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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

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The Therapy of Translocal Community

The Therapy of Translocal Community

(p.52) Chapter 2 The Therapy of Translocal Community
Transnational Japan in the Global Environmental Movement

Simon Avenell

University of Hawai'i Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter examines the early overseas activities of Japanese environmental activists in the 1960s and 1970s. The chapter traces Ui Jun’s investigations into mercury contamination in Europe, and the tours of the World Environment Investigative Mission in 1975. This latter group consisting of Japanese social and natural scientists and journalists studied forms of pollution in Europe and North America and reported on conditions in Japan to their foreign hosts. The chapter ends with discussion of Japanese environmental activists’ meetings with and support for indigenous Canadians fighting against mercury contamination of their living environment in Ontario.

Keywords:   Ui Jun, Harada Masazumi, Mercury, Native Americans

Transnationalism can have vastly different connotations, ranging from the relatively informal diffusion of ideas or practices across borders to highly coordinated mobilizations among activists from different countries. I am receptive to the many shades of transnationalism along this definitional spectrum but want to give priority to material or physical connections, because it is the face-to-face meetings between people from different countries that very often stimulate meaningful changes in the ways those involved think, how they act, and the kinds of changes they produce when they return home. Particularly important here is Sidney Tarrow’s idea of transnational activists as “connective tissue”; in other words, the ways in which such actors move to forge physical, emotional, and intellectual connections between people, communities, and movements separated by geography and national borders.1 Like the dynamic connective tissue within living organisms, these rooted cosmopolitans are far more than passive conduits, because they are the ones actively creating the network of interconnections and becoming the carriers of meanings, of human experiences, and of shared struggles. I imagine them as the very life force of transnationalism, helping to “oxygenate” the system, so to speak. Ui Jun, Harada Masazumi, and other RCP members appear to have realized very early on that their role in the creation of transnational—or more accurately, perhaps, translocal—interconnections could be of real value in pollution victim empowerment.

The sinologist and social theorist Arif Dirlik has proposed this idea of “translocal” to signify how geographically rooted struggles and identities can become springboards for mobilizations, interconnections, and exchanges (p.53) that transcend national borders. For Dirlik, translocal is far more than a terminological modification of transnational because it challenges us to reconsider the capacity of places to disrupt the ideological hierarchies of scale that can serve as strategies of containment in a historical field monopolized by the national panorama.2 As the geographer Ash Amin puts it, places have the potential to become “more than what they contain, and what happens in them [can be] more than the sum of localised practices and powers, and actions at other ‘spatial scales.’”3 Some, such as the geographer Sally Marston, even propose a post-national “flat ontology” of the world that “discard[s] the centring essentialism that infuses not only the up–down vertical imaginary but also the radiating (out from here) spatiality of horizontality.”4 Instead, Marston and fellow geographers envision a world in which “all contemporaneous lives … are linked through the unfolding of intermeshed sites.”5 What interests me in such observations is the suggestion that the local is not—and never was—a nationally bounded space, and, more significantly, that within the local there exists a potential for universal vision, consciousness, and action transcending the local while remaining attached to it. Indeed, one argument I develop in this and the following chapters is that local experience and attachment served as powerful stimuli for transnational action in the contemporary Japanese environmental movement, even when attention shifted to problems of the globe in the 1980s.

At the height of Japan’s pollution crisis in the late 1960s, Ui Jun made a number of pioneering visits to Eu rope to collect information on local instances of industrial pollution and to report on the grave crisis facing Japan. Encouraged by one of his superiors at Tokyo University, who feared Ui might be drawn into the rising tumult of student protest, for fifteen months from August 1968 Ui traveled throughout Eu rope as a research fellow with the World Health Organization (WHO). While in Eu rope, Ui delivered many lectures; gave media interviews; met with scientists, activists, and government officials; and conducted pollution site investigations in countries such as Sweden, Hungary, Finland, Italy, the Netherlands, Eng land, France, Switzerland, West Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia, and Belgium. The trip was eye-opening for him. In the midst of a bitterly cold Hungarian winter, he saw how the “blue” Danube River had become a “blackened stream” due to toxic industrial sludge, and he experienced firsthand the terrible air pollution of Budapest caused by citizens burning low-grade coal for heating. Ui estimated that Budapest’s brown tap water—which he had no choice but to drink—had a maximum visibility of only twenty centimeters.6 He (p.54) witnessed similar pollution in the Soviet Union and in other East European socialist states such as Czechoslovakia and could only conclude that, while it was true many of these states had pollution measures in place before Western nations, claims that they had eradicated pollution were simply wrong. In fact, based on his field experiences, Ui concluded that the political and economic system of socialism might even delay the discovery and exacerbate the effects of pollution—a conclusion greatly at odds with many advocates of state socialism in Japan.7 Miyamoto Ken’ichi came to a similar conclusion during a visit to Czechoslovakia in 1967. After a conference in Prague, he was permitted to visit the industrial region surrounding Ostrava City near the Czech-Polish border, where he discovered the same “hellish skies” he had seen in northern Kyushu in 1961.8 Seeing pollution in socialist countries and interacting with social scientists revealed for Miyamoto the “errors of Japanese Marxian theories on pollution” and contributed to his rethinking of political strategies to address the injustices of environmental pollution he had first discovered at home.9

In this chapter I retrace RCP members’ visits to pollution sites worldwide and their meetings with foreign activists and victims from 1968 until the mid-1970s. I am interested in what they learned through these visits and how they were affected, especially with regard to their evolving ideas about the causes of and remedies for industrial pollution and its resultant injustices. I also show how this group began to communicate Japan’s history of environmental injustice to the world. I begin with the early travels of Ui Jun and Miyamoto Ken’ichi in Eu rope in the late-1960s where they encountered water and air contamination equal to, if not worse than, that in Japan, and came face-to-face with the reality of pollution in socialist countries. I then explore the World Environment Investigative Mission funded by the newspaper Chūnichi Shinbun and organized and led by RCP members in 1975. Visiting sixteen countries and forty pollution sites, this mission was the most extensive endeavor to study worldwide pollution in modern Japanese history. Particularly important were the linkages RCP members forged with Native American communities in Canada afflicted by mercury poisoning. Individuals such as Harada Masazumi offered their scientific expertise and also acted as bridges between the Native Americans and Minamata disease sufferers in Japan. Emboldened by this support from Japan, the Native Americans subsequently pursued their grievances with the Canadian government and in the courts.

