[Special Investigative Report] Japan’s Forced Sterilization Program How Japanese Cities Competed for Decades to Sterilize Disabled People – Under Instructions from the Health Ministry.

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◆ Major findings:

*The Japanese government conducted at least 16,500 forced sterilizations in a program that ran from 1948 until 1996. At least 2,390 of the victims were teenagers or children under 10 years old.

*Local governments competed to forcibly sterilize the most number of people, under pressure from the health ministry and the national government, an investigation by the Waseda Chronicle has found.

*Local municipalities aggressively looked for subjects for this procedure to better respond to the national call. Kyoto Prefecture, for example, targeted mental hospitals and hospitals for disabled children.

◆ Summary:

In February this year, a woman in her 60s who says she was forcibly sterilized filed a damages lawsuit against the government.The woman says a prefectural eugenic protection review board in Miyagi Prefecture violated the constitution by ordering the sterilization at a local hospital in 1972. She was 15 and mentally retarded. She says she was given no explanation of her operation.

The lawsuit is unlikely to be the last. Though calls have grown over the years for an investigation into the eugenics program, the government has refused to respond, except to argue that the program was legal at the time. Similar programs in Germany and Sweden were quickly scrapped. Apologies were given to the victims there and compensation. Japan has yet to follow suit. Many records have already been destroyed. Time is running out.

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What would you do if someone important to you was sterilized, without them ever knowing about it?

Three years after the end of World War II, Japan enacted the 1948 Eugenic Protection Law, which allowed the state to forcibly sterilize mentally and/or intellectually disabled people. In 1996, the law was amended to become the Maternal Health Act, effectively banning involuntary sterilization. In the intervening years, more than 16,500 people underwent forced surgery by the state. Some were not even told they would be unable to have children after the operation. Trickery and deception were widespread.

Article one of the law explained its purpose: to “prevent the birth of defective descendants.” The law originated in the postwar political ideology of “reviving the Japanese race.” It initially applied only to those deemed by the state to have hereditary genetic disorders and disabilities, but eventually people with non-hereditary genetic disorders and disabilities, and even some who couldn’t clearly be categorized as disabled fell victim.

Many of the victims are still alive today, but the government has yet to offer compensation or an apology. In our special investigation series, “Forced Sterilization”, we examine the government’s role in violating human rights guaranteed by the constitution because, officials argued, it was for the “public good.”

From August 2017, Waseda Chronicle began getting access to documents requested through information disclosure requests sent to all 47 Japanese prefectures, national archives, and the National Diet Library. Those documents shed a harsh light on the forced sterilization program. We begin our series by looking at how municipalities competed to increase the number of forced sterilization surgeries, in accordance with the national government agenda.

Our investigation found that local municipalities competed to increase the number of forced sterilization surgeries to meet the national government agenda. Government statistics show there were more than 16,000 victims of this program.

So far, just one victim has been publicly speaking about her experiences in an attempt to hold the national and local governments accountable. “Junko” is unable to use her real name because she fears a backlash. Now her advocacy for many years is finally being heard and is shaking up the government.

In this report, we tell Junko’s story and the crimes against humanity that it represents. We start our investigation by unveiling the system the government created to pursue and impose forced sterilizations.

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Article 1 of the eugenics law said its purpose was to “prevent the birth of defective descendants,” as it applied to people with hereditary genetic disorders or disabilities such as schizophrenia, learning disabilities, manic depression, epilepsy, and hemophilia. Surgeries were conducted regardless of whether these people consented, as long as permission came from local government review boards. Article 4 of the law said doctors were required to report to the review boards when they found a person with hereditary genetic disorders or disabilities.

Doctors were allowed to use anesthesia or physical restraints on individuals who were noncompliant, or even to deceive them, according to a notice sent to local governments by the health ministry on October 24th, 1949. In other words, if individuals refused to undergo sterilization surgery, doctors were permitted to drug, restrain or trick them into having the operation. For men, the surgeries involved vasectomies; for women it involved tying the fallopian tubes to block ovum(*1).

