Jump to ContentJump to Main Navigation
Transnational Japan in the Global Environmental Movement$

Simon Avenell

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780824867133

Published to Hawaii Scholarship Online: September 2017

DOI: 10.21313/hawaii/9780824867133.001.0001

Show Summary Details
Page of

PRINTED FROM HAWAII SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.hawaii.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Hawaii University Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in HSO for personal use.date: 01 August 2021

Japanese Industrial Pollution and Environmental Injustice

Japanese Industrial Pollution and Environmental Injustice

(p.24) Chapter 1 Japanese Industrial Pollution and Environmental Injustice
Transnational Japan in the Global Environmental Movement

Simon Avenell

University of Hawai'i Press

Abstract and Keywords

The chapter explores the roots of Japanese activists’ environmental injustice paradigm in the country’s industrial pollution crisis of the 1960s and early 1970s. The chapter pays particular attention to the Research Committee on Pollution, a group of leading antipollution advocates whose involvement in the domestic movement as scientific and professional specialists deeply shaped their approach to environmental problems and nurtured a desire to communicate Japan’s traumatic experience to the world. The chapter shows how their experiences with local industrial pollution victims combined with their scientific training had the capacity to stimulate transnational activism.

Keywords:   Japan, industrial pollution, Minamata disease, Research Committee on Pollution

Japan had experienced its share of industrial pollution before the postwar era, but nothing of the scale and intensity of that which unfolded from the mid-1950s to the early 1970s. Particularly striking was the enormity of human destruction wrought by postwar pollution on livelihoods, living environments, human dignity, and human bodies. In most cases industry was to blame, but in large urban centers like Tokyo and Osaka ordinary citizens also contributed to environmental degradation through voracious consumption and ever-intensifying demands for convenience, construction, and mechanization. The results of this simultaneous surge in consumerism and unyielding industrial expansion were horrific for both the environment and the humans stricken with industrial diseases—not to mention the dent on national pride as the country became infamous worldwide as a polluters’ paradise. So extreme was the crisis that it provoked a historic wave of grassroots resistance across Japan as local communities and victims expressed their anger in civic protest, in the media, and in the law courts. They were supported by a cadre of pollution-victim advocates—scientists, lawyers, physicians, politicians, local bureaucrats, and schoolteachers—for whom the pollution problem became an all-absorbing quest for justice. Throughout the period, various victim advocacy groups formed within Japan, like the medical researchers studying mercury poisoning at Kumamoto University, progressive lawyers in the Nihon Bengoshi Rengōkai (Japan Federation of Bar Associations, JFBA), and independent groups like the Research Committee on Pollution (RCP). Participants in these groups were among the first to communicate the story of Japanese environmental injustice to the world.

(p.25) In this chapter I explore the ways human suffering in toxic spaces throughout Japan helped propel a paradigm of injustice to the very core of contemporary Japanese environmentalism, providing the ethical and ideational sustenance for subsequent generations of transnational activists. I trace the rising recognition of, and reaction to, environmental injustices in a range of groups, institutions, and media: the victims of industrial pollution and their movements, the mass media, influential publications, the law courts, all levels of government, and specialist groups like the RCP. I then focus on RCP members’ crucial involvement with pollution victims, in order to understand the intellectual and emotional factors that shaped their perspectives on environmental injustice and stimulated their subsequent transnational action. The horrific situation of victims was so shocking—so morally reprehensible—that the violation of victims’ human rights and their protracted struggles for justice almost completely dominated the activism of such groups. We might usefully compare this environmentalism to other environmental imaginaries of the time, such as Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring in the United States, which emphasized the violation of the rights of nature and living organisms like birds. In the case of polluted 1960s Japan, it was the degraded and poisoned human living environment and, more crucially, the humans located therein that monopolized attention. Once a tool for human nourishment, productivity, and leisure, the natural environment now became a silent conduit for the deadly chemical substances of human injury and injustice. In subsequent chapters I explore how this anthropocentric, justice- and rights-focused environmentalism would dominate the transnational action of Japanese environmental activists in the coming decades.

While the overwhelming majority of antipollution groups in Japan focused on their own local struggles, having neither the resources nor the inclination to address the wider implications, for groups like the RCP, whose members’ were highly educated and internationally literate, tackling the deeper structural aspects of Japanese industrial pollution was a matter of pressing concern from the outset. Their membership’s unique combination of scientific expertise, fury toward industry, and compassion for victims profoundly shaped the group’s approach to environmentalism through the lenses of inequity, discrimination, and injustice. Moreover, this combination of factors also contributed to their sense of moral obligation to communicate Japan’s experience to the world when the opportunity arose. As social and natural scientists with decidedly humanist leanings, they desperately wanted to understand the political and socioeconomic dynamics of pollution in (p.26) Japan. What caused it? Was it something to do with capitalism in general or Japanese capitalism in particular? What might be the most effective method to eradicate pollution and to secure some form of recompense for the victims? More than any other factor, it was the plight of pollution victims that put “fire in the belly” and “iron in the soul” of groups like the RCP.1 Although all communities across the archipelago were enduring the consequences of pollution, antipollution advocates quickly recognized that it hit some groups more brutally than others. Indeed, the unborn, the young, the elderly, women, the poor, and peripheralized rural communities emerged as the martyrs of Japan’s relentless drive for affluence and so-called development.

Japanese Pollution and Its Victims

It is worth reiterating that, prior to the postwar pollution crisis, Japan already had a sorry track record of industrial pollution dating back to at least the mid-nineteenth century, when the country’s samurai rulers abandoned relatively regulated involvement with Western countries for full-scale Western-style modernization and, later, imperialistic expansion. Areas of Japan had gone toxic long before the 1960s, especially air and river degradation in regions near copper mines and related processing facilities. The pre–World War II period ‘was not totally devoid of environmental protest and official action either, with some instances of environmental regulation by local governments and pollution abatement measures by industry. But these prewar developments were promptly sidelined when the country mobilized for war in the 1930s and they were essentially abandoned in the postwar reconstruction years.2

With the transition from early post–World War II deprivation to the affluence of high-speed economic growth from the mid-1950s, Japan entered its darkest moment of industrial pollution in the modern era. As early as 1955—when overall economic growth had recovered to prewar highs—newborns were poisoned by arsenic mistakenly introduced into powdered infant formula manufactured by the Morinaga Milk Company. The poisoning caused fever, severe diarrhea, skin spotting, and, in some cases, death. For those infants who survived, the prognosis was dim. Studies revealed that victims were still suffering the effects over a decade later, with impeded bone development, proteinuria (elevated urinary protein), abnormal brain activity, hearing loss, and lower IQ levels.3 Over eleven thousand were affected, and 133 infants died in 1955 alone. Similar food poisoning occurred in 1968 (p.27)

Japanese Industrial Pollution and Environmental Injustice

Infants being examined for arsenic contamination, 1955

(The Mainichi Newspapers)

when people consumed Kanemi Rice Bran Oil contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). Victims suffered with painful eye discharge, acne-like eruptions on the skin, pigmentation, respiratory difficulties, joint and muscle pain, and general lethargy. Because of the skin pigmentation and skin eruptions, many victims withdrew from social life and the workplace altogether. The so-called cola babies born of mothers poisoned by the oil had dark-brown pigmented skin and were found to have lower IQs. Compounding victims’ misery and sense of injustice, eight months earlier some five hundred thousand chickens had died and one million were made sick after consuming feed containing oil by-products produced by Kanemi in the same manufacturing facilities. At the time the company had denied any wrongdoing and government officials refused to follow up, with disastrous effects for some ten thousand human victims just months later.4

Industrial waste contaminated air, land, rivers, and seas—most shockingly in the Big Four pollution incidents at Minamata Bay, Yokkaichi City, and the Jinzū (Toyama) and Agano (Niigata) Rivers. In the mid-1950s patients living around Minamata Bay in Kumamoto Prefecture began to present at local hospitals with abnormalities of the central and peripheral nervous systems, which had been first observed as strange dancing, seizures, (p.28)

Japanese Industrial Pollution and Environmental Injustice

A congenital Minamata disease sufferer and her mother, 1973

(The Mainichi Newspapers)

and sudden death among local cats. Investigations revealed the source of the pollution to be effluent dumped into the bay by the Chisso Corporation.5 The etiology of this disease, called Minamata disease, lay in consumption of seafood containing the bio-accumulative organometallic compound, methyl mercury. Typical symptoms included concentric constriction of the visual field, sensory disturbances, speech impediment, hearing loss, motor coordination disturbances, and convulsions. Tragically also, methyl mercury is a developmental neurotoxin that can cross the placenta. Infants born of women who ate polluted seafood exhibited severe symptoms, including mental retardation, involuntary reflexes, and coordination disturbances. As one report later explained, “They have no mental world and in their crying existence they have been condemned to a subhuman existence by the dumb inhuman forces of society.”6 Needless to say, these innocent victims of congenital Minamata disease became focal symbols of environmental injustice in Japan, most notably in the sensitive yet heartrending photo graphs by Eugene Smith that shocked the world in the 1970s.7