(p.55) To invoke Keck and Sikkink’s concept, transnational involvement also had a “boomerang” effect on the activists themselves, especially with regard to their attitude to overseas engagement. As we will see, Ui, Miyamoto, Harada, and other RCP members walked away from these travels with a heightened appreciation for the fundamental discrimination feeding environmental injustices against minorities, the poor, women, children, the disabled, the politically disenfranchised, and those depending most directly on nature for survival worldwide. They became committed to forging alliances of victims—regardless of political systems—based on translocal communities of resistance and mutual therapy. Initially skeptical about the tour, Miyamoto even went so far as to declare that the Japanese pollution experience would not be of any real value for the world unless Japanese victims actually met with victims elsewhere, and then only if those researching pollution physically traveled to and conducted research at pollution sites abroad. Individual cases of pollution in particular spaces might be solved, Miyamoto opined, but without direct interaction they would be repeated elsewhere.10 More personally, RCP members’ travels filled them with a deep sense of remorse and responsibility as scientists from the most polluted nation on earth. They were shocked to discover how little was known about Japanese pollution, and they lamented their complicity in the global development of “typical” (tenkeiteki) diagnoses of pollution maladies such as Minamata disease, which tended to recognize only the most acute presentations.

Involvement with Native American communities and other pollution sufferers worldwide presented RCP members with an opportunity to recalibrate and enhance their environmental injustice paradigm. This certainly involved the formulation of a new attitude to the outside world, which broke with well-established Japanese patterns of lauding the shining successes of the advanced nations while ignoring the shadows. But, more significantly, it also involved recognizing the global-historical significance and applicability of the Japanese encounter with industrial pollution and environmental injustice—in other words, repositioning the environmental injustice paradigm in contexts and problems beyond Japan. This recognition continued to grow in the coming years as subsequent Japanese groups injected their local experience into a diversity of environmental issues worldwide. Ui Jun and others in the RCP can be credited with taking the first steps in this direction.

(p.56) The Discovery of European Pollution

Ui traveled first to Sweden in 1968, where he learned of the country’s longtime struggle with mercury pollution. Since the early twentieth century it had been known that mercury compounds were highly effective as grain fungicides, and they were extensively utilized for this purpose in Eu rope from the 1940s—albeit in small doses—on barley, wheat, corn, and beets. After numerous instances of poisoning, in the 1950s the Swedish authorities (and other governments throughout Eu rope) decided that all grains treated with such fungicides had to be marked with a red dye, Rhodamine B, and specially handled. At least in Sweden, poisoning instances declined thereafter, but the problem of mercury already released into the environment was not solved. Ui learned how new technology developed by Swedish scientists in the mid-1960s uncovered elevated levels of mercury in fish taken from various lakes throughout the country, leading to concerns about their safety for human consumption.

As an expert in methyl mercury poisoning, Ui arrived in Sweden at an opportune moment. In 1968 Swedish scientists first realized that they had been misinterpreting the research findings of Japanese Minamata disease specialists. The Swedish scientists had overlooked a critical footnote explaining that the reported safe mercury concentration levels were based on yield-to-weight ratios for dried samples, and that fresh fish would naturally yield lower ratios but with similar levels of toxicity. The Swedish scientists had been mistakenly comparing mercury levels in their samples of fresh fish to the safe levels for dried fish in the Japanese report, ineffect greatly underestimating toxicity. Compounding the problem, Ui’s imminent arrival in Sweden forced government officials to admit that they had kept confidential a report on Niigata Minamata disease sent to them by a research team from the Japanese Ministry of Health and Welfare. As the officials had feared, Ui brought a copy of the report with him. The high-circulation Swedish daily, Svenska Dagbladet, immediately latched on to the story, running a front-page interview with Ui titled “Per sis tent Struggle Reveals Truth about Minamata.” Thanks to the media attention, the Alliance of Swedish Freshwater Fishing Industries presented Ui with a letter for Japanese fishermen that criticized haphazard economic growth and called for a grassroots alliance against mercury worldwide. Ui was also invited to present on the history of Minamata disease at a mercury problems symposium in Stockholm.11

(p.57) Ui’s visit to Sweden proved valuable for him and for his Swedish hosts. To begin with, Swedish scientists’ constantly raised the issue of why research from Japan only dealt with typical (i.e., severe) cases of mercury poisoning, when it seemed there was a spectrum of symptoms depending on the level of poisoning. For Ui Jun, Harada Masazumi, and other Japanese Minamata researchers, such questions prompted a critical rethinking of their earlier work and even a sense of remorse. Investigating mercury in Sweden also made Ui all the more indignant about mercury contamination in Japan. In Sweden, methyl mercury in the environment stemmed from multiple sources, such as factory effluent and grain fungicide runoff and, hence, was hard to trace to a single source. But, in the cases of Chisso at Minamata Bay and Shōwa Denkō in Niigata Prefecture, the perpetrators were clear, yet it still took over a decade for official government and judicial recognition. Ui later described his shame and embarrassment over this situation in Japan and recalled wanting to “jump into a hole in the ground” every time foreign scientists confronted him with such questions. But, despite his sense of embarrassment, Ui’s Swedish visit unquestionably helped open up the debate about mercury contamination in that country and, for Ui personally, posed challenging questions that led to new transnational connections. Notably, after his presentation in Stockholm, a Finnish biologist invited Ui to examine mercury pollution in that country, which he promptly agreed to do.12

Before traveling to Finland, however, the trail of European mercury contamination led Ui to Italy. At a conference on water quality in Switzerland in May 1969, Ui approached the organizers after learning there would be no presentations on water quality problems in Japan, by then a global economic power and, as Ui well knew, a polluters’ paradise. He was given permission to screen his documentary film, Polluted Japan, followed by a presentation on mercury and cadmium poisoning in the country. As he had hoped, the film and presentation sparked an immediate response from European scientists, who were only beginning to appreciate the dangers of environmental mercury contamination. Three Italian scientists approached Ui after the presentation saying that they suspected at least three sites of mercury contamination in Italy, which they promised to show him if he visited the country.13

Ui had been hoping to make contact with Italian scientists working on mercury ever since a colleague at the Yokohama National University alerted him to reports about industrial contamination from factories in the Italian province of Ravenna and near the cities of Milan and Venice. These factories (p.58) engaged in similar industrial processes to those of Shōwa Denkō, the company responsible for Minamata disease in Niigata Prefecture, so Ui was eager to see conditions firsthand. One of Shōwa Denkō’s early refutations had been that worldwide there were many factories using the same processes yet nowhere had there been reports of mercury contamination, a claim that Ui and many other antipollution protesters found wholly unconvincing.14 The meeting with Italian scientists in Switzerland thus provided him with a golden opportunity to test out Shōwa Denkō’s claims.