DISCLAIMER:

Documents obtained by Waseda Chronicle include discriminatory expressions. In order to illustrate the situation fairly and accurately, we refrained from editing or censoring them.

Video: the documents of forced stabilization

How Japan’s northern island boasted about its numbers

Hokkaido, Japan’s main northern island, led the nation’s 47 prefectures in this program, conducting surgeries on 2,593 people (see graph). In a 1956 letter obtained by Waseda Chronicle from the Kyoto Institute, Library, and Archives, Hokkaido government officials boasted to their Kyoto counterparts about the number of surgeries they had conducted(*2).

Hokkaido's commemorative pamphlet


“The number of forced eugenic surgeries, with the help of doctors, review board members and other affiliated officials, has increased annually, with the number surpassing one thousand cases. We have printed documents that reflect this, as attached, and sent as a reference,” said the letter. A 16-page commemorative pamphlet, produced by Hokkaido government’s health bureau and Hokkaido’s Eugenic Protection Review Board, bragged that Hokkaido surgeries account for “about one-fifth of the national total” and “greatly outnumbers other prefectures as number one.”

“A great contribution to racial hygiene”

In the commemorative issue, Hokkaido said the high number of forced sterilization surgeries was greatly significant “from a racial hygiene perspective” (*4). One section explained that the subjects of forced surgeries had “tragic” medical histories and/or family environments. The execution of forced sterilization surgeries was, therefore, a major responsibility, it said.

Below are excerpts from the commemorative issue, published over a decade after the war. The excerpts including the headings are unedited to give a better sense of the mindset then, so they may contain discriminatory and offensive expressions:

Describing family members’ medical and criminal history“

— A family of eight brothers, three with epilepsy

“One has the intelligence of a first grade elementary school child. An older brother has epilepsy and died at 21. Their younger brother is a laborer who has an epileptic fit about three times every two months. Father is a white-collar worker and lives an ordinary life, and the parents and the five sisters and brothers are normal, but an uncle on the mother’s side has epilepsy. A paternal uncle has schizophrenia and belongs to a typical epilepsy-heavy family”.

— A mother (42) who had three children even after showing symptoms of schizophrenia; one child is schizophrenic

“Married, Schizophrenic. Had one child after marriage. Symptoms began their onset at 29 years old. Had three more children, and the second oldest daughter (thirteen years old) was hospitalized for schizophrenia. The two others are still under ten years old, but are of concern. Eugenic surgery should’ve been conducted the first time she was released from the hospital.”

Mother (31) and younger sister schizophrenic; younger brother killed own sister

“Schizophrenic. Married 1947. Had one child, symptoms began their onset in 1949. Divorced and left the child to return to parent’s home. Roams outside without reason, talks and laughs to herself; became pregnant by unknown father and bore an illegitimate child in 1952. Although her father is a farmer, he is considered odd and is socially isolated. Mother has mild schizophrenia. Younger brother, who killed his sister, suffers from schizophrenia.

— A Yakuza gang member (29)

“Single. Schizophrenic. Under-performer in elementary school; innately lazy. Has wanderlust and left his family at fifteen, mingled with thugs and joined a Yakuza group. A gambling and meth addict. Has three brothers, all born out of wedlock. Mother is unmarried and strongly suspected of being a psychopath. No hereditary evidence but strong suspicion of personality disorder in both him and his mother, so eugenic surgery was conducted, considering his schizophrenia and the preservation of public wellbeing from his anti-societal activities.”

— A disturbed family consisting of three generations of mentally disabled women

“The only sane members of the female subject who was sterilized are two children, aged two and seven, but their future is cloudy. They are on welfare. Her mother is mentally disabled, and remarried after her husband ran away. The subject was born around this time and is also mentally disabled and sexually lewd. She has three daughters with her father-in-law. He is a fisherman but passed away a few years ago, and she allows a homeless man to live with her at home. She had an abortion five months into a pregnancy. Her younger daughter (17 years old, mentally disabled) also aborted a child whose father is unknown seven months into her pregnancy. Her older daughter (19 years old, mentally disabled) is extremely beautiful. She attracts attention from charcoal miners, and becomes sexually involved with them for small amounts of money. All three have been hospitalized. This situation could have been prevented had measures been taken with the grandmother. Either way, the problem is that this family was free for over twenty years. It’s hard not to shake one’s head in disappointment, knowing they receive social and medical welfare.”