Around the same time, residents living downwind from a petrochemical complex in Yokkaichi City in Mie Prefecture began to complain of breathing difficulties and severe asthma. Subsequent investigations revealed the cause to be noxious gases emitted from the complex. This second of the (p.29) Big Four pollution incidents, called “Yokkaichi Asthma,” became synonymous with the tragic downside of regional development in the postwar period. People living nearby suffered from bronchitis, sore throats, and colds at rates 220 percent higher than average. Many contracted chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which caused severe breathing difficulty, sore throat, painful coughing seizures, and sometimes death. An influential 1964 publication described the condition as follows: “Asthma is the ‘citizen’s disease’ in Yokkaichi. In the middle of the night an attack suddenly occurs. The only way to escape the pain is to leave this petroleum city.”8

The third of the Big Four surfaced in the late 1950s when a local doctor in Toyama Prefecture confirmed that cadmium dumped into the Jinzū River by the Mitsui Mining and Smelting Company caused the debilitating condition known as Itai Itai (It Hurts It Hurts) disease. The cadmium made victims bones brittle and prone to fracture, caused damage to major organs, and resulted in an excruciatingly painful death. The caption of one photo of a shockingly deformed infant stricken with the poisoning read, “Cadmium in my bones from the water and food make my legs break in a dozen places. I suffer from the dread[ed] Itai Itai disease and there seems no hope for me.”9 The highest recorded number of bone fractures in the body of an individual sufferer was seventy-two, of which twenty-eight fractures were in the rib cage alone.10 If all this was not enough, in 1964 another case of methyl mercury poisoning occurred, this time in Niigata Prefecture, caused by effluent dumped into the Agano River by the Shōwa Denkō Company.11

Residents of Tokyo and Osaka also suffered from deteriorating air and water quality. In 1960 Osaka experienced choking smog for 165 days out of the year, and Tokyo fared no better. As late as 1969 Mount Fuji, about sixty miles (approx. one hundred kilo meters) from central Tokyo, was visible for only thirty-eight days; reports from a century earlier had the number at over one hundred days of visibility per year. Air quality became so bad in the nation’s capital that in April 1970 forty children in Tokyo’s central Suginami Ward collapsed from photochemical smog inhalation, with some requiring hospitalization.12 The city’s rivers were in no better condition. A 1971 report by the Tokyo metropolitan government described how, “in the decade from 1955,” the Sumida River “was contaminated with factory effluents and domestic water to such an extent that it had turned into an open sewer, not only prohibitive for fish and other aquatic life but also giving off unpleasant and obnoxious odors.”13 (p.30)

Japanese Industrial Pollution and Environmental Injustice

Itai Itai disease sufferers and their physician, Dr. Hagino Noboru, 1972

(The Mainichi Newspapers)

Japanese citizens did not suffer in silence. Antipollution protest movements appeared as early as the late 1950s when irate fishermen in Tokyo (1958) and Minamata (1959) stormed the premises of polluting factories and demanded recompense. Such local movements were greatly encouraged in 1964 when protesters led by schoolteachers in Shizuoka Prefecture south of Tokyo forced local politicians to abandon plans for a petrochemical complex similar to the noxious Yokkaichi facility. Selected as a special industrial region by the central government in 1963, the area was slated for a major petrochemical development in 1964. By this time, however, local residents knew about lethal pollution-induced asthma in Yokkaichi, and they quickly mobilized into an opposition movement to stop construction. Their scientifically savvy and well-organized movement proved successful: by late 1964 local officials, under intense public pressure, decided to shelve the project.14 The Shizuoka opposition movement proved to be a boon for industrial pollution victims. Enamored by this victory and supported by progressive lawyers and victims’ advocates, beginning in 1967 victims of the Big Four pollution incidents instigated civil law proceedings against offending companies, and from 1971 to 1973 courts delivered monumental victories in (p.31) their favor. In the long run the Shizuoka movement also contributed to a softening of corporate and bureaucratic hypersensitivity to regulation, opening the way for a wave of environmental legislation from the late 1960s. Rather than resist regulation, industrial and government elites learned from Shizuoka that steering legal change might be more strategically savvy than resisting protest head on.

Antipollution and antidevelopment movements continued to mobilize around the nation throughout the 1960s and early 1970s, hitting a peak of around three thousand local mobilizations in 1973. Pollution victims began to forge rudimentary movement networks and publish their own newsletters or minikomi (mini communications), which increased eightfold during the period.15 Inspired by the Shizuoka success, other high-profile prevention movements mobilized to stop construction of a freight line in Yokohama City and a new international airport in Chiba Prefecture—the latter drawing in radical leftist student activists.16 Both mobilizations began in 1966, and although both ultimately failed, they confirmed just how sensitive local communities were becoming to environmental disruption in the name of economic development. Some even heralded this rising “wave of resistance” as a new stage in the democratization of Japan.17 True or not, all of these movements contributed to a growing sense of dissatisfaction with unbridled economic growth dependent on the sacrifice of the living environment and human health.

Together with grassroots protest, the rise of a public discourse on industrial pollution also contributed greatly to anger over environmental injustices in 1960s Japan. Journalists led the way here by exposing the shocking consequences of pollution and reporting on the abysmal situation of victims. In the late 1960s, for example, the newspaper Asahi Shinbun took the unprecedented step of forming a “pollution team” of reporters to work exclusively on the issue. For eighteen months, beginning in 1970, the team wrote pollution- and environment-related articles for their respective departments and collaborated on a special series called “Kankyō o Mamoru” (Protecting the environment).18 The newspaper followed up in 1971 with the provocative book Kutabare GNP: Kōdo Keizai Seichō no Uchimaku (To hell with GNP: The lowdown on high-speed economic growth). A sardonically titled chapter, “Kokumin Sōkōgai” (Gross national pollution), argued that, rather than simply “shifting the burden onto victims,” the human and environmental costs of growth should be deducted from the GNP to give a more accurate picture of so-called growth.19 Buzzwords made popular in the (p.32) media also capture the tenor of the moment: shokuhin kōgai (food pollution) in 1961, kōgai (pollution) in 1965, hedoro (industrial sludge) in 1970, and Minamata in 1973.20 The foreign media also chimed in. The New York Times explored Japan’s pollution problems in a 1968 article, “Not All Is Serene in Cities of Japan” and, more comprehensively, in a multipage 1972 special headlined “Students in the elementary schools grow up suffering from Asthma. Plants wither and die. The birds around Mount Fuji are decreasing in number. They no longer visit the town.”21 So consequential had this discourse become by the early 1970s that even conservative politicians found it necessary to couch their designs for the country in environmental language. In his best-selling 1972 work Nihon Rettō Kaizō Ron (Building a New Japan: Plan for Remodelling the Japanese Archipelago), Liberal Demo cratic Party (LDP) heavyweight Tanaka Kakuei imagined a “renaissance” for Japan “in which man and sunshine and verdant surroundings” would “replace big cities or industries as the rightful master of society.”22

Public intellectuals played a crucial role in forcing questions of environmental injustice onto the public agenda in the 1960s. In terms of sophisticated multidisciplinary analysis of environmental problems worldwide during this period, these Japanese public intellectuals stood on par with, or were even ahead of, their counter parts elsewhere. In the context of American environmental thought, scientists such as marine biologist Rachel Carson, entomologist and population specialist Paul Ehrlich, and antinuclear campaigner and ecologist Barry Commoner immediately come to mind. In Eu rope it was “small is beautiful” proponent E. F. Schumacher (UK), deep ecology founder Arne Naess (Norway), and ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau (France) who took the lead. In the case of Japan, however, antipollution campaigners and victim advocates took center stage: economists Miyamoto Ken’ichi and Tsuru Shigeto, chemical engineer Ui Jun, jurist Kainō Michitaka, and writers Ishimure Michiko and Ariyoshi Sawako. Concern for victims profoundly influenced the public statements and activities of these individuals and, moreover, helped propel notions of injustice to the very forefront of environmental debate in Japan at the time.