In Italy, Ui traveled with his hosts to a petrochemical complex on the outskirts of Milan that reminded him of scenes back in Japan: “As we approached the factory I began to notice the sour odor I was used to smelling each time I visited the Kyushu Minamata Factory. There was no doubt this factory was producing plasticizing agents, butyl alcohol, or acetic acid from acetaldehyde.”15 Although officials at the plant denied the acetaldehyde was synthesized using a mercury catalyzer, Ui’s own investigations revealed that most of its technology came from the Chisso Corporation. On his third day in Italy Ui took the bold step of calling on the company headquarters in central Milan, where he was able to air his concerns with the manager of technology. As in Sweden, these provocative activities by a famous mercury researcher from Japan elicited an immediate response in the media and among Italian scientists. Ui once again found himself front-page news when the progressive Catholic Italian newspaper Avvenire ran an interview with him ominously titled “‘Chemical Death’ to Us as in Japan?”16 At a conference on oceanic medicine in Naples, Ui shocked his audience with what was perhaps the first scientific presentation on mercury contamination in the country and, as he quipped, “the fact they were hearing it from a little yellow Japanese shrimp” made it all the more impressive.17

Ui encouraged Italian scientists to focus on mercury levels in fish, not water, since the latter would usually be low or negligible and hence could mistakenly be overlooked as insignificant. He also suggested that the suspect factories in Milan, Ravenna, and Venice immediately be required to install treatment facilities to ensure no leakage of mercury in their effluent. As in Sweden and Switzerland, Ui again found himself the main focus of discussion and attention at the Naples conference, which clearly gave him a great sense of vindication and accomplishment: “The applause I could hear as I wiped the sweat from my brow and stepped down from the podium felt wonderful. My struggles of the past year faded away completely.”18 That he was also somehow representing the victims—or the potential victims—made (p.59) his efforts seem worthwhile. “If my investigations result in preventing an outbreak [of mercury poisoning] in Italy, I’ll be able to say that my ten years of struggle were rewarded,” he concluded. His aim was by no means to “frighten people” but to “communicate the cries of individuals murdered by Japanese pollution.” And, for Ui, they were “literally murdered.” Although his investigations ultimately uncovered no individuals with typical symptoms of Minamata disease, Ui was thoroughly satisfied: if he could prevent a repeat of such crimes elsewhere, then the agony of presenting in tortured English and of facing off with combative company officials would all have been worth it.19

Ui next traveled to Finland, where his hosts took him to the city of Kotka on the country’s southwest coast to meet with local fishermen and investigate mercury contamination from upstream pulp mills. At the request of the fishermen Ui agreed to take dried samples of fish back to Japan for testing. As he had done in Italy, at every opportunity Ui appealed to the Finnish people to learn from the Japanese experience. In an interview with a television crew accompanying him on his investigations in Kotka, Ui was asked about Finnish government assurances that mercury levels in fish stocks were within safe limits. To this he replied that, although such levels may not immediately result in symptoms of Minamata disease, once brain cells were destroyed by mercury they could not be regenerated. Moreover, even in Japan, where mercury-contaminated fish were no longer consumed, sufferers were still being diagnosed because symptoms often took longer to develop or to be recognized. As he explained, “We [in Japan] put production before all else and were concerned only about filling our stomachs, hence in the beginning we didn’t realize the dreadfulness of industrial wastewater. Please don’t ignore our experience. It’s too late once a sufferer appears.” He told the reporter that learning of the mercury contamination in this “magically beautiful scenery” only made him feel more terrible. “We don’t want the people of this country to make the same mistakes we did. Let me repeat. Please don’t repeat our terrible precedent.”20

Ui repeated this mantra in a Helsinki meeting organized by his hosts with Finnish government officials and specialists responsible for the country’s water quality. He urged the officials not to use occupational safety limits when setting public health standards for mercury and other environmental pollutants. As he explained, occupational limits balanced the advantages and disadvantages of using a particular substance in industrial processes and implicitly accepted certain levels of poisoning. But, in the case of public (p.60) health, he argued, the rule of thumb must be that it is unhealthy to absorb any level of mercury above that occurring naturally. In his final appeal to the officials, Ui again invoked the image of Japanese victims: “I would like to relay to you a request from Minamata sufferers. This disease is so painful it is beyond the imagination of healthy people. Among the sufferers was one who died saying that, short of contracting the disease, there was no way for others to understand the pain. But when I left Japan the sufferers who came to see me off said they hoped my activities [abroad] would prevent this disease from occurring again elsewhere in the world. It is with their request that I conclude.” Indeed, as he later wrote of his week in Finland, “I thought to myself that it was the memory of the sufferers’ pain which supported my activities during this tense week.”21

On his return to Japan in mid-1969 Ui delivered lectures and published numerous books and articles based on his European travels.22 Apart from the knowledge he gained about specific forms of pollution, Ui came back convinced that government bureaucracies and other configurations of centralized political power, whether socialist or capitalist, could not be relied upon to defend people from the threat of pollution. On the contrary, the modern nation-state helped to exacerbate pollution by shielding those responsible, so the only option was for victims and their supporters to mobilize on their own initiative. This was an important insight because not only did it confirm and legitimize the logic of self-help and localism among many environmental protest groups in Japan, but it also suggested that building horizontal alliances could even mean joining hands with pollution activists beyond the borders of the nation. Ui personally began to sense a global role for himself and other Japanese scientists: “Whether or not my activities equaled the efforts of Minamata and Niigata sufferers and their supporters hinged on what I did after returning to Japan. The truth is that I felt confident that, if I could continue on in Japan, then Japanese scientists could become world scientists.”23

Ui wasted no time planning for the next phase of transnational engagement. On the plane flight back to Japan he began to conceive of an ambitious investigative mission by Japanese scientists, journalists, and pollution disease sufferers to study pollution and environmental degradation and meet with victims worldwide. The mission would travel the world for a thousand days, it would be independent of government and industry, and it would comprise individuals fiercely committed to autonomous and dispassionate research. The aims would be twofold: to correctly understand the state of (p.61) pollution in various parts of the world, and to correctly communicate this information to people in Japan and in other countries. Participants would first write essays on aspects of Japanese pollution, which would then be translated into English and sent to various countries with requests for cooperation. A plan for the mission would then be formulated based on a review of the existing literature on pollution from abroad. During the mission, participants would form small groups of five, spending one to two months in each country investigating the full array of pollution problems. Thereafter they would coauthor an encyclopedia of pollution problems in the late twentieth century, which could serve as a handbook for scientists and officials on how to prevent further cases of pollution worldwide. Ui became convinced that, if his plan succeeded, Japan could fulfill its responsibilities as the world’s most advanced polluted nation.24

RCP members were not immediately responsive to Ui’s grand proposal, however. Shōji Hikaru, Miyamoto Ken’ichi’s coauthor on Osorubeki Kōgai, for example, wondered if the time was right to take pollution researchers away from Japan where they were most needed.25 Even Miyamoto was initially noncommittal: Japan had some of the worst pollution in the world, and moreover, the country was beginning to show leadership in dealing with pollution, in regulating industry, and in scientific research, so why the need to go abroad now?26 For Ui, however, there was no more timely moment than in the midst of this pollution crisis. What better opportunity could there be for Japanese scientists, journalists, advocates, and victims to shape global opinion on the environment? But Ui found an ally in RCP leader Tsuru Shigeto, who likened pollution research to cartography and suggested that “those who study pollution must visit and walk these sites at least once, just like the people who make maps.”27 An unexpected request from abroad also bolstered Ui’s plan. In the early 1970s Aileen Smith contacted Miyamoto with a request from the National Indian Brotherhood and Barney Lamm, a tour operator in Canada, to investigate cases of methyl mercury contamination in the English-Wabigoon river system and related poisoning among indigenous communities on nearby reservations.28 Aileen Smith and her photographer husband, W. Eugene Smith, came to international attention in the early 1970s with their shocking yet sensitive photographic portrayals of Minamata victims.29 Miyamoto later recalled the transformative effect on him of Smith’s request that they go and “teach” not “learn.”30 Miyamoto suddenly realized that, instead of simply borrowing foreign ideas, as had been common practice in Japan from at least the mid-nineteenth (p.62) century, the pollution crisis offered Japanese scientists a unique opportunity to use their knowledge to influence events abroad in a progressive and positive way.

