made anonymous connections with victims' networks. The cost of maintaining a private non-profit news system is not small, but news about the Minamata disease situation had continued to be provided periodically; this activity is a form of moral support for the victims of the disease, as well as for the related support movements. There are also other support organizations besides those generated by the Minamata situation, and these groups form networks of communication for mutual support and information.

The most underdeveloped aspect of the communication media is related to the problem of international communication. Since Japan is an island nation, the problems of linguistic and cultural isolation are both great and inevitable. As a result, attempts to share the experiences of Japan in the environmental arena with other nations and peoples are out of proportion to the magnitude of Japan's environmental destruction. Japanese understanding of international environmental issues is also extremely limited. A good example of this is the media distortions generated in relation to the worldwide anti-whaling movement. The Japanese media tend to divide news artificially into domestic and international segments. This reflects the geographical and historical isolation that Japan continues to foster, as well as a slightly masked but significant degree of nascent nationalism in news reporting. However, with the increased internationalization of Japan's economy, as well as its sheer size, it is essential that anti-pollution movements become more effective in communicating on an international level. In order that Japan may avoid the pitfalls of self-righteousness, it is urgent that anti-pollution movements co-operate with their counterparts in other countries so as to strengthen fellowship and interaction on a worldwide scale.

V. The future of Japan

Besides the celebrated environmental destruction cases outlined in this work, many other pollution problems and issues contribute to the complexity of the situation in Japan, among them the widespread use of highly toxic agricultural chemicals for pest control, the use of chemical fertilizers that compromise the future viability of the food production system, and the resulting contaminants contained in agricultural products. Further, there is to be found an overdependence on highly questionable medicines in a seriously faulted medical delivery system, and the heavy use of food additives and preservatives in the mass-consumption-oriented food-processing industry. The ever-increasing number of atomic power plants contributes to the burden of radioactivity placed on the whole population, and intensified urbanization of the city centres and the attendant depopulation of rural areas increases the problems in both city and country, especially in terms of environmental contamination. The situation is so complicated that explication of cause-and-effect relationships becomes almost impossible. These combinations of environmental problems will inevitably work to erode the general health of the population, causing an overall deterioration in the standard of living and an increase in the number of unknown sicknesses. This is the price that will have to be paid for a nation that was, and still is, bent on modernization and industrialization as it reaches for an ever-higher gross national product.

At the present juncture in world history, environmental destruction has progressed extensively in both the northern and southern hemispheres and more and more people are becoming aware that development does not of necessity bring with it environmental health, and that a ravaged environment does not foster stable development. The experience of Japan in this regard should be a lesson for the rest of the developing world, and, if this lesson is learned, it will give a more positive meaning to the suffering of the Japanese pollution victims. In order to ensure a development pattern that will bring about genuine improvement in the quality of human life, it is essential that the abidingly negative experiences of the Japanese situation should become useful object lessons in what to avoid in respect to developmental processes.

Environmental destruction does not allow for recovery - it causes irreversible damage. This damage is absolute in that it cannot be redeemed through the payment of money, for loss of environmental viability results in a negation of the total universe of interactions attendant upon human health and life. It gives rise to an ever-expanding circle of victims and an ever-increasing loss of community infrastructure, with the related loss of mental and physical health. Because of this, any attempt to reverse the damage, once it has been done, will, in the final analysis, end in failure. An example of this is the fact that for thousands of the Minamata disease victims their illness is incurable. Therefore a careful examination of the situation in all of its historical ramifications is essential in order that these mistakes are not repeated elsewhere in the world.

Often budgets dedicated to environmental preservation are seen to be extremely small compared to the real costs of environmental damage. The Chisso Company budget for treatment of the methylated mercury effluents from the Minamata acetaldehyde production unit was only 1,500,000 yen (about 54,160). This is an exceedingly small amount of money compared with the vast sums that are having to be paid (several hundred million yen) in compensation to the victims of mercury poisoning. This lesson should be learned in other parts of the world, for it is likely that the same problem will rear its ugly head in other countries if the citizenry is not fully and meaningfully involved in development planning. If these concerns are neglected, then the same problems will expand to engulf the entire world.

