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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

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).


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