With the support of most members, then, Ui’s plan finally came to fruition in 1975. Although the undertaking would not be as extensive as he had originally envisaged, it was the most comprehensive fact-finding mission on pollution in modern Japanese history and a key moment in connecting the Japanese environmental injustice paradigm to environmental struggles and issues worldwide. With financial sponsorship from the newspaper Chūnichi Shinbun, the so-called Sekai Kankyō Chōsadan (World Environment Investigative Mission, or WEIM) conducted two tours abroad in 1975. The first departed on March 8 and spent fifty-two days visiting sixteen countries and forty pollution sites worldwide (mainly in Eu rope and North America but also in Southeast Asia), while the second departed on August 10 and spent sixteen days engaged in a focused study of mercury poisoning among native Indian communities in Ontario, Canada.31 The first tour in March was divided into two groups: one devoted primarily to mercury contamination throughout the world, consisting of Miyamoto, Ui, Harada, and Karaki Kiyoshi (a reporter with the Chūnichi Shinbun), while the second focused on urban pollution and activism in Eu rope and North America, and included economists, engineers, local government officials, and specialists on nuclear power. Ui and Harada led the second tour to Canada in August 1975 and were accompanied by two young scholars from Tokyo University, engineer Nakanishi Junko and sociologist Iijima Nobuko; two Minamata disease researchers, Akagi Taketoshi of the Kumamoto University Medical School and Fujino Tadashi of the Minamata Medical Office; and Shigeno Toyoji, an editor with the Tokyo Shinbun newspaper.32 The aim of the mission was fourfold: to visit countries with pollution issues similar to those in Japan and witness conditions on the ground firsthand; to study environmental regulations in other countries; to communicate the story of Japanese pollution through film screenings and presentations; and, most importantly, to interact with foreign researchers, victims, and local residents opposed to industrial contamination.33 Throughout the tours participants filed regular field reports to the newspapers Chūnichi Shinbun and Tokyo Shinbun, and afterward Tsuru Shigeto edited a two-volume series titled Sekai no Kōgai Chizu (A pollution map of the world), which summarized the experiences and main findings of participants.34

(p.63) Apart from the mercury investigations, (discussed further below), mission participants examined an impressive range of issues and networked with many leading activists in the battle against industrial pollution worldwide. For nature conservation they studied the US National Park system and the British National Trust and, for restoration initiatives, they looked to grassroots initiatives against eutrophication in Lake Erie in North America. In the field of environmental law they scrutinized regulatory regimes in France, Germany, and the United States, focusing particularly on automobile emissions regulations. During a meeting with biologist Barry Commoner at Washington University in Saint Louis, the world-renowned environmental campaigner pessimistically told the group that there was no incentive for US automakers to produce environmentally friendly vehicles because recalibrating production lines would cost too much. Commoner did, however, express hope in the CVCC engines developed by the Honda Motor Company, which easily met the rigorous emissions standards of the US Clean Air Act.35 More viscerally, during their visit to Los Angeles the group experienced noise and air pollution from automobiles firsthand. Kayama Ken, an engineer from the Tokyo Institute of Technology, wryly observed that shopping malls were about the only places to “escape” from auto fumes but, ironically, the only way to get to a shopping mall was by car.36 Participants involved in the project also traveled to Budapest, London, Moscow, and New York to study the strengths and weaknesses of urban waste disposal systems. And, although participants did not travel extensively throughout Asia, the mission’s published reports also showed recognition of “pollution export” from developed to developing countries, which became a central focus for Ui’s ILP movement and various spin-off groups throughout the 1970s. Essentially no stone was left unturned.

When the mission arrived in Finland, a local nature protection association asked the Japanese group to investigate a state-run petrochemical complex. Ui and Miyamoto were taken to the plant by a member of parliament, where they received briefings from a pollution countermeasures official and an ecologist from Helsinki University. To their great surprise, the guide at the complex explained how its designers had learned from the Yokkaichi experience, making significant improvements and design modifications as a result. Miyamoto was skeptical at first but changed his mind during the tour. Unlike the Yokkaichi complex, located beside a city, planners carefully chose a site around twenty-eight miles (forty-five kilo meters) (p.64) north of Helsinki in the center of a 1,500 acre (625 hectare) pine forest. Smokestacks had been purposely built short so as to contain emissions within the pine forest buffer zone and to preserve the scenic view. To avoid water contamination and the infamous smelly fish of Yokkaichi, factories in the complex recycled water and filtered all effluent through a treatment pond before releasing it into the Gulf of Finland. Fish were also raised in the treatment ponds to monitor pollution levels. Miyamoto was generally impressed by these pollution countermeasures and, in fact, concluded that foreign countries seemed to have learned more lessons from Yokkaichi than the Japanese government or industry.37

Among the more interesting findings for participants was the prevalence and strength of anti–nuclear power movements abroad. As Hōsei University economist Nagai Susumu described it, a “storm of antinuclear power movements” was “sweeping across Eu rope and America.”38 During their visit to Switzerland, mission participants traveled to the city of Basel in the Rhine Valley, where they met with residents protesting the construction of a nuclear power plant. They learned from the worried protesters that some nine nuclear facilities were located in a fifty-kilometer radius of the city.39 Determined to stop construction of the tenth facility, the opposition group had occupied the planned site, pitching their tents and hoisting protest flags atop a mountain of dirt excavated for the foundations. The Japanese visitors were impressed by the transnational composition of the group, which included activists from Switzerland, France, and Germany.40

Antinuclear fervor was no less apparent in the United States. In California, participants met with the former state governor, Edmund Gerald “Pat” Brown, who identified nuclear power plant siting and construction as the most contentious and difficult problems facing California. He described how the utility company, Pacific Gas and Electric, was forced to abandon construction of a nuclear power plant in Bodega Bay in 1964 after residents protested the company’s inability to guarantee the safety of the facility in this seismically active area. In the wake of the 1973 oil shock, however, Brown sensed moves to rethink the place of nuclear power in the country.41 At the offices of the Ralph Nader Group in Washington, DC, activists told their Japanese visitors that the anti–nuclear power movement was the very core of the antipollution movement in the United States and that their ultimate aim was to halt construction of all nuclear power plants nationwide. The Nader activists put forward three critical reasons for opposing nuclear energy: the grave threat of radioactive materials for the environment, given (p.65) their half-life periods in the hundreds and thousands of years; the particular risks of fast-breeder reactors using plutonium, one of the most toxic substances for human beings, which could also be utilized in nuclear weapons; and, more prosaically, the simple fact that nuclear power was not a cheap source of energy, as proponents claimed.42