The 1964 book Osorubeki Kōgai (Fearsome pollution) is a case in point. Coauthored by Miyamoto Ken’ichi and environmental hygienist Shōji Hikaru, this best-selling volume was the first important mainstream publication documenting the extent, nature, and causes of industrial pollution in Japan. Hardly light reading, Osorubeki Kōgai sold an amazing 430,000 copies and can be likened to Carson’s Silent Spring (1962) in the United (p.33) States or André Gorz’s Ecologie et Politique (1975) in France.23 What made the book unique, however, was its focus on the mechanisms of victimization and injustice inherent in Japan’s high-growth development model. Osorubeki Kōgai became a powerful mouthpiece for Miyamoto and Shōji to propagate the viewpoint that industrial pollution was, above all, a story of how human welfare and human rights had been flagrantly trampled in the relentless march for intensive capitalistic accumulation. Thanks to their book, the two authors found themselves transformed into industrial pollution authorities almost overnight.

While Miyamoto and Shōji provided the first scientific treatment of pollution for a mainstream audience, writer Ishimure Michiko gave it a human face with her heartrending 1969 work, Kugai Jōdo: Waga Minamatabyō (published in English as Paradise in the Sea of Sorrow: Our Minamata Disease). Ishimure had actually written about pollution victims earlier, but it was not until Kugai Jōdo that she gained national attention. In 1970 the book was awarded the first of many prizes, which Ishimure resolutely declined in respect for the victims’ ongoing struggle. Although somewhat later, another female writer, Ariyoshi Sawako, made a similar impact on the environmental debate with her serialized documentary-novel Fukugō Osen (Compound pollution), which ran in the newspaper Asahi Shinbun from October 1974 through June 1975.24 Week by week, and somewhat more accessibly than Miyamoto and Shōji’s earlier work, Ariyoshi laid out the shocking health risks of insecticides and pesticides such as DDT, in the process producing a kind of manifesto for the alternative food movement in Japan. One is tempted to portray Ishimure and Ariyoshi as the Japanese equivalents of Rachel Carson. The similarities are undeniable: they were both women writing for a mainstream audience on environmental issues at around the same time. But unlike Carson, neither Ishimure nor Ariyoshi were scientists by training, nor did they single-handedly start the environmental debate in Japan as Carson had done in the United States in 1962. Rather, these two Japanese women further clarified and cemented the outrageous injustices of environmental pollution in the public mind, and Ishimure’s work, coming as it did in 1969, fortified the growing pressure for substantive environmental legislation to address these injustices.

Faced with such pressures, government officials began to react, first at the local level. In 1964 Yokohama City signed a landmark pollution prevention agreement with local industry that set voluntary emissions standards and formalized processes of citizen participation and oversight. In nearby (p.34) Tokyo, progressive Governor Minobe Ryōkichi established a dedicated Pollution Research Office in 1967, and in 1969 passed a landmark pollution prevention ordinance with the strictest standards for air and water quality in the nation.25 In contrast to the Minobe administration’s proactive posture, the response to pollution at the national level came only in agonizingly cautious—some would say patently reluctant—steps, which only added to a popular sense of inaction and injustice. In terms of legislative remedies, the national government’s approach until the 1970s was based on harmonization, not justice. For example, after the Honshū Paper Mill polluted Tokyo Bay in 1958, a law passed to regulate water quality was deliberately weakened by a clause specifying that pollution control measures should proceed in “harmony” with “sound economic development”—ineffect providing a loophole for polluters.26 The 1962 Baien no Haishutsu no Kisei tō ni Kansuru Hō (Law for the regulation of smoke and soot), passed in response to air pollution in Yokkaichi City, contained a similar clause, as did the 1967 Kōgai Taisaku Kihonhō (Basic law for environmental pollution control)—touted by officials as an epoch-making piece of environmental legislation. While officials were prob ably not intent on willfully destroying the environment or poisoning citizens, in hindsight, the harmonization approach reveals a callous disregard for pollution and its hapless victims. There can be no doubt that this stance only added to a growing sense of environmental injustice nationwide.

By the same token, not all national bureaucrats were cut from the same cloth. Given its portfolio, the Ministry of Health and Welfare (MHW) was among the earliest ministries to pay serious attention to the industrial pollution problem. In 1959, only months after Kumamoto researchers identified methyl mercury as the culprit in Minamata disease, the MHW’s Food Hygiene Research Committee reached the same conclusion.27 Similarly, in 1965, MHW tests pointed to fish in the Agano River as the cause of the second Minamata disease outbreak in Niigata. By early 1967 another MHW research team was pointing the finger directly at the Shōwa Denkō factory upstream.28 Along with this pollution monitoring, the MHW also provided funding for nongovernmental groups. Significantly, from 1963 to 1967 the MHW provided critical start-up funding for Tsuru Shigeto’s group of antipollution campaigners, the Research Committee on Pollution. Given the later contribution of RCP members to the Japanese and global environmental movement, this official state funding for a pioneering ENGO deserves recognition.

(p.35) Other ministries also responded, although perhaps not always with the same level of genuine concern. An industrial pollution division was established in the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI) in 1963, an interministerial coordination committee for pollution control at the vice-ministerial level in 1964, and a Kōgai Shingikai (Deliberative Council on Pollution) in 1965.29 More concretely, the government-owned Kōgai Bōshi Jigyōdan (Pollution Prevention Corporation) was established in 1965 with the objective of averting future siting disputes through the procurement of environmentally suitable sites, construction of green belts, installation of abatement equipment, and loans for pollution control and prevention measures.30 Of course, such countermeasures did little to alleviate suffering on the ground, and well-intentioned officials were often thwarted by the prevailing consensus on “harmonizing” environmental protection with industrial development.

Nevertheless, mounting pressure from protest movements and a worried populace eventually forced national lawmakers and bureaucrats to respond. By 1968 the MHW was in a sufficiently strong position to officially recognize the Itai Itai and Minamata conditions as pollution diseases—decisions that bolstered the ongoing lawsuits and opened the way for official compensation.31 At a historic session of parliament in 1970—later called the Pollution Diet—fourteen laws were either newly passed or amended, giving Japan one of the strictest environmental regulation regimes in the world. The strengthening of the Kōgai Taisaku Kihonhō of 1967 was emblematic of this Diet session. Notably, lawmakers deleted the pro-industry clause in Article 1 of the law, which had required environmental protection to proceed “in harmony with sound economic development.”32 Complementing these historic legislative reforms, in 1971 the Environment Agency of Japan (EAJ, Kankyōchō) was established and a nationwide system for pollution dispute resolution put in place. Two years later, in 1973, the Diet passed the Kōgai Kenkō Higai Hoshō Hō (Law for the compensation of pollution-related health injury), creating the world’s first governmental compensation scheme for pollution victims. Japan could now boast a hefty suite of antipollution regulations and an environmental bureaucracy staffed by a cadre of ostensibly green officials. The creation of this environmental bureaucracy is also interesting for what it says about the official response to years of environmental injustice. Rather than leaving disputes between polluters and victims to be resolved by the courts, as was done in the Big Four, officials thereafter preferred to keep this process informal through (p.36) bureaucrat-led resolution mechanisms that kept control firmly in bureaucratic hands.33

There is no doubt that environmental conditions in mid-1970s Japan were much improved compared with those a decade earlier. Of course, industrial and other forms of pollution were by no means eradicated and, as others have noted, significant environmental problems remained unsolved.34 Moreover, after the court cases were over, the lawmaking done, and the media hype exhausted, it was the victims of pollution and their families who were left to cope with the aftereffects of contamination—very often for the rest of their lives. Indeed, the victims embodied the very essence of environmental injustice wrought by industrial pollution, and as we will see, their plight and their symbolism authenticated and invigorated the environmental injustice paradigm Japanese activists first formulated at home and then took to the world.