Japan's multi-faceted problems with environmental destruction began with the advent of modernization, led by nascent militarism. Human rights were therefore ignored as militarization gained a hold and took over all aspects of civil life. After the Second World War a consumer-based mass-production economy was developed that had its ideational fountainhead in a military mode of social organization and production; this led to Japan's present degree of economic development. On the surface it looked as if these industrialization processes were taking place peacefully, but the environmental destruction will attest to the extent to which Japan's economic growth was based on massive aggression in all areas of life. The resistance of the people to these problems of a destroyed environment came to flower only very slowly; gradually, however, people became aware of the importance of concepts of human rights, bringing a slow but sure improvement in the situation. This would not have come about but for the enormous efforts made by the pollution victims in conjunction with the citizens' movements.

Japan's remilitarization and the crises of potential and actual nuclear war are issues of infinite importance at a time when the combined efforts of the citizens' movements are experiencing a loss of momentum. The terrible environmental destruction experienced by the Japanese and the creation of countless pollution victims should be avoided at all costs in other parts of the world. In order for this to happen it is essential to create a world without nuclear weapons, through genuine participation of the people in political processes in which the first principle is a genuine respect for, and nurture of, human rights. This is because, it goes without saying, war is the ultimate environmental destroyer.


Yoshiro Hoshino

Faculty of Economics, Teikyo University, Tokyo

Nobuko Iijima

Department of Sociology, Faculty of Literature, Tokyo Metropolitan University, Tokyo

Kichiro Shoji

Researcher in History, Pollution

Masuro Sugai

Faculty of Economics, Kokugakuin University, Tokyo

Jun Ui

Institute of Regional Studies, University of Okinawa, Okinawa

Technology Transfer, Transformation, and Development:
The Japanese Experience
Project Co-ordinating, Takeshi Hayashi

General Trading Companies: A Comparative and Historical Study, ed. Shi'ichi Yonekawa
Industrial Pollution in Japan, ed. Jun Ui
Irrigation in Development: The Social Structure of Water Utilization in Japan, ed. Akira Tamaki, Isao Hatate, and Naraomi Imamura
Technological Innovation and Female Labour in Japan, ed. Masanori Nakamura
The Role of Labour Intensive Sectors in Japanese Industrialization, ed. Johzen Takeuchi
The Japanese Experience in Technology: From Transfer to Self-reliance, ed. Takeshi Hayashi
Vocational Education in the Industrialization of Japan, ed. Toshio Toyoda

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The United Nations University Press, the publishing division on the UNU, publishes scholarly books and periodicals in the social sciences, humanities, and pure and applied natural sciences related to the University's research.

Industrial Pollution in Japan

While Japan's rapid transformation from an agrarian society into the world's leading industrial and economic power has generated keen interest, especially in the industrializing countries, its stunning success in modernizing itself and the eagerness with which scholars and policy makers in the developing world have sought to understand and replicate this feat have obscured the darker side of Japan's technological and industrial achievements - namely, the widespread environmental damage that has occurred in the process of Japan's modernization.

Industrial Pollution in Japan begins with a look at the well-known Ashio Copper Mine pollution case, one of modern Japan's first and most devastating environmental disasters; the country's worst pollution incident in the post-war period, the mercury poisoning in Minamata, whose victims are still on the increase today, is also covered in depth. Two other major incidents of the post-war period are detailed, and in addition to these specific cases, an overall analysis of the social, economic, political, and technological factors relevant to industrial pollution is provided.

Jun Ui is professor in the Department of Economics at the University of Okinawa. He is a graduate of the University of Tokyo and has written extensively on industrial pollution in Japan and elsewhere.

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United Nations University Press
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