The encounter with anti–nuclear power movements was at once unanticipated and challenging for the mission participants, whose own country was on the verge of a nuclear power revolution in the mid-1970s. Officials, activists, and scientists they met in the United States were eager to learn from the group just how Japanese officials had been able to convince the Japanese public about the necessity and safety of nuclear power given the country’s terrible experiences with atomic energy and radiation at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.43 To that question the Japanese visitors could provide no answer, and, quite unexpectedly, they were forced to seriously consider this issue of nuclear power, which had been largely sidelined by their concerns about more immediate pollution threats. As Karaki Kiyoshi from the newspaper Chūnichi Shinbun observed, the Japanese media often spoke of a “nuclear allergy” in the country, and many citizens believed that both they and officials were being extremely careful about the commitment to nuclear power. But, from the perspective of outsiders, the situation looked very different: the Japanese seemed to have bypassed serious discussions about safety and were moving full steam ahead on nuclear power plant construction. Some foreign scientists even wondered whether Japan’s energy challenges were so serious as to demand such an uncritical commitment to nuclear power.44 In light of such questions, Nagai Susumu suggested that now was the time for Japanese citizens to seriously reconsider the safety of nuclear power, the social structure supporting its promotion, and Japan’s future economic and energy policies.45

Despite the best intentions of mission participants, however, nuclear power was relegated to the realm of NIMBY (not-in-my-back-yard) confrontations and the peripheralized voices of a few stalwart opponents and was never subjected to broad and intensive political debate in Japan until a major disaster in 2011. One possible reason for activists’ relatively lukewarm attention to the issue within Japan lay in the difference between nuclear power and the other environmental pollution issues they were addressing. There were certainly many thousands of radiation victims from Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but unlike Minamata, Yokkaichi, and other pollution incidents, nuclear power plants had no victims, or at least, no victims with (p.66) harrowing stories of environmental injustice and suffering powerful enough to elicit a widespread grassroots and public response. Indeed, as I show in chapter 5, it was beyond Japan’s borders that the environmental injustice paradigm connected with antinuclear issues, notably in protests against planned radioactive waste dumping in the Pacific Ocean.

Following the Trail of Mercury

So, as much as they appreciated the message of antinuclear activists worldwide, it was not the risks of radiation but the visible human injustices of mercury and other chemical pollutants that most concerned mission participants in the early 1970s. Ui, Harada, Miyamoto, and others followed the trail of mercury pollution throughout Eu rope and North America, with particular emphasis on cases in Finland, New Mexico in the United States, and Ontario Province in Canada. Just as with Ui’s earlier European journey in the late 1960s, these investigations into mercury resulted in some of the most fruitful and substantive exchanges of the RCP’s transnational involvement. The experiences also stimulated the Japanese travelers to rethink the causes of pollution, the dynamics of discrimination, the responsibility of scientists, and the potential of border-crossing communities of victims and advocates.

While Ui and Miyamoto investigated the petrochemical industry in Finland, their colleague, clinician and Minamata disease researcher Harada Masazumi, delved into the Finnish struggle with mercury.46 On his first day in Finland, Harada joined scholars at Helsinki University in a workshop on environmental pollution and the health effects of poisoning from heavy metals such as cadmium and mercury. Harada learned how, in 1966 alone, Finnish pulping industries had used up to 3.6 tons of organic mercury as a sterilizing agent in their manufacturing processes. Finnish authorities instituted countermeasures beginning in 1968, after which environmental levels of mercury slowly began to fall, but numerous sites of contamination remained, such as Lake Kirkkojärvi in the municipality of Hämeenkyrö in southwest Finland. Individuals tested in that area exhibited elevated mercury levels in their hair and blood samples, but there had been no officially diagnosed cases of typical Minamata disease. The Finnish scientists did, however, tell Harada about one possible case of poisoning, so, with a micro biological chemist as his guide, Harada immediately traveled to Lake Kirkkojärvi to investigate.

In Hämeenkyrö, Harada met with an old couple who lived by Lake Kirkkojärvi in a small wooden structure that looked to him “like something (p.67) out of a fairy tale.”47 The couple had come to live there in 1962 after the husband retired from the railway company. Of modest means, the couple had been supplementing their food requirements with fish from the lake, beekeeping, and by raising chickens. Unfortunately, their cabin was located some twelve miles (twenty kilo meters) south of a pulp mill responsible for dumping organic mercury into the lake and surrounding river systems. Authorities prohibited fishing in the lake in 1967, but in 1970 local residents began to observe strange behavior among cats, which were seen convulsing and on occasion diving from bridges into the lake and nearby rivers. These cats had, of course, been poisoned by organic mercury after consuming fish from the lake and were displaying typical symptoms of Minamata disease. Harada was shocked to learn that the old couple had not been tested for poisoning until very recently, despite the testing of others in the region—prob ably, he assumed, because they were poor and lived a somewhat peripheral existence in their small cottage.

Clinical reports based on hair and blood sample tests eventually confirmed that the husband, at least, had mercury poisoning. Nevertheless, medical authorities had attributed his various maladies to other conditions such as coronary disease, angina, asthma, diabetes, hyperlipidemia (high blood cholesterol), arthropathy (joint disease), and functional damage to the stomach. Harada’s own examinations of the man revealed numbness around the mouth and hands, a loss of sensation in the legs, minor convulsions in various muscles, a loss of hearing and smell, and a heightened sensitivity to cold—all suggestive of mercury poisoning yet not conclusive. Indeed, the case of this Finnish man was emblematic for Harada of a tendency among clinicians—regardless of the country—to explain pollution disease away by attributing it to other diseases and conditions that actually arose as complications of the initial poisoning. The standard medical practice of using differential diagnosis to specify a particular disease based on symptoms also explainable for any number of other diseases was not only ineffective in the case of pollution disease, but also tended to obscure the seriousness of the situation from a public health perspective. Pollution disease, Harada concluded, was “an entirely new experience for humankind,” and medical science was yet to formulate new methods and diagnostics to correctly identify it.48

As a Japanese specialist on Minamata disease, Harada could not help but feel implicated in this worldwide misapprehension of pollution disease, especially among those in the medical fraternity. He felt that Japanese scientists had helped to solidify a medical definition of Minamata disease based (p.68) strictly and narrowly on the typical symptoms of the so-called Hunter-Russell syndrome, and the result was that victims of mercury poisoning, like the old man he examined in Finland, were being incorrectly diagnosed with other diseases.49 From the early 1970s, Harada and other researchers, in cooperation with sufferers at Minamata Bay, had begun to show that, apart from the typical symptoms, mercury poisoning induced other systemic conditions such as angiosclerosis (hardening of the blood vessel walls), muscular pain, heart disease, and diabetes. Harada’s research also revealed that mercury poisoning victims were more susceptible to infectious disease even though a causal relationship between the poisoning and the susceptibility to infection could not be categorically displayed.50 According to Miyamoto Ken’ichi, Harada and his colleagues were essentially engaged in a project to undo or, at least, modify the groundbreaking work of early Minamata disease researchers in Japan who “should have constructed a medical diagnosis from the conditions of Japanese sufferers.”51 Instead of simply importing the Hunter-Russell diagnosis for Minamata disease, Miyamoto felt that Japanese scientists should have built their own diagnosis based primarily on their own field observations in Minamata and then communicated these findings to the world.