The picture is the Hokkaido pamphlet

“The central government is squarely tackling with the issue,” said the Hokkaido Prefecture

The commemorative issue pointed out that 85 percent of subjects who underwent surgery were schizophrenics. Yet it lamented that 14,000 people in Hokkaido with mental disabilities and psychopathic disorders were yet to be treated. (*8) The Hokkaido government concluded: “We are hoping for more proactive cooperation” from affiliated officials. (*9)

Hokkaido was not acting independent from the state but was backed by a national agenda based on the Eugenic Protection Law. “Improving the quality of our people is an ageless necessity,” said the document. “It’s especially important as we revive our national capabilities, and hope for the realization of a bright civilized state,” the issue said. “The government tackling this squarely is a big step forward for ethnic hygiene.”

The health ministry pushed for “better grades with more effort”

The health ministry (currently the Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare) aggressively pushed local governments to raise the number of forced sterilization surgeries.

A letter sent on April 27th 1957 to local government officials by Dr. Rokuro Ohashi, a mental health department manager at the health ministry’s public health bureau (*10), includes the following statements:

“The number of eugenic surgeries conducted is increasing annually, but has yet to hit the target.” “When we compare the numbers between prefectures, as according to the attached document, they are extremely uneven, and this isn’t because there aren’t potential subjects, but because there is room for growth depending on the level of advocacy activities and efforts made by affiliated officials.”

“Please give the utmost care and effort to the eugenic surgeries to be conducted this year.”

Local government officials across Japan were fully aware of the health ministry’s intentions, and some were even conscious of the number of surgeries conducted in other prefectures.

Ten percent of mental hospital patients are potential subjects – Kyoto prefecturee

Ohashi’s letter included a graph illustrating the number of surgeries conducted in every prefecture. A red line was drawn through every prefecture with numbers higher than Kyoto prefecture.

Rokuro Ohashi's letter

There were signs that Kyoto prefecture had made efforts to raise the number of surgeries even before the health ministry’s request.

On Jan. 25, 1955, a manager at Kyoto’s public health bureau sent a document titled: On conducting eugenic surgeries on the mentally ill at all local hospitals.

In the document, the manager decried the low application numbers of potential subjects to the local Eugenic Protection review board, and noted other prefectures with higher numbers.

“It is a serious concern that the application numbers are extremely low (in Kyoto) while the number of the mentally ill is increasing annually,” the document said.

“As a reference, over two hundred eugenic surgeries are conducted in Osaka hospitals, and there are significant numbers of surgeries conducted in Hyogo prefecture, so we estimate that about ten percent of patients at mental institutions are potential subjects for eugenic surgery.”

Forced sterilization extended to disabled children

Just two months after a letter was sent calling for more involvement by mental institutions, a document titled On Conducting Eugenic Surgeries on the Mentally Disabled was sent by the same bureau to the heads of institutions for disabled children. The document, dated March 7, 1955, asked for the institutions’ cooperation in finding mentally disabled children as potential subjects for sterilization surgery.

“Among the children institutionalized for mental disabilities, we believe there are those who fall into the category of having hereditary mental disorders,” the document said.

“We strongly request that you consider the eugenic surgery guideline”

“In addition, the cost of surgery will be covered by the prefectural budget in each case”

The Hiroshima government asked to look for more subjects for the surgery

On July 22, 1964, the health director of Hiroshima Prefecture asked local mayor and public health centers to seek potential subjects for sterilization surgery.

“Despite eugenic surgeries being handled by Hiroshima’s eugenic protection review board, the numbers are low compared to other prefectures, and we believe there is a lack of information dissemination about the program,” said the letter, titled On Eugenic surgery applications based on the Eugenic Protection Law, which Waseda Chronicle obtained through an information disclosure request to the Hiroshima prefectural government.

