It's probably no surprise to learn that Japan had a eugenics law on its books at one point. After all, eugenics was a more or less worldwide movement, with a strong following in the United States. The US eugenics movement even served as the basis for Nazi Germany's extermination program.
In the US, around 80,000 women - particularly African-American and Native American women - were sterilized through the 1970s without their knowledge or content. While now banned as a general practice, forced sterilization still rears its ugly head in the states on occasion - such as in California, where 148 female inmates were forcibly sterilized between 2006 and 2010.
Officially, Japan's own Eugenic Protection Act (優生保護法; yuusei hogohou), which was explicitly modeled on Nazi law, stayed on its books until 1996. It might have been one thing had the law been one of those things - like marijuana or sodomy laws - that stayed on the books but were barely enforced. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case. It came out last year that, between 1963 and 1981, Miyagi Prefecture sterilized 859 mentally handicapped or mentally ill people - the majority (52%) of them children. The youngest victims were a 9 year old girl and a 10 year old boy. Eighty percent of those subjected to the procedure were deemed to have "genetic mental retardation".
(JP) Link: Questions on the Old Genetics Law; Even a 9 Year Old Girl Forcibly Sterilized in Miyagi - the Majority Were Minors
旧優生保護法：強制不妊手術９歳にも 宮城、未成年半数超 - 毎日新聞
An investigation by Mainichi Shinbun, based partly on records kept by the old Ministry of Health and Welfare, found that there were 16,475 cases of forced sterilization country-wide. Some of the victims have begun suing for damages, and the increased awareness among the public that this law was actively enforced until its repeal has sparked a public outcry.
In response, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (自民党; jimintou) and a cross-party coalition have announced they are working on a plan to aid victims of Eugenics Protection Act. The initial proposal is based on a similar law from Sweden, and would reward the victims at least ￥3M (appr. USD $27K).
In an interesting development, the working team behind the proposal decided that an agency outside of Japan's Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare will lead the investigation to determine who falls under the scope of the plan. Partially, this is because the predecessor to the agency was directly involved in supporting the former Eugenics Protection Act. However, Asahi Shinbun also surmises that the working team is worried that the Japanese public doesn't trust the Ministry, which is currently embroiled in a scandal around improper collection of wage data.
(JP) Link: A True Investigation of Forced Sterilization: Ruling Party, Cross-Party Coalition Specify Aid Bill
"It Didn't Concern Me"
As Japan comes to terms with its history of eugenics, some people are asking how this law remained on the books until 1996. In her newsletter from August 2018, former newscaster and sociologist Kawai Kaoru (河合薫) expressed her indignation that this law lingered for so long. But, as a newscaster for TV Asahi's News Station when the law was repealed, Kawai recalls having no memory that it even happened. And that, she says, is part of the problem:
もし、仮に報じられていたとしても、当時の私は「え！ 今頃？ ナチスドイツじゃあるまいし、遅過ぎる！」なんて気持ちにはならなかったと思うのです。
If it had been reported, I think that the me of the time would've certainly thought something like, "What? In this day and age? We're not German Nazis - enough's enough!"
But if I were to confess without fear of criticism...I wasn't interested.
A law concerning women. A law related to childbirth. While I was a woman in her 30s who was of child-rearing age, somewhere inside me regarding this important law, I think I thought, "That's no concern of mine."
(JP) Link: A 9-Year-Old Forcibly Sterilized. The Cruel Law That Once Existed in Japan
9歳の少女に強制不妊手術。かつて日本に実在した残酷な法律 - まぐまぐニュース！
The All-Japan Association of Defense Lawyers for Victims of the Eugenics Protection Act (全国優生保護法被害弁護団; zenkoku yuusei hogo higai bengodan) is calling for the government, not merely to compensate the victims of the Act, but to formally apologize, and to establish a strategy for raising public awareness so that history doesn't repeat itself. It's a noble call to action. Whether the working team carries through with it remains to be seen.
I'm the publisher of Unseen Japan. I hold an N1 Certification in the Japanese Language Proficiency Test, and am married to a wonderful woman from Tokyo.
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