Understanding Environmental Injustice: The Research Committee on Pollution

Pioneering antipollution and environmental advocates played a catalytic role in the national response to pollution by connecting the dots between contamination, industry, politics, injustice, and injury and by supporting the movement for victim recompense. Together with pollution victims, these individuals helped fashion Japan’s environmental injustice paradigm. No group was more influential in this connection than the Research Committee on Pollution formed in 1963 by eight leftist academics.35 Above all, the RCP shared a commitment to the plight of pollution victims and an unrelenting determination to expose the perpetrators—an anthropocentric perspective that, as I have noted, came to dominate contemporary Japanese environmentalism and deeply informed later transnational involvement. As the RCP’s founder, economist Tsuru Shigeto, later explained, these eight academics represented almost the entire reservoir of pollution expertise in Japan at the time, and, working in isolation, each had struggled greatly to piece together a comprehensive picture of the crisis. Once united, however, the group generated powerful synergies in terms of multidisciplinary perspectives, investigative methodologies, and social networks. The openness of group members to diverse and often contradictory strategies helped sustain their ongoing collaboration. For instance, while Tsuru, Kainō, and Shōji sometimes worked inside the system as pollution czars and government advisers in progressive local governments, Ui waged a public crusade against (p.37) conservative political leaders and national ministries. Notably, in 1970 Ui was arrested for storming the MHW—a financial patron of the RCP—on behalf of Minamata disease sufferers.36

From the late 1950s, RCP members began to visit suspected sites of pollution such as Minamata Bay and the petrochemical complex in Yokkaichi City. Their fieldwork experiences forced them to think carefully about the politics and economics of pollution and, for a number of them, matured into a systematic project to identify and clearly articulate the essential elements of Japanese pollution as a first step toward its eradication. From the mid- to late 1960s, members’ activities expanded beyond site observations and public advocacy to include court appearances, local government service, and activist network building. In the law courts, Miyamoto Ken’ichi, Shōji Hikaru, and legal scholar Kainō Michitaka supported Yokkaichi asthma plaintiffs in their civil action (1967–1972) against the six polluting petrochemical companies.37 Miyamoto testified as an expert witness for the plaintiffs, providing the court with a detailed history of postwar Japanese pollution, while Shōji and Kainō acted as special advisers to the plaintiffs’ attorneys. Miyamoto and Kainō also joined Ui as special advisers to the plaintiffs in the Niigata methyl mercury poisoning case (1967–1971). Ui’s background in the etiology and pathology of industrial pollution proved invaluable in this intensely scientific lawsuit, as too did Miyamoto’s persuasive closing argument for the ultimately victorious plaintiffs.38 Apart from the Big Four pollution cases, RCP members appeared as expert witnesses and legal advisers in a myriad of pollution suits over airport noise, land reclamation, coastal access rights, auto emissions, and bullet train vibration. In the process they contributed to a minor revolution in Japanese environmental common law, including innovations such as the principle of absolute liability in the Itai Itai disease case, joint tortfeasance and corporate negligence in the Yokkaichi case, and the concept of maximum permissible limits in the Osaka Airport night-flights case.39

As they fought alongside victims in the courts, RCP members also fanned out as advisers in the many progressive local governments elected from the mid-1960s. In Western Honshū, Shōji Hikaru served as chairman on pollution advisory boards for Osaka, Kyoto, Kobe, and Amazaki Cities, where he drafted pollution prevention ordinances that dramatically improved air and water quality. Shōji’s pollution strategy for the smog-ridden Osaka City was a crucial ingredient in the successful two-term governorship (1971–1979) of the socialist constitutional scholar Kuroda Ryōichi, elected on a promise to “restore Osaka’s beautiful skies.”40 Even more influential in the (p.38)

Japanese Industrial Pollution and Environmental Injustice

Photochemical smog and noise pollution meter installed in downtown Tokyo by the Minobe administration, 1973

(The Mainichi Newspapers)

local antipollution cleanup was the Tokyo governorship (1967–1979) of Marxian economist Minobe Ryōkichi, who swiftly mobilized Tsuru Shigeto and Kainō Michitaka into his pollution brain trust. Tsuru served on a specialist urban planning panel that, in 1969, recommended a sweeping strategy to address pollution through public housing, urban transport, and land redevelopments.41

Kainō Michitaka shouldered an even greater responsibility as chief of the innovative Tokyo City Pollution Research Bureau, which assembled bureaucrats responsible for town water, sanitation, and waste disposal alongside medical practitioners, biologists, botanists, public works specialists, meteorologists, and chemists.42 As the capital city’s pollution czar, Kainō sent fact-finding missions to China, South Korea, and the United States, convened international conferences, strengthened municipal regulations, and formulated a citywide strategy involving source prevention, industrial relocation, and greenbelt construction. Like Miyamoto and Shōji, Kainō was enamored by Chinese and Soviet communism, and hoped to inject some elements into Tokyo governance. He was particularly impressed by reports from Russia describing state-of-the-art automobile factories operating at only (p.39) 30 percent capacity because communists apparently only made what they needed.43

Two of Kainō’s initiatives as pollution czar had nationwide effect: the 1970 volume Kōgai to Tōkyōto (Pollution and Tokyo city), and the Tōkyōto Kōgai Bōshi Jōrei (Pollution prevention ordinance) of 1969. A weighty seven hundred pages long, Kōgai to Tōkyōto represented a cutting-edge statement on urban environmental policymaking, covering the causes of air, water, sound, and vibratory pollution; their health effects; remedial regulatory and legal mechanisms; and the role of civic activism.44 Given that it was an official publication, the volume’s advocacy of vigorous civic opposition to pollution was particularly striking, yet understandable given the extent of Tokyo’s problems and the ideological proclivities of Kainō and others in the Minobe administration. The message was that, although Revolution with a capital “R” was impossible, through people power a smaller pollution revolution could really happen. Despite its length, Kōgai to Tōkyōto sold an impressive thirty thousand copies, becoming required reading for local officials nationwide.45

A year before publication of that book, Kainō and his bureau made an indelible mark on environmental law in Japan with their brainchild ordinance, the Tōkyōto Kōgai Bōshi Jōrei. What distinguished this ordinance from those in other municipalities was its provocative disregard for national standards. Unlike national pollution regulations diluted by economic harmony clauses, the Tokyo ordinance set unprecedented emissions standards for sulfur and other noxious oxides. Pro-industry bureaucrats and politicians initially resisted, citing national legal supremacy, but, faced with a potential electoral backlash, a wave of protest, and numerous lawsuits, they eventually relented, and the ordinance survived intact.46 When the Pollution Diet convened in the following year, the ordinance became a minimum standard that vote-sensitive national politicians could not simply ignore. Indeed, this ordinance represented one of the RCP’s most noteworthy regulatory achievements, substantively influencing both local and national regulation. More prosaically, life in Tokyo improved as a result: by the mid-1970s annual average levels of sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, and suspended particulates had dramatically decreased, while photochemical oxidants and nitrogen dioxide were leveling off.47

While Kainō and other RCP members tackled Japan’s regulatory deficiencies, others such as Ui Jun focused on grassroots network building. In the evening of October 12, 1970, Ui convened the first of his Independent (p.40) Lectures on Pollution (ILP) at the Urban Engineering Department of Tokyo University. Coming at the height of the pollution crisis, these public lectures attracted hundreds of students, office workers, house wives, small business owners, and local administrators. Ui presented thirteen lectures during the first term, covering the history and current state of Japanese industrial pollution, the situation in European countries, and strategies for resistance. The second term featured guest speakers such as Minamata activist Ishimure Michiko, Itai Itai disease researcher Dr. Hagino Noboru, and socialist stalwart Arahata Kanson, who captivated a one-thousand-strong audience with his talk on the legendary prewar antipollution activist Tanaka Shōzō who had fought for the rights of locals.48

Just as important as the lectures were the publications and activism generated by the ILP movement. After Ui’s initial 1970 lecture, ILP participants spontaneously formed an executive committee that meticulously transcribed proceedings for a monthly newsletter, Jishu Kōza (The independent lectures). This publication subsequently became a mouthpiece for environmental movements across Japan. Ui’s first-term presentations were later published in the volume Kōgai Genron (The principles of pollution), which sold one hundred thousand copies and was named among the ten most influential books of postwar Japan by the influential weekly Asahi Shūkan.49 Among the most important contributions of Ui’s lectures was his characterization of industrial pollution not only as technical problem to be solved but, more fundamentally, as a critical component in a system of discrimination and injustice against the very weakest in society and, moreover, a phenomenon that implicated not only government and industry but also ordinary citizens, who benefited from the suffering of pollution victims and contributed to discrimination against them.50

Operating from a small apartment in Tokyo, the ILP executive committee served as a contact point between local activists and urbanites keen to join the antipollution struggle. As Ui explained, many initially came out of curiosity but, deeply inspired, joined on as supporters in various initiatives such as the movement of Minamata disease sufferers.51 Moreover, from 1972 onward, Ui and the executive committee expanded their activities transnationally, protesting with activists outside UNCHE in Stockholm, publishing English-language materials, and guiding foreign journalists around Japan’s pollution sites. The ILP also became a seedbed for movements opposing Japanese industrial pollution in Asia in the 1970s and radioactive waste dumping in the Pacific in the 1980s. In this way, a domestic network (p.41)

Japanese Industrial Pollution and Environmental Injustice

Ui Jun presenting at the Independent Lectures on Pollution, 1973

(The Mainichi Newspapers)

established to oppose Japanese industrial pollution, teach about its causes, and seek justice for its victims also served as a launchpad for Japanese activists to take their environmental injustice paradigm to the world.