No application is a problem

At a eugenic protection review board meeting held on June 17, 1977 in Mie prefecture, a member of the board expressed concern about the lack of applications in 1975 and 1976.

“Perhaps it’s a matter of how it’s being instructed. The numbers are high in Northeastern Japan,” the board member, who was also an assistant judge of a local court in Tsu city, said, according to meeting minutes reviewed by Waseda Chronicle.

The statement illustrates how local governments were conscious of one another’s performance, and equally conscious of the national agenda based on the Eugenic Protection Law looming above them.

Victims include more than 2,300 children as young as 9 years old

Statistics produced by the health ministry and other reports illustrate the scale of the national project.

Over the half-century until the law was amended, 16,518 people were forced to go through sterilization surgeries. About 90 percent were carried out in the 1950s and 1960s (refer to graph). In 1955, three years after the law was amended to include people with non-hereditary mental disabilities, the number peaked at 1,362. Although the exact gender divide is unclear due to insufficient historical data, the health ministry’s numbers show that more than twice as many women were sterilized as men.*12).

In two cases (in 1963 and 1974) nine-year-old girls were sterilized, according to surgery records kept by Miyagi prefecture. 2,390 victims under 20 years old, and 70 percent or those were female. In Kyoto prefecture, a 12-year-old girl was forcibly sterilized for “epilepsy and idiocy,” according to one document obtained by Waseda Chronicle.

Most of the victims (4,673) were in their 20s (see graph). The most recently recorded surgery was conducted on a woman from Fukuoka prefecture who was under 20 years old, meaning she would now probably be in her 40s.

Forced sterilization surgeries were conducted in all Japanese prefectures and cities. Hokkaido had the highest number at 2,593, followed by 1,406 in Miyagi prefecture and 845 in Okayama prefecture (see graph).

Many of the younger victims are now in their 50s and 60s.

Involvement of public prosecutors and judges

According to the Eugenic Protection Law, doctors were responsible for reporting potential subjects of sterilization surgeries to the review board, which then would make the final call on surgeries (see chart). The review board included heads of medical associations, deputy prosecutors, and domestic court judges. They were appointed by the local governors, according to documents obtained by Waseda Chronicle through information disclosure requests sent to 47 prefectural governments.

However, as it has been observed in Hokkaido, Kyoto, Hiroshima, and Mie, the local governments played a central role in finding potential subjects and increasing the number of surgeries.

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Forced sterilization surgeries:

Article 1 of the eugenics law said its purpose was to “prevent the birth of defective descendants,” as it applied to people with hereditary genetic disorders or disabilities such as schizophrenia, learning disabilities, manic depression, epilepsy, and hemophilia. Surgeries were conducted regardless of whether these people consented, as long as permission came from local government review boards. Article 4 of the law said doctors were required to report to the review boards when they found a person with hereditary genetic disorders or disabilities.

Doctors were allowed to use anesthesia or physical restraints on individuals who were noncompliant, or even to deceive them, according to a notice sent to local governments by the health ministry on October 24th, 1949. In other words, if individuals refused to undergo sterilization surgery, doctors were permitted to drug, restrain or trick them into having the operation. For men, the surgeries involved vasectomies; for women it involved tying the fallopian tubes to block ovum(*1).

◇Legal process behind forced sterilization

 

◇Number of forced sterilization surgeries (by years)

 

The data was produced by adding the number of surgeries conducted under Article 4 (involuntary sterilization of people with hereditary disorders and/or disabilities) and Article 12 (involuntary sterilization of people with non-hereditary disorders and/or disabilities) of the Eugenic Protection Law, both extracted from health ministry documents. Source documents: 1949 – 1952, 1954 – 1959 taken from the health ministry's Annual Health Report. 1953 taken from the healthy ministry's 1975 Eugenic Protection Law Designated Doctors Workshop Document. 1960 – 1995 taken from Eugenic Protection Statistical Report and 1996 taken from Maternal Protection Statistical Report, both from the health ministry. There is no data on 1948 when the law was enacted. Data separated by age produced by Waseda Chronicle. Numbers are not listed on documents for 1949 – 1954. Data for 1957 may be wrong, according to the health ministry.

