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水俣病 Minamata Disease

Minamata is located in Kumamoto Prefecture, Kyushu Island. Minamata is a fishing village of natural beauty, but a factory of chemical company Chisso polluted the bay with mercury and the villagers who ate the fish caught in the bay were poisoned by mercury. Minamata disease was officially acknowledged in 1956, and becomes a symbol of environmental pollution in Japan (see Wikipedia for detail).

Photo Collections

An American photographer Eugene Smith is a pioneer to report the suffering of victims to the world in the early 1970s.

  • W. Eugene Smith and Aileen M. Smith. Minamata: life: sacred and profane. Tokyo: Soju-sha, 1973. OCLC:4047043

Aileen Smith has a web site, Aileen Archive, and you can look at some of the photos and the slide show. Also, there is a video footage of interview with Eugene and Aileen Smith .

Many Japanese professional photographers took photos of Minamata disease victims, however among them Shisei Kuwabara (桑原史成)is perhaps most well known.

Documentary Films

Director Noriaki Tsuchimoto (土本典昭), who is one of the pioneer of documentary film movement in Japan produced a number of Minamata related documentaries.

Literary Expression

Local writer Michiko Ishimure (石牟礼道子)has written many novels and poems related to Minanmata. She received the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Journalism, Literature and Creative Communication Arts in 1973.

  • Michiko Ishimure. Paradise in the Sea of Sorrow: Our Minamata Disease. Ann Arbor: Center for Japanese Studies, University of Michigan, 2003. OCLC: 52853978

Medical Research

Doctor Masazumi Harada (原田正純)has been been involved in this issue since 1950s as a graduate student and has been the top specialist of Minamata disease and other pollution-related disease. He has also conducted a field research on mercury pollution in Indian reservation in Canada (see this video footage of CBC.)

Scientific Research

When Minamata disease broke out, no university was teaching about environmental studies. Back then, Jun Ui was an assistant researcher of engineering department at the University of Tokyo, the top university of Japan. He organized an unofficial student-initiated course of pollution studies from the perspective of ordinary citizen outside of the curriculum of the university. See Ohio Citizen Action page for introduction to his principles.

Court Cases

The first group of victims filed the law suit in 1969, however since a comprehensive policy was not enacted, different victim groups filed different lawsuits and still have not resolved completely. There are people who are potentially victims of mercury poisoning by Chisso, but have not officially acknowledged as victims. The victims situations were various and it is not always very easy to prove the relationship between their symptoms and the pollution by Chisso. Also, the plaintiffs not only pursued the responsibility of Chisso, but also the responsibilities of the state and the prefecture (for not taking appropriate measures to prevent the pollution), but it is difficult to determine to what extent they are responsible. So far, the Kansai lawsuit (関西訴訟)was the last lawsuit, and finally settled in 2005.

  • 水俣病被害者・弁護団連絡会議編 清水誠、宮本憲一、淡路剛久監修、『水俣病裁判全史』(全5巻)日本評論社 (Makoto Shimizu, Kenichi Miyamoto, and Takehisa Awaji. Minamatabyo saiban zenshi. Tokyo: Nihon hyoronsha, 1998.) OCLC:41895512
  • チッソ水俣病関西訴訟


The year 2006 is the fifty year memorial of the identification of the first victim. Several books commemorating the break out of Minamata disease have been published recently.

  • George, Timothy S. Minamata: Pollution and the Struggle for Democracy in Postwar Japan. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2002. OCLC: 48931964
  • 岡本達明, 松崎次夫編集、『聞書き水俣民衆史』(全5巻)草風館 (Tatsuaki Okamoto and Tsugio Matsuzaki. Kikigaki Minamata minshushi. Tokyo: Sofukan, 1989.) OCLC:21673433
  • 水俣病50年取材班編、『水俣病50年ー「過去」に「未来」を学ぶ』西日本新聞社、2006年 (Minamatabyo 50 nen shuzaihan. Minamatabyo 50 nen: "Kako" ni "mirai" o manabu. NishiNippon shinbunsha, 2006) (Not available from OCLC yet)


Minamata can be related to many sociological issues. Many sociologists see this incident as an antithesis of rapid economic development of the period.

  • Tsurumi, Kazuko. Social Price of Pollution in Japan and the Role of Folk Beliefs. Tokyo: Sophia University, 1977. OCLC:3798047
  • Tsurumi, Kazuko. New Lives: Some Case Studies in Minamata. Research papers, 51. Tokyo, Japan: Sophia University, 1988. OCLC:19665914
  • Tsurumi, Kazuko's collected works: Korekushon Tsurumi Kazuko mandara OCLC:38729763
  • 栗原彬、『証言水俣病』岩波書店、2000年 (Kurihara, Akira. Shogen Minamatabyo. Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 2000.) OCLC:45027756 ISBN 4004306582 ISBN 9784004306580

Interdisciplinary Research

Michiko Ishimure proposed the interdisciplinary research, and in response, many known scholars from various fields (biology, economics, history, medical science, philosophy, political science, and sociology) gathered and edited books (2 volumes).

  • 色川大吉編、『水俣の啓示:不知火海総合調査報告』筑摩書房、1983年 (Irokawa, Daikichi. Minamata no keiji: Shiranuikai sogo chosa hokoku. Tokyo: Chikuma Shobo, 1983.) OCLC:10302621

Video Resources

  • Minamata - An Eco-Aware Community (Web Japan > JAPAN VIDEO TOPICS > Society, Economy & Politics 03:45) [1]

Other Resources