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close this bookIndustrial Pollution in Japan (UNU, 1992, 187 pages)
close this folderChapter - 4 Minamata disease
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentI. The Nippon Chisso Company: Beginnings
View the documentII. The beginnings of the carbide organic chemical complex
View the documentIII. Recovering from the defeat of the Second World War
View the documentIV. The discovery of Minamata disease and the difficulty in determining its cause
View the documentV. Social trauma and the fishermen's riot
View the documentVI. Counteraction and unconcern
View the documentVII. Rediscovery of the Minamata disease in Niigata
View the documentVIII. Government understandings, renegotiations, and interventions
View the documentIX. Taking the Minamata disease case to court and citizen support
View the documentX. In search of the Minamata disease
View the documentXI. Sit-down strike at Chisso Company Headquarters - Seeking direct negotiations
View the documentXII. The third Minamata disease and administrative-level perfidy
View the documentXIII. Minamata disease victims' movements and efforts at renewal
View the documentXIV. Conclusion

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.