◇Number of forced sterilization surgeries (by prefectures)

Taken from health ministry documents. Unable to retrieve data for 1952 and 1953.

Waseda Chronicle is seeking information about forced sterilization surgeries. If you have any information, please contact us here. Your information could help victims.

Copyright (C) Waseda Chronicle, All Rights Reserved.

The original Japanese version of the article was published on Feb. 13, 2018.

(Link: http://www.wasedachronicle.org/articles/importance-of-life/d1/)

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In order to continue our feature series “Forced Sterilization”, we began a crowdfunding campaign.

We need your help in uncovering the truth.

Waseda Chronicle is an independent, non-profit investigative news organization, and an official member of the Global Investigative Journalism Network (GIJN).

All rights and responsibilities of Waseda Chronicle lies with the Editor-in-Chief, Makoto Watanabe.

[Footnotes]

*1 Kyoto prefecture received the document on April 5th 1956

*2 Hokkaido government’s health bureau and Hokkaido Eugenic Protection Review Board’s On Surpassing a thousand eugenic surgeries (forced) 1956, page 5

*3 According to the commemorative issue, members of the Hokkaido Eugenic Protection Review Board at the time were as follows:

Chairman –

Korenari Inagaki (Hokkaido health bureau and public welfare manager)

Board members –

Kotaro Matsumoto (Chairman of Hokkaido Medical Association)

Yoshitaro Hachisuka (Chairman of Hokkaido regional parole board)

Hisa Mizushima (Hokkaido education board member)

Shinichi Itabashi (Sapporo family court judge)

Kiyoyuki Ota (Head of Ota hospital)

Shuzo Nakagawa (Sapporo medical school professor of psychiatry)

Nozomu Suwa (Hokkaido University professor of psychiatry)

Genichi Ogawa (Hokkaido University professor of obstetrics and gynecology)

Executive secretaries –

Chiaki Inoue (Hokkaido’s health bureau health management manager)

Masao Yamada (Hokkaido’s health bureau health management deputy manager)

Masatoshi Araki (Hokkaido’s health bureau health management chief of general affairs)

Yukio Honma (Hokkaido’s health bureau health management eugenics affairs deputy manager)

Kazuo Yoshikawa (Head of Kitami health center)

Secretaries –

Masami Chiba, Tetsu Yoshida, Satsuki Fujii (All members of Hokkaido’s health bureau health management department)

*4 Hokkaido government’s health bureau and Hokkaido Eugenic Protection Review Board’s On Surpassing a thousand eugenic surgeries (forced) 1956, page 5

*5 Hokkaido government’s health bureau and Hokkaido Eugenic Protection Review Board’s On Surpassing a thousand eugenic surgeries (forced) 1956, page 12

*6 Sadatsugu Furuichi, Kiyoshi Asai and others General Chronology of Japanese culture Iwanami Books 1990 page 418. Shinji Arai, XXX Imaizumi 20th Century Chronology Mainichi Newspaper Co 1997 page 560

*7 Shinji Arai, XXX Imaizumi 20th Century Chronology Mainichi Newspaper Co 1997 page 560.

*8 Hokkaido government’s health bureau and Hokkaido Eugenic Protection Review Board’s On Surpassing a thousand eugenic surgeries (forced) 1956, page 7

*9 Hokkaido government’s health bureau and Hokkaido Eugenic Protection Review Board’s On Surpassing a thousand eugenic surgeries (forced) 1956, page 7

*10 Graduated Kyoto University Medical School in 1938. Notable previous occupations include Hyogo prefectural police health department, the National Institute of Public Health, head of Kobe Quarantine Station. Source: Rokurou Ohashi “A motivating job in public health” Public Health (Issue 30 8th edition) 1966 page 29

*11 Mental health department manager at the health ministry’s public health bureau (Rokurou Ohashi) On Educating Eugenic Surgeries. A document sent on April 27th 1957 and disclosed by the Kyoto Institute, Library, and Archives.

*12 Health ministry’s minister’s secretariat statistics research department’s Annual Health Report doesn’t include gender-based data on 1953 and 1954.

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