Throughout the 1960s RCP members feverishly strove to comprehend the mechanisms of industrial pollution and, more pointedly, to fashion some kind of political strategy for victim recompense. Most members brought a decidedly Marxian perspective to the pollution problem, beginning with the general assumption that industrial capitalism, ipso facto, produced pollution. But, as professional social and natural scientists, RCP members were also resolutely committed to studying the causes and manifestations of industrial pollution as it occurred in actual places and communities. This was an important commitment because empiricism demanded a rigorous testing of ideology in the field and ultimately, for some in the group, a modification of their deepest political commitments. For example, members’ investigations into Japanese cases of pollution revealed that labor unions were not necessarily the natural allies of industrial pollution victims and, in some cases, could even exacerbate injustices. Moreover, in contrast to the impoverishment of the working class typical of early-stage capitalism, “immiseration” (p.42) under contemporary advanced capitalism manifested in different groups and phenomena such as “pollution, urban congestion and decay, or chronic inflation.”52 Such differences implied the necessity for modifications in both theory and strategy. Although members never completely abandoned their belief that pollution was more likely under capitalism than socialism, the realities of actually existing industrial pollution encouraged them to rethink strategy beyond rigid class lines. Important also, by disrupting the stability of their ideological universe, RCP members’ engagement with the problem of Japanese industrial pollution raised the question of industrial pollution elsewhere, especially in socialist and communist countries where, theoretically, it should not have existed. To be sure, their Marxist leanings gave them a cosmopolitan and international perspective to begin with, but I believe that the theoretical, ethical, and strategic challenges posed by Japanese industrial pollution also planted the seeds of their later willingness to travel and connect across borders. In a sense, discovering that the local was not operating as it should have been theoretically sowed the seeds of a project to reimagine and reposition that local.

Consider first the trajectory of Miyamoto Ken’ichi. Miyamoto (1930–), an economist and scholar of public finance, was a founding member of the RCP with Tsuru Shigeto. His approach to pollution and the environment had the most palpable Marxian flavor of the group, a result of what Miyamoto described as his early “baptism” into Marxism, which for many years enjoyed a quasi-religious status among Japanese social scientists.53 Miyamoto became concerned about industrial pollution at the 1961 meeting of the socialist Zen Nihon Jichi Dantai Rōdō Kumiai (All-Japan Prefectural and Municipal Workers Union, or Jichirō), where he learned of officially censored data evidencing severe air and water contamination around the new petrochemical complex in Yokkaichi City, located in Mie Prefecture around 230 miles (370 kilo meters) south of Tokyo. This data diverged sharply from a glossy pamphlet from the Urban Engineering Department at Tokyo University (involved in the project), which eulogized Yokkaichi as an “ideal industrial city of sunlight and green space” supplanting the asphyxiating coal-powered centers of old. Intrigued, Miyamoto traveled to Yokkaichi twice over the coming months where he was deeply shocked to discover over eight hundred asthma sufferers and a foul-smelling bay with malodorous, inedible fish. In mid-1962 on a guided tour of the complex Miyamoto observed wastewater treatment facilities and interviewed factory officials who insisted the pollution originated from a sunken ship in the bay. Infuriated (p.43)

Japanese Industrial Pollution and Environmental Injustice

The “hellish skies” over Yokkaichi City, June 1970

(The Mainichi Newspapers)

by these denials and mindful of the victims, Miyamoto decided to gather more data on the “insidious” and “fearsome” villain at Yokkaichi.54

Later in the same year, Miyamoto traveled farther south to the Yahata Ironworks in northern Kyushu, where he was shocked again—this time by the gray, smog-choked sky and the blackened Dōkai Bay. Coal or oil power irrespective, he came to see these industrial cities as hotbeds of tyrannical monopoly capital, modern “corporate castle towns” like the feudal castle towns of old ruled by sword-wielding samurai warriors.55 With the establishment of the RCP in 1963, Miyamoto, Tsuru, and other members intensified their field research: Yokkaichi again in 1964 and 1967, the planned Shizuoka petrochemical plant in 1964, and myriad other cities such as Minamata, Kisarazu, and Mizushima. At each site they met with activists, victims, medical doctors, and industry representatives, carefully documenting the devastating progression from industrial irresponsibility to contamination and, ultimately, human suffering and injustice.56

Deeply disturbed by the human costs of industrial pollution, members began communicating their findings publicly almost immediately. In December 1962 an incensed Miyamoto penned what would be the first postwar essay to use kōgai (pollution) in its title. In the essay, “Shinobiyoru Kōgai” (p.44) (Insidious pollution), Miyamoto lambasted the “hellish skies” over Japan’s industrial towns and condemned pollution as the new “king of human rights violations.”57 As mentioned, most widely read and influential was his bestselling 1964 book, Osorubeki Kōgai (Fearsome pollution), coauthored with fellow RCP member Shōji Hikaru.58 As fellow RCP member Ui Jun later explained, Osorubeki Kōgai was more than an alarm bell like Carson’s Silent Spring; it also became the “how to” manual for victims, advocates, and antipollution movements nationwide.59 Inside its covers readers encountered a shocking compendium of images and statistics. Along with photos of smoggy industrial cities, polluted lakes, and distraught victims, Miyamoto and Shōji provided a “pollution map” of Japan, identifying contamination in almost every prefecture nationwide. A “pollution diary” based on newspaper clippings from 1961 to 1962 painted a similar picture. Shōji marshaled his natural science expertise in chapters on the causes and consequences of air and water pollution, while Miyamoto discussed the political economy of pollution and strategies for resistance. Osorubeki Kōgai went through thirty-six reprints and sold close to half a million copies; although it was but one part of a wider awakening, it must be credited with shaping a public language and debate on environmental injustices in Japan where there had been relative silence before. That the major Japanese dictionary, the Kōjien, at that time contained no entry for the term kōgai attests to Osorubeki Kōgai’s landmark significance.60 Miyamoto and Shōji also found their own lives transformed, deluged thereafter with requests for assistance from protest movements, local governments, and environmental litigation attorneys.61

Osorubeki Kōgai had an overtly Marxist tone and was littered with blanket assertions such as “the history of pollution” is “the history of capitalism,” “pollution is a symptom of class conflict,” and the “capitalist class” is the “pollution aggressor.”62 The book singled out Japan as a special case of pollution, pointing to collusion between conservative politicians and industry executives. In the absence of an effective regulatory framework and driven by a catch-up mentality, Japanese capital concentrated in the highly polluting heavy and chemical sectors, whose firms devoted almost no funds to pollution prevention.63 Miyamoto and Shōji also highlighted the imbalances both within public spending and between public and private expenditure. They noted that, although public spending in Japan for 1960 was 1.6 times higher than that of a comparable nation (the United Kingdom), outlays for public housing, for example, were 72 percent less than the United Kingdom, while outlays for industrial infrastructure were more than three (p.45) times greater.64 Both the national and local governments in Japan poured public funds into ports, freight lines, roads, power plants, and airports, while disregarding daily life infrastructure such as sewerage, cleaning and waste management, and hospitals.65 Indeed, rather than portraying a neutral arbiter of social and economic interests, Miyamoto, Shōji, and other RCP members portrayed a kigyō kokka (private enterprise state) managed by economic technocrats and conservative politicians, ever ready to violently defend corporate interests.66

In a Marxian tone, Osorubeki Kōgai concluded that Japanese pollution caused by industry cutting corners was a “social disaster” inherent in the “relations of capitalist production.” It was about “class conflict,” with the “contemporary aggressor” being large corporations and the state, and the victims being workers, farmers, and fishermen.67 Of course, this observation that pollution affected groups beyond the working class did not fit neatly with classical Marxian theory, nor did it translate easily into revolutionary strategies centered on the proletariat. Nor were such implications lost on the orthodox left, and Miyamoto and Shōji found themselves the target of severe criticism from the Japanese Communist Party and labor unions for their “bourgeois liberal” discourse of rights.68 For his part, Miyamoto eventually concluded that antipollution movements need not be ultimately subsumed back into the historical struggle of the proletariat but would have their own unique role to play under future socialism.69 Here he shared an affinity with later global discourses on human rights and post-Marxist visions, in which groups subject to injustices because of race, gender, sexuality, or even the environment would become part of a “chain of equivalence,” without the need to surrender their unique identities for a shared subjectivity of class.70

Moreover, although Osorubeki Kōgai unequivocally linked industrial pollution to monopoly capitalism (especially its Japanese configuration), the book did not ignore reports—sketchy though they were—of pollution in socialist countries. Miyamoto and Shōji briefly discussed UN reports of the time that documented air pollution in the Slezsko coal fields in the Ostrava region of Czechoslovakia, which rivaled the worst cases in Japan. They also noted urban pollution in the Soviet Union and communist China as large numbers of people moved from rural areas to cities.71 In the final passages of the book Miyamoto and Shōji admitted that the history of pollution in Japan and its relationship to Japanese capitalism—which they had so confidently explained in earlier chapters—really needed to be contextualized through comparison to foreign countries, especially socialist ones.72 This (p.46) nagging question about the systemic roots of pollution—was it all about (Japanese) capitalism, or perhaps something more?—would be one factor behind RCP members’ transnational involvement from the late 1960s onward.

While Miyamoto observed the hellish skies and excruciatingly painful asthma at Yokkaichi, fellow RCP member Ui Jun (1932–2006) discovered a different kind of hell in Minamata Bay and Niigata Prefecture, produced by the chemical methyl mercury. Ui had studied applied chemistry as an undergraduate at the University of Tokyo and, after a brief stint in industry, returned to the university in 1959 as a graduate student working on plastic manufacturing processes. It was around this time (late 1959) that Ui first read reports linking the strange disease in Minamata to methyl mercury. He was immediately intrigued because Nihon Zeon, the company he had worked for from 1956 to 1959, regularly dumped a similar kind of mercury in its factory effluent. Ui promptly began to conduct research on Minamata disease in his free time, and in 1963, he decided to quit the chemical engineering program at Tokyo University and reenter as a graduate student in civil engineering, where he could concentrate on the methyl mercury issue. By 1963 Ui and a fellow pollution researcher, the photographer Kuwabara Shisei, had confirmed beyond doubt that methyl mercury in factory effluent was the cause of Minamata disease. But, lacking the courage, the pair decided not to publish their findings—a decision that Ui greatly regretted later, because he believed it might have diminished, if not averted, the second outbreak of Minamata disease in Nagano Prefecture in 1965.73

Ui Jun is arguably the most important figure in transnational environmental activism in postwar Japan. As a scientist he asked questions that could only be answered by looking abroad, as an activist he helped mobilize movements with the knowledge and resources to go transnational, and as an individual he was thoroughly committed to preventing a repeat of the Japanese disaster anywhere else in the world. It also helped that Ui was, for want of a better term, an indomitable individual. Although he was not a confident English speaker, on many occasions Ui plucked up the courage to speak about Japanese pollution before foreign audiences and in television and radio interviews. He was willing to travel to foreign countries and contact people out of the blue. And he had no hesitation about directly confronting managers of polluting companies, whether in Japan, Italy, Canada, or elsewhere. Supporting this resolve was Ui’s commitment to the victims, especially the sufferers of Minamata disease, who he felt he had let down. As Ui (p.47)

Japanese Industrial Pollution and Environmental Injustice

Ui Jun arrested as he attempts to enter the MHW in support of Minamata disease sufferers, May 1970

(The Mainichi Newspapers)

commented after an arduous 1969 visit to Finland, “I thought to myself that it was the memory of the sufferer’s pain which supported my activities during this tense week.”74 Indeed, Ui came to see himself as a kind of “special foreign envoy for Minamata,” charged with telling the victims’ tragic story to the world.

Like Miyamoto, Ui’s transnational motivation initially stemmed from a desire to understand why such terrible things had happened to innocent Japanese people—to fishermen, to young mothers, and to children. With its extensive coastline, massive tidal fluctuations, high rainfall, fast-flowing rivers, strong winds, and absence of land borders, Japan appeared to possess the perfect conditions for averting pollution. Nevertheless, the country had become a polluters’ paradise. For Ui there were at least two explanations for this situation. First, he believed that, institutionally, the incestuous relations between business and government and the resulting consensus on economic growth above all else facilitated and exacerbated pollution. The Japanese government was not a watchdog but a handmaiden of industry.75 Second, he pointed to the relative weakness of human rights consciousness in Japan, where people perceived rights not as benefits won through struggle but (p.48) almost as gifts bestowed from above by the US occupiers after the war. He singled out discrimination against Minamata disease sufferers as a typical example of this weak rights consciousness. After all, what group better typified an appalling violation of human rights than the Japanese people poisoned by methyl mercury? Yet, the reality for victims once they fell ill was discrimination, social exclusion, and poverty. Sufferers found it difficult to find work or to get married. To announce that one was a Minamata sufferer, argued Ui, was often tantamount to asking for discrimination. And, the fact that others could so easily discriminate against pollution victims proved for him that the Japanese had a “very weak conceptualization of their own rights and the rights of others.” Only by discriminating against others could they suppress the nagging anxiety that they too were being discriminated against in one way or another.76 Like Miyamoto, then, Ui’s conceptualization of Japanese industrial pollution was profoundly shaped by the discrimination against local communities and poisoned victims he witnessed at Minamata and elsewhere. In fact, he spent as much time trying to understand the roots of environmental injustice and victim discrimination as he did the science of environmental pollution. The encounter with this discrimination and injustice instilled in Ui, even more so than in Miyamoto, a strong sense of obligation to ensure that the facts of the Japanese tragedy were correctly communicated abroad and that the voices of the victims were heard—both as a warning to the world and as a pathway to victim empowerment. Importantly, this stance deeply colored the activities of the ILP movement as well as subsequent spin-off movements involved in environmental problems throughout Asia and the Pacific in the 1970s and 1980s.

The career trajectory of Harada Masazumi (1934–2012), a medical researcher and clinician at Kumamoto University on Kyushu Island, offers yet another important insight into the development of an environmental injustice paradigm among leading Japanese antipollution activists in the 1960s. It was in 1960 that the twenty-six-year-old Harada, a new graduate student in the university’s neuropsychiatry laboratory, first learned about the compound methyl mercury and its effects on living organisms. For his first six months as a graduate student, Harada was assigned to laboratory work in which he conducted mercury experiments on cats, rodents, rabbits, and chickens. It was only in mid-1961 that he was permitted to conduct an examination on a human sufferer of methyl mercury poisoning at Minamata Bay. As Harada later recalled, this visit to the home of a young victim determined how he would live the rest of his life.77 Interacting with a Minamata (p.49)

Japanese Industrial Pollution and Environmental Injustice

Harada Masazumi examines slides of Minamata disease victims, 1972

(The Mainichi Newspapers)

disease sufferer firsthand—especially a child—affected him on a deeply emotional level. But just as distressing for the young physician were the social and economic conditions in which these victims were forced to live. Similar to Ui, Harada also discovered, along with terribly poisoned human bodies in Minamata, horrendous poverty and appalling discrimination.

As a young physician fresh out of university, this terrible situation was almost impossible to comprehend, and it immediately provoked within Harada a deep sense of resentment and even rage. The victims had done nothing more than consume fish, yet now they faced pitiless discrimination and were forced to lead their lives hidden away from society.78 As he put it, “The world I saw through Minamata was a configuration of the complicated fissures and discrimination which haunt all of human society. I too had become used to this world in which people no longer considered others as humans. I was able to see [through Minamata disease] how I had positioned myself within that structure of discrimination. I concluded that the fundamental cause of Minamata disease was the condition of people not considering others as humans. … I also recognized that the damage was expanding and that the lack of any relief measures was due to human discrimination in which people did not view others as humans.”79 Harada would later describe Minamata disease sufferers and their families as a “discarded” or (p.50) “abandoned” people, victimized by a cruel structure of dehumanization.80 Chisso Corporation, owner of the offending factory, was certainly to blame, but the “condition of dehumanization” involved many more people—including Harada himself.

Like Miyamoto and Ui, Harada also became convinced that, to understand industrial diseases in all their complexity, researchers had no choice but to visit polluted spaces directly. Reading or hearing about pollution second hand might be useful in relaying certain basic facts, but only by seeing toxic environments and interacting with victims firsthand would advocates truly comprehend the complex structure of discrimination in which pollution unfolded. Pollution was about much more than toxic chemicals and gases contaminating ecosystems and human bodies; it was also about the processes of dehumanization that made this possible, and such things could only be understood by physically entering into the world of victims.