After examining many victims of mercury poisoning worldwide, Harada could only agree, suggesting that there were really no “typical” cases of pollution diseases such as mercury poisoning, just stages along a spectrum of severity. Typicality was also problematic from a public health perspective, because it only recognized the severest presentations of a disease and, hence, only stimulated a response from officials once poisoning had reached dangerous levels.52 What Harada, Miyamoto, Ui, and others on the mission discovered as they traveled the world was how a “decades-old diagnosis shaped by political conditions in Japan” had disseminated worldwide.53 They realized that now Japanese scientists had an obligation to undo this situation by correctly and swiftly communicating the facts about Minamata disease to an international audience so that victims elsewhere, like the old man and his wife, would not be abandoned and ignored.54 Japanese scientists had to communicate a “complete picture of Minamata disease” by establishing the absolute minimum symptoms of organic mercury poisoning in the human body.55 Ui was even more specific in his prognostications: at least once or twice a year, Japanese researchers had to publish their findings in high-circulation English-language scientific journals such as Nature and Science so as to reach a global audience of scientists.56 Ui was convinced that (p.69) the current situation of mercury contamination worldwide could have been avoided if Japanese scientists had been more active in the international scientific community, for example, by presenting their findings at international conferences in English.57

From this perspective, the face-to-face meeting and interaction with the elderly couple in Finland was of deep significance for Harada because it was a positive step by a Japanese scientist to address the diagnostic problem of mercury poisoning worldwide. After sharing some honey, cheese, and crackers with the couple, the man passed some frozen fish to Harada, telling him to use them for research but not consumption. As the man explained, no doctor had ever shown such concern for him before, and the fact that a Japanese doctor had come so far to examine him was the “proudest moment” of his life.58 Harada left the meeting with an even stronger sense of responsibility, concluding that “we are all brothers, and the problem of environmental contamination is a shared problem around the world. We must make the most of the lessons of Minamata.”59

If the case of the couple in Finland spoke to Harada and other participants’ responsibility as Japanese scientists, then their experiences in North America confirmed their learning from the domestic struggle that pollution affected and discriminated against the very weakest and marginalized members of society. Before traveling to Canada, Miyamoto and Harada visited New Mexico in the United States to investigate the case of an African American family afflicted with mercury poisoning. The case was quite straightforward, and there was no doubt methyl mercury was to blame for the poisoning. But what interested and concerned Miyamoto and Harada was the apparent structure of discrimination that caused the poisoning in the first place. The incident, involving the Huckleby family of Alamogordo City, New Mexico, was first reported nationally in 1970 in the New York Times and on NBC television. After consuming pork from a family-owned pig in 1969, four members of the Huckleby family began to display various degrees of mercury poisoning symptoms. Ernestine, the eight-year-old daughter, was stricken first, initially experiencing back pain and difficulty walking and then falling into a coma, although doctors were initially unable to diagnose her condition. A few days later the thirteen-year-old son, Amos, began to experience constricted vision and ataxia (loss of voluntary muscle coordination), followed soon after by the twenty-year-old daughter Dorothy, who displayed similar symptoms. All three were hospitalized. The children’s mother, Lois, was pregnant at the time, and when the child, Michael, was (p.70) born, he displayed limited movement functions along with sensory disturbances to smell, sight, and hearing—symptoms typical of fetal methyl mercury poisoning.

The source of the contamination was quickly traced to waste grain that the father, Ernest Huckleby, had acquired free of charge when it was discarded by a granary in the nearby town of Texico. The grain had been treated with the highly toxic mercurial fungicide Panogen 15, used to prevent mold growth on seed and grain. Ernest used the contaminated grain to feed eighteen pigs over a four- to six-week period. He later recalled that after a few weeks some of the animals began to display erratic behavior: fourteen piglets went blind and were unable to walk. Within a month twelve had died and those that survived continued to show impeded development. In the meantime Ernest slaughtered one of the pigs for family consumption.60

The Huckleby family eventually sued the grain company on the basis that, being illiterate, Ernest Huckleby was unable to read the warning labels on the fifty-four-gallon (204 liter) storage drums, nor did he understand why the grain had been dyed pink. The suit was unsuccessful, however, with the court finding that the company had indeed fulfilled its legal responsibility by attaching a label clearly warning that the contents were for seeding only, had been treated with a toxic substance, and should not be consumed or used as feed under any circumstances. Specifically, the court noted the label’s caution that the contents contained a “Category I poison,” “highly toxic to man,” that the word “poison” was printed prominently in red, and that the label included a skull-and-crossbones mark.61 As Miyamoto cynically observed, ultimately the court rejected the lawsuit on the basis that a poor, uneducated, illiterate black man was in the wrong; that it was his deficiency and his fault for being unable to read or understand the warnings.62 But from Miyamoto’s perspective, a completely different interpretation seemed plausible. The company knew that a large population of underprivileged and illiterate African Americans living in the region raised their own animals on grain, hence it had a greater responsibility to inform them of the dangers and to ensure that contaminated grain was not used for feed.63

The plight of the family affected Miyamoto and Harada on a deeply emotional level, especially in their capacity as so-called Japanese pollution experts. Here was a clear instance of how the horrors of Minamata had not been effectively and persuasively communicated to the world. After all, if people outside Japan had truly understood Minamata, such incidents would not have been repeated and companies would not have continued to use such (p.71) toxic chemicals. Miyamoto was in no doubt that if Americans had known more about Minamata disease they would certainly have abandoned the use of dangerous mercury and the Huckleby children would have been spared their brutal suffering.64 It was a clear example of how Japanese scientists had not fulfilled their responsibility to the world, so they too were liable. After consulting with the children’s doctors and examining their medical records, Harada and Miyamoto met with the son, Amos, who was receiving special care at a county school for the disabled. They observed that, although he was blind, his speech impaired, and his mobility limited, “his mind was clear.” “The thing he wanted to know most from us was about Japanese Minamata sufferers’ rehabilitation back into society. He wanted us to tell him about any cases of people blinded [by the disease] who had found a job and were working. This was a clear sign of his powerful mentality and desire to live. But we had no answers to his impassioned questions.”65 Nor could they provide Amos’s mother Lois with the answer she so desperately wanted to hear—that Minamata disease could be cured. “It was the most important question in the life of this woman caring for four victims. But the pity is that there is no cure for Minamata disease at present. With the most pained expressions we answered ‘current medicine cannot cure the disease. But with appropriate care certain functions can be restored.’”66

Traveling on the road from Alamogordo to El Paso with its “never-ending sand dunes,” Miyamoto and Harada reflected on their encounter with the Huckleby family: the young children, lying helplessly prostrate in their hospital beds just like the severely poisoned children in Minamata, the courageous Amos who dreamed of a bright future, and the anguished mother with no other option but to “pray to God every day.”67 “Her somberness and the warmth of her hands is something we will never forget,” Miyamoto and Harada later wrote of their meeting with Lois.68 They could provide no relief or remedy to this woman and her family, but stepping across national borders and reaching out to other human beings fighting the same battle as those in Japan redefined “Minamata” in ways Harada and Miyamoto could not have imagined even five years earlier. The injustice of industrial pollution knew no borders, so neither could their struggle against it.

Connecting Minamata and Ontario

The culmination of the investigatory mission was participants’ study of mercury poisoning at two Indian reservations in Canada. Not only did members meet, examine, and interact with the Indians as they had done with (p.72) pollution victims elsewhere, they also accompanied them to negotiations with Ontario and Canadian government officials, facilitated historic meetings in Canada and in Japan with sufferers from Minamata Bay, and encouraged the Indians to instigate court proceedings for compensation. Here, more than anywhere else, the Japanese participants fulfilled their self-assigned responsibility as scientists from the world’s most polluted nation, and here too they witnessed the potential of transnational action in the global struggle against discrimination and injustice—for them the root causes of pollution.

During March and August of 1975, mission participants conducted investigations at both the Grassy Narrows and White Dog Indian reservations, located along the English-Wabigoon River system about sixty-two miles (100 kilo meters) northwest of Kenora City in the Canadian province of Ontario. The source of the mercury contamination was a pulp mill located around 124 miles (200 kilo meters) upstream from the reservations in the city of Dryden. The pulp mill operator, the Dryden Paper and Pulp Company, was a subsidiary of a joint venture between Canadian business interests and the British multinational, Reed International.69 Of the approximately seven thousand inhabitants of Dryden, some 1,600 either worked in the factory or were engaged in activities associated with it, prompting Miyamoto to liken the city to the “corporate castle towns” in Japan such as Yokkaichi City.70 Although the company initially denied it was the cause of the contamination, claiming that natural levels of mercury in the region were high, tests on river fish showing elevated concentrations closer to the factory quickly invalidated such claims.71 Flying into the area, mission participants were shocked by the extent of effluent from the factory’s pipes, with clumps of frozen brown debris visible for at least sixty miles (97 kilo meters) downstream. In a report for the newspaper Chūnichi Shinbun, Karaki Kiyoshi described the thick smoke plume bellowing from the factory’s smokestacks into the clear blue sky and the “reddish-brown effluent” spewing into the Winnipeg River, turning the melted ice brown.72

The Dryden pulp mill began operations in 1962, but it was not until 1969 that the Ontario government initiated a study on possible contamination and poisoning in the river system, primarily in response to the rising global concern over mercury but also in response to the grassroots work of tour operator Barney Lamm. Blood and hair samples were taken from eighty-eight Indians on the reservations, of which nine individuals with elevated mercury readings—some with up to one hundred parts per million (ppm) (p.73) in their hair samples—were hospitalized for further tests. The official 1971 report concluded that, while these individuals did indeed register high bodily mercury concentrations, no physiological effects had been identified, and there were no typical cases of Minamata disease.73 Nevertheless, the Ontario government ordered the factory to stop dumping mercury-laden effluent (which it did not do until after the 1975 visit of the Japanese mission). The government also immediately banned commercial fishing in the region, and it advised tour operators to ensure that sport fishermen did not consume their catch.74

The Indian communities were decimated by the contamination of their waterways, and most working in the fishing and tourism industries lost their jobs. The spiritual and physiological devastation engendered depression, alcoholism, violence, poverty, and suicide, not to mention a deep animosity toward white Canadians. As the Indian chief explained in his welcome speech to the Japanese mission, “The earth is our father, the water is our mother. God told us to live by drinking the water of mother earth. Then the white man poisoned mother earth with mercury. After we are dead, the white man will die too. Never forget that, white man!”75 Moreover, the contamination of fish stocks not only eliminated a key source of cash income, it also compromised an indispensable source of protein for the community. Mission participants learned that, in the absence of another food source, many Indians were left with no choice but to continue consuming contaminated fish. Tour operators also demanded that Indians employed as guides cook and eat the fish caught by sport fishermen to avoid alarming tourists. Miyamoto and Harada summed up the desperate conditions on the reservations as follows: “The Indians receive their social security payments once a week after which they drink until they drop or even die. On the reservations they resort to hair spray, perfume, and insecticides in search of alcohol, mixing these with water. Then, when they get drunk they fight and commit arson. When they wake up the next morning they have no job, just like every other day, so they light a cigarette and sit in the sun. They spend the whole day sitting in the same way with lethargic hollow expressions.”76

Harada Masazumi conducted clinical medical examinations on eighty-nine Indians during his visits to the reservations, working side by side with a local doctor and advocate for the Indians, Peter Newberry, during the March tour, and with the Rochester University toxicologist Thomas W. Clarkson during the August visit.77 Harada’s surveys of the Indians revealed (p.74) that, although most no longer consumed fish, close to one-third continued to do so. His clinical tests did not uncover any serious (i.e., typical) cases of Minamata disease, but thirty-seven individuals presented with sensory disturbances and nine others with constriction of the visual field—both of which are symptoms consistent with heavy metal poisoning.78 On the basis of these examinations, Harada concluded that there was a very high likelihood of mercury poisoning among inhabitants of the reservations. When Harada and mission participants confronted the Dryden Paper and Pulp Company with these results, they were stunned by the nonchalance of company representatives, who declared, “Our factory has faithfully followed government thresholds. So, if damages have been suffered within the thresholds then the government must pay compensation [to the victims]. If we are found liable for negligence in a court of law we will take responsibility but, in that case too, the government will bear some responsibility.”79

Government agencies proved no more hospitable, but the arrival of the Japanese group did force a number of concessions, including a historic meeting between Indian representatives, the official government mercury countermeasures committee, and members of the Japanese mission. Amazingly, although this government committee was four years old, only under pressure from the Japanese mission did its members relent and agree to meet with the Indians in person. Moreover, thanks again to the Japanese visitors, prior to the historic meeting, the committee released previously classified reports on scientific investigations conducted by the Canadian National Institute of Hygiene to determine the toxicity of fish in the region. The reports revealed that primates and cats fed a diet consisting of 35 percent of fish from the area contracted Minamata disease in around fifty days, and animals from both species subsequently died.80 At the meeting the Indians confronted committee members with difficult questions that hit at the heart of discrimination: “We have been crying out for four years, but the Canadian government has not listened at all. But our voices reached far off Japan and these four scientists came to help. This was not because the Canadian and Japanese governments paid, but with their own funds. But now we’ve learned that a massive $600,000 has been used on research, and that you have written research papers. Is this research to ease our concerns or is it only so you can profit? Tell us the truth.”81 In his presentation, Harada appealed to the committee members’ responsibility as scientists and pointed out the risks of using “typical” diagnoses: “We’ve had the same debate in Japan over and over. While we were debating about whether or not ‘typical’ (p.75) sufferers had surfaced or if the causal chain was clear … a terrible tragedy occurred.” As Harada explained, by the time a “typical” case was identified, multiple other cases of fetal poisoning and nonspecific cases would have occurred, so there was no time to wait. Based on his work on the reservations, he told the committee there were four indisputable facts: contaminated fish, inhabitants with elevated mercury levels in blood and hair samples, cat deaths caused by mercury poisoning, and a variety of nonspecific cases. These facts, he demanded, meant that the discovery of a “typical” sufferer was “only a matter of time.”82 The government committee was unmoved, however, and announced there would be no cooperation with the Japanese mission because, at this stage, no patients had presented with typical symptoms of mercury poisoning.83