Harada’s commitment to understanding pollution on the ground and to meeting victims in their own localities was further strengthened by an emotional encounter he had with the mother of a young Minamata disease sufferer. As the woman explained, she was extremely grateful for the many examinations undertaken by Harada and his colleagues at the university, but what she really needed after six long years was an answer. “Every time I’m asked to bring him in, it takes a full day and I lose a whole day’s wages which makes life very difficult.”81 To this Harada had no reply, but after the encounter he made a commitment that, thereafter, all his consultations with Minamata disease sufferers would be conducted in their homes, even if this meant laborious hours of travel for himself. Importantly, Harada’s commitment to meeting and treating pollution victims in their own spaces seems to have made him receptive to helping pollution victims anywhere, even if this meant traveling outside Japan, which he would begin to do from the mid-1970s.

Moreover, like Ui, Harada’s transnational impulse was fueled by a deep sense of responsibility and even remorse as a researcher and clinician from polluted Japan. In his and others’ efforts to short-circuit the denials of Chisso officials and their governmental supporters about the causes of Minamata disease, Harada and fellow clinicians and researchers had been left with no choice but to formulate a watertight set of “typical” symptoms for the disease that could not be rebutted or denied. While such definitional clarity had undoubtedly assisted many Japanese victims in their battle for retribution (p.51) and compensation, Harada also recognized how this clarity may have too-narrowly demarcated the health effects of mercury poisoning, which stretched from milder neurological side effects to absolute incapacitation. This sense that he may have somehow unwittingly contributed to the disempowerment of certain mercury-poisoning victims served as a powerful motivating factor behind his transnational activities from the mid-1970s onward.

What we encounter in the cases of Miyamoto Ken’ichi, Ui Jun, and Harada Masazumi, then, are three highly educated and empathetic social and natural scientists whose involvement with industrial pollution and its victims in Japan profoundly shaped their understanding of the phenomenon within a paradigm of environmental injustice. In Minamata, in Yokkaichi, and at contaminated sites all over Japan, they discovered human suffering and discrimination that they desperately wanted to understand, explain, and eradicate. Each of them harbored a personal sense of remorse and responsibility as scientists from a terribly polluted nation about which the rest of the world knew very little. They realized that they possessed knowledge that could potentially circumvent pollution in other places—even in other countries—and perhaps prevent further human misery at the hands of industry.

Admittedly, these factors by no means predetermined that RCP members would become active transnationally, but I suggest that, when the opportunity to go abroad presented itself, such factors made them more receptive than they may other wise have been. Moreover, one lasting outcome of pollution protest, media attention, court cases, public activism, and, of course, suffering industrial pollution victims was the production of a potent environmental injustice paradigm in 1960s Japan, most visible within groups such as the RCP and ILP, but also evident in the media, in public discourse, in governmental legislation, and even within national bureaucracies such as the MHW. In the following chapters I trace the ways Japanese activists deployed this paradigm in their various transnational involvements beginning in the late 1960s. Although the various scalar iterations (e.g., regional, global) of this paradigm would demand modifications and enhancements, environmental victims, the violation of their rights, and the mechanisms of injustice harming them would remain central in the message that the Japanese activists involved relayed abroad, as well as in the ways these activists approached and understood environmental issues beyond the archipelago.


(1) William Gamson, “Injustice Frames,” in The Wiley-Blackwell Encyclopedia of Social and Political Movements, ed. David A. Snow, Donatella della Porta, Bert Klandermans, and Doug McAdam (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2014), 319.

(2) See Tsuru Shigeto, The Political Economy of the Environment: The Case of Japan (London: Athlone Press, 1999), 27–47; McKean, Environmental Protest, 35–42; Ui. “Kōgai Genron I,” 189–274; Ui Jun, “Kōgai Genron II,” in Ui, Kōgai Genron Gappon, 3–65; Iijima, Kankyō Mondai no Shakaishi, (p.236) chapters 1–6; Miyamoto Ken’ichi, “Japan’s Environmental Policy: Lessons from Experience and Remaining Problems,” in Japan at Nature’s Edge, ed. Miller, Thomas, and Walker (Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press), 222–251; Stolz, Bad Water; Strong, Ox.

(3) On Morinaga milk contamination see Miwako Dakeishi, Katsuyuki Murata, and Philippe Grandjean, “Long-Term Consequences of Arsenic Poisoning during Infancy due to Contaminated Milk Powder,” Environmental Health 5, no. 31 (2006), http://www.ehjournal.net/content/5/1/31 (accessed April 28, 2014); and Ui, ed. Polluted Japan, 28–29.

(4) On the Kanemi Incident see Huddle et al., Island, 133–160.

(5) Seminal works in English on Minamata include George, Minamata; Walker, Toxic Archipelago; Ui, ed. Industrial Pollution, chapter 4; Harada Masazumi, Minamata Disease, trans. Timothy George and Tsushima Sachie (Kumamoto: Kumamoto Nichinichi Shinbun, 2004); Ishimure, Paradise; Upham, Law and Social Change, chapter 2; and Mishima Akio, Bitter Sea: The Human Cost of Minamata Disease (Tokyo: Kosei Publishing Company, 1992).

(7) W. Eugene Smith and Aileen M. Smith, MINAMATA: Words and Photographs (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1975).

(8) Shōji and Miyamoto, Osorubeki, caption to the first photographic image in the book (no page number).

(10) Ibid., 18.

(11) On the Big Four pollution incidents and lawsuits see Ui, “Kōgai Genron I,” 73–188; Ui, “Kōgai Genron II,” 104–135; Kawana Hideyuki, Dokyumento Nihon no Kōgai 1; Tsuru, Political Economy, 48–107; Simon Avenell, “Japan’s Long Environmental Sixties and the Birth of a Green Leviathan,” Japanese Studies 32, no. 3 (2012): 423–444; and Gresser et al., Environmental Law, chapters 2 and 3.

(12) Shimizu Makoto, ed. Kainō Michitaka Chosakushū 8: Kōgai (Tokyo: Nihon Hyōronsha, 1970), 63–64; Kawana, Dokyumento 1, 394–400.

(13) Tokyo Metropolitan Government, Tokyo Fights Pollution (Tokyo: Tokyo Metropolitan Government, 1977), 75.

(14) On the Shizuoka movements see Avenell, Making, 151–153; Kawana, Dokyumento 1, 368–370; Tsuru, Political Economy, 61–62; Gresser, et al., Environmental Law, 22; Jack G. Lewis, “Civic Protest in Mishima: Citizens’ Movements and the Politics of the Environment in Con temporary Japan,” in Political Opposition and Local Politics in Japan, ed. Kurt Steiner, Ellis S. Krauss, and Scott C. Flanagan (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1980), 274–313.

(p.237) (15) See Jūmin Toshokan, ed., Minikomi Sōmokuroku (Tokyo: Heibonsha, 1992).

(16) Miyazaki Shōgo, Ima, Kōkyōsei o Utsu: “Dokyumento” Yokohama Shinkamotsusen Hantai Undō (Tokyo: Shinsensha, 1975); Michiba Chikanobu, “Sen Kyūhyaku Rokujū Nendai ni okeru ‘Chiki’ no Hakken to ‘Kōkyōsei’ no Saiteigi: Miketsu no Aporia o megutte,” Gendai Shisō 31, no. 6 (May, 2002): 97–130.

(17) Yokoyama Keiji, “Kono Wakitatsu Teikō no Nami,” Asahi Jyānaru (April 23, 1971): 41–62. For data on these movements see McKean, Environmental Protest, 8 (note 14); Asahi Jyānaru, “Tokushū Minikomi ’71: Honryū suru Chikasui,” Asahi Jyānaru (March 26, 1971): 4–60.

(18) Michael Reich, “Crisis and Routine: Pollution Reporting by the Japanese Press,” in Institutions for Change in Japanese Society, ed. George DeVos (Berkeley: Institute of East Asian Studies, University of California, 1984), 152.

(19) Asahi Shinbun Keizaibu, ed., Kutabare GNP: Kōdo Keizai Seichō no Uchimaku (Tokyo: Asahi Shinbunsha, 1971), 125.

(20) Shimokawa Kōshi, ed., Kankyōshi Nenpyō 1926–2000 Shōwa-Heisei Hen (Kawade Shobō Shinsha, 2004), 232; Kanda Fuhito and Kobayashi Hideo, eds., Sengoshi Nenpyō (Tokyo: Shogakkan, 2005), 55, 65, 71.

(21) “Not All Is Serene in Cities of Japan,” New York Times (January 19, 1968), 51; Donald Kirk, “Students in the Elementary Schools Grow Up Suffering from Asthma. Plants Wither and Die. The Birds around Mount Fuji Are Decreasing in Number. They No Longer Visit the Town,” New York Times (March 26, 1972), 33.

(22) Tanaka Kakuei, Building A New Japan: A Plan for Remodeling the Japanese Archipelago (Tokyo: Simul Press, 1973), 220.

(23) Rachel Carson, Silent Spring (Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin, 1962); André Gorz, Ecologie et Politique (Paris: Seuil, 1978) (Gorz’s book comprised articles published in the 1960s and 1970s).

(24) Ariyoshi Sawako, Fukugō Osen (Tokyo: Shinchōsha, 1979).

(25) For discussion of pollution prevention agreements see Kawana, Dokyumento 1, 388; Kazuo Yamanouchi and Kiyoharu Otsubo, “Agreements on Pollution Prevention: Overview and One Example,” in Environmental Policy in Japan, ed. Shigeto Tsuru and Helmut Weidner (Berlin: Sigma, 1989), 221–245.

(28) Ishii Kuniyoshi, ed., 20 Seiki no Nihon Kankyōshi (Tokyo: Sangyō Kankyō Kanri Kyōkai, 2002), 37; Shimokawa, ed., Kankyōshi, 268.

(30) Gresser et al., Environmental Law, 22; Ōtsuka Tadashi, Kankyōhō (Tokyo: Yūhikaku, 2010), 262–263.

(34) See Broadbent, “Japan’s Environmental Politics: Recognition and Response Processes,” in Environmental Policy in Japan, ed. Hidefumi Imura and Miranda A. Schreurs (Gloucestershire, U.K. and Northampton, MA: Edward Elgar Publishing Limited, 2005), 118.

(35) The complete archive of minutes and other RCP materials is held at the Institute of Economic Research (IER) Library at Hitotsubashi University in Tokyo. See: “Hitotsubashi Daigaku Keizai Kenkyūjo Shiryōshitsu,” Hitotsubashi Daigaku Keizai Kenkyūjo, accessed May 28, 2014, http://www.ier.hit-u.ac.jp/library/Japanese/index.html. The eight founding members were Tsuru Shigeto (economist), Kainō Michitaka (legal scholar), Komori Takeshi (political consultant), Shōji Hikaru (engineer), Shibata Tokue (economist), Shimizu Makoto (legal scholar), Noguchi Yūichirō (economist), and Miyamoto Kenichi (economist). Later members included Uzawa Hirofumi (economist), Ui Jun (engineer), Harada Masazumi (geneticist and epidemiologist), and Tajiri Muneaki (coastguard officer/political consultant).

(36) Ui Jun, ed., Kōgai Jishu Kōza 15-nen (Tokyo: Aki Shobō, 1991), 8.

(39) Itai Masaru, Shinohara Yoshihito, Toyoda Makoto, Muramatsu Akio, Awaji Takehisa, Isono Yayoi, Miyamoto Ken’ichi, Teranishi Shunichi, “Zadankai: Nihon Kankyō Kaigi 30nen no Ayumi to Kōgai-Kankyō Soshō,” Kanykyō to Kōgai 39, no. 1 (Summer 2009): 51.

(40) See Kuroda Ryōichi, Ōsaka ni Runessansu o (Kyoto: Hōritsu Bunka Sha, 1974).

(41) Tsuru Shigeto, ed., Tōkyō e no Teigen (Tokyo: Teikoku Chihō Gyōsei Gakkai, 1969); Tsuru Shigeto, ed., Gendai Shihonshugi to Kōgai (Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 1968), v; Hanayama Yuzuru, “Kaisetsu: Tsuru Kyōju no Seiji Keizaigaku,” in Tsuru Shigeto Chosakushū 6: Toshi Mondai to Kōgai, Tsuru Shigeto (Tokyo: Kōdansha, 1975), 522.

(42) Kainō appointed two other members of the RCP to this bureau: legal scholar Shimizu Makoto and economist Shibata Tokue. See Shibata Tokue, “Kōgai to Tatakau Kyosei: Kainō Michitaka,” Kankyō to Kōgai 39, no. 1 (Summer 2009): 38.

(44) Tōkyōto Kōgai Kenkyūjo, ed. Kōgai to Tōkyōto (Tokyo: Tōkyōto Kōgai Kenkyūjo, 1970); Shimizu, ed., Kainō, 55.

(48) For the second term lectures see Ui Jun, ed., Gendai Shakai to Kōgai (Tokyo: Keisō Shobō, 1972); Ui Jun, ed., Gendai Kagaku to Kōgai (Tokyo: Keisō Shobō, 1972); Ui Jun, ed., Gendai Kagaku to Kōgai Zoku (Tokyo: Keisō Shobō, 1972); Ui Jun, ed., Kōgai Higaisha no Ronri (Tokyo: Keisō Shobō, 1973). Many postwar environmentalists such as Miyamoto Ken’ichi drew inspiration from Tanaka Shōzō. See Miyamoto, Nihon no Kankyō Mondai, 321. On Ashio and Tanaka see Timothy George, “Tanaka Shozo’s Vision of an Alternative Constitutional Modernity for Japan,” in Public Spheres, Private Lives in Modern Japan, 1600–1950: Essays in Honor of Albert M. Craig, ed. Gail Lee Bern stein, Andrew Gordon, and Kate Wildman Nakai (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Asia Center, 2005), 89–116; Strong, Ox; Komatsu Hiroshi and Kim Techan, Kōkyō suru Ningen 4: Tanaka Shōzō: Shōgai o Kōkyō ni sasageta Kōdō suru Shisōnin (Tokyo: Tōkyō Daigaku Shuppan Kai, 2010); Tessa Morris-Suzuki, “Environmental Problems and Perceptions in Early Industrial Japan,” in Sediments of Time: Environment and Society in Chinese History, ed. Mark Elvin and Liu Tsui-jung (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 756–780; and Stolz, Bad Water.

(52) Tessa Morris-Suzuki, A History of Japanese Economic Thought (London: Routledge and Nissan Institute for Japanese Studies, 1991), 151.

(53) Miyamoto Ken’ichi, Omoide no Hitobito to (Tokyo: Fujiwara Shoten, 2001), 159. On Marxism in Japanese intellectual history see Andrew Barshay, The Social Sciences in Modern Japan: The Marxian and Modernist Traditions (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007).

(54) Miyamoto recounts his investigations in the following works: Miyamoto, Kankyō to Jichi, 69, 73; Miyamoto, Omoide, 209, and Miyamoto, Nihon no Kankyō Mondai, 81, 317.

(55) Miyamoto coined the term “corporate castle town” after visiting Yokkaichi and Kyushu. See Miyamoto, Nihon no Kankyō Mondai, 70–71.

(56) Tsuru Shigeto, “Jo,” in Tsuru Shigeto Chosakushū, Tsuru, iv; Shimizu, ed., Kainō, 27. These site investigations are documented in great detail in the (p.240) RCP’s monthly reports (kaigi hōkoku) held at the IER collection. See, for example, the following reports: April 30, 1964; May 30, 1964; July 27, 1964; January 30, 1965.

(57) Miyamoto Ken’ichi, “Shinobiyoru Kōgai,” Sekai 204 (December 1962): 199–200; Miyamoto, Omoide, 209.

(59) Ui Jun, Yanaka Mura kara Minamata e—Sanrizuka e: Ekorogī no Genryū(Tokyo:Shakai Hyōronsha,1991), 187. Activists in the Mishima-Numazu-Shimizu movements opposing construction of a petrochemical combine, for instance, used the book to enlighten locals on the risks of industrial development. See Miyamoto Ken’ichi, “Chiisana Hon no Ōkina Sekinin,” Tosho 227 (July 1968): 10.

(60) Shinmura Izuru, ed. Kōjien Dainihan (Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten: 1969), 729.

(61) Ui, Yanaka, 187. Miyamoto was also interviewed on the national television broadcaster, NHK. Miyamoto, Kankyō to Jichi, 83.

(68) Ibid., 172, 177.

(69) Ibid., 177.

(70) Ernesto LaClau and Chantal Mouffe, Hegemony and Socialist Strategy: Toward a Radical Demo cratic Politics (New York: Verso, 1985), xviii.

(72) Ibid., 204–205.

(73) These details are drawn from Ui, “Kōgai Genron I,” 12–13.

(74) Ibid., 274.

(75) Ibid., 33–34.

(76) Ibid., 37.

(77) Harada Masazumi, Minamata ga Utsusu Sekai (Tokyo: Nihon Hyōronsha, 1989), 1.

(78) Ibid., 2.

(79) Ibid., 4.

(80) Ibid., iv.

(81) Ibid., 2.