For Ui, Miyamoto, and Harada, this official response confirmed the universal law that discrimination was the principal cause of environmental destruction, psychological devastation, and human illness. Mission members were convinced that, had white people been poisoned, this incident and its cover-up would never have occurred.84 How else was the dismissive attitude of Dryden Paper and Pulp Company to be explained, or the meeting with government officials, which Ui described as a “venue for racial discrimination”?85 And what of the local doctors, who advised that the Indians had no medical problem other than alcoholism and that the Japanese group would do best to focus on that issue? As Miyamoto and Harada observed, “Such conditions not only made us realize the difficulties of our investigations, they also bore a striking resemblance to Minamata in the 1960s.”86 Observing the “the desperate pleadings” of this “yellow race” in their broken English to white government officials transported mission participants back to Japan and the struggles of Minamata disease sufferers.87 Regardless of the place, pollution seemed to materialize at the very apex of a chain of discrimination, the final step in the rapid destruction of the traditional lives of local people such as farmers, fishermen, people of color, and indigenous communities. Indeed, it seemed that the destruction of community and tradition were critical prerequisites for pollution to occur and to inflict its devastation on innocent human bodies. Harada expressed this sentiment most poignantly as follows:

The root of pollution lies in the destruction of lifestyle and culture produced when a discriminated group is forced to accept a certain set of values—whether between nations, races, or classes. In Canada too, the (p.76) Indians were forced further and further to the peripheries by the whites and, driven on to reservations, their traditional lifestyle and unique culture was completely destroyed. One result was the occurrence of mercury contamination. Locals could no longer fish and lost their jobs as tour guides. Over 80 percent of the population started receiving social security and, with nothing to do, drowned in a sea of alcohol. Pollution disease not only ravages human flesh; it is also a social disease which destroys the spirit. Wherever pollution occurs in the world, in the background there are always victims who belong to the discriminated and powerless masses; defenseless people who have been spiritually wounded.88

Harada’s was a bleak assessment of the mission’s experience in Canada indeed, but the story of this exchange between Japanese scientists and Canadian Indians does not end so pessimistically. This border-crossing engagement instilled both sides with a sense of hope and the vision of a new, translocal community capable of transcending the isolation and alienation of discrimination and injustice. In July 1975, nine representatives from the Grassy Narrows and White Dog reservations visited Japan to see the polluted Japanese archipelago firsthand and to meet directly with mercury poisoning victims in Minamata and Niigata. They were greeted at Haneda Airport in Tokyo by members of Ui Jun’s ILP network, Tokyo supporters of Minamata disease sufferers, and Kawamoto Teruo, leader of the Chisso Minamatabyō Kanja Renmei (Chisso Minamata Disease Sufferers Alliance). Traveling to Minamata Bay in Kumamoto Prefecture, the Indians met with Japanese victims and explained how they too lived off fish and were at the same risk as Minamata residents. In a tender exchange, an Indian named Tom took the hand of a bedridden fetal mercury poisoning victim, Chizuru, saying softly “Hello, I’m Tom. I’ll send you a letter from Canada.”89 Outside the Chisso factory, the same Tom scooped up a handful of sludge from a pipe and, smelling the material, concluded it was no worse than sludge from the Dryden pulp mill. At an event for the Indians held at the Minamata public hall with three hundred guests, the chief, Andy, spoke of their shock but also of their inspiration: “What we have experienced at Minamata is beyond imagination. Seeing the destructive power of mercury was a heartbreaking lesson for us. The Canadian government denied Minamata disease at Dryden. Why, despite possessing the knowledge of modern medicine and science, did they not clearly advise people on the reservations of (p.77) the danger? But we will not give up our struggle against the government. The real struggle has just begun.”90 As the Indians explained to Ui during his March visit to Canada, not until the Japanese came did the government react, so now the onus was on the Indians themselves to stand up and build on the energy from their Japanese friends.91 At a press conference prior to their departure from Japan, their leader struck an optimistic note, commenting, “We were extremely shocked and frightened because we had not thought that mercury poisoning could so totally destroy human beings. But thanks to the warm cooperation of all in Japan, we now have the confidence to win the long and difficult battle against mercury pollution and racial discrimination.”92

Following the Indians visit to Japan, in October 1975, four Minamata victims and their supporters visited the Grassy Narrows and White Dog reservations. While in Canada, the Japanese group joined the Indian sufferers in their negotiations with the Dryden Paper and Pulp Company, Reed International, and Ontario state officials. In the meeting the Minamata group screened excerpts from Tsuchimoto Noriaki’s disturbing documentary Igaku toshite no Minamatabyō (Minamata as medicine) and presented a letter of appeal asking Reed International to take responsibility for dumping the mercury, to pay compensation, and to negotiate directly with the affected Indian communities. At the Grassy Narrows reservation, two hundred members of the community came out to celebrate the Minamata group’s visit.93 Ui best summed up the historical significance of these exchanges in a December interview with the progressive magazine, AMPO: Japan-Asia Quarterly Review. As he explained, “for poor and minority peoples, who are nearly always the first victims,” the process of overcoming “their isolation by getting together and concretely realizing the worldwide polluting effects of multinational corporations” was a development of truly “great significance.”94 Knowing that people thousands of miles away shared in their struggle gave victims strength and the reassurance of belonging to an authentic community opposing environmental injustice.


The overseas travels of Ui Jun and Miyamoto Ken’ichi in the late 1960s and the encounters of the World Environment Investigative Mission in the 1970s taught Japanese activists a great deal. While confirming Japan’s unenviable position as a global “pollution laboratory,” activists also learned that Japan was no outlier: pollution was rapidly spreading and becoming (p.78) more and more complex in both developed and developing countries alike. Established political paradigms and ideologies could no longer adequately explain pollution and environmental injustice, which occurred under socialism as commonly as under capitalism. Going abroad helped Japanese activists realize that contemporary pollution demanded new interpretations and innovative political strategies that responded to the spatial and technological realities of modern industry and the complex relationships between humans and their living environments in an urbanized world. The conflicts over nuclear power that Japanese activists witnessed in Eu rope and the United States, although never adequately grasped at the time, alerted them to the complicated intersection of energy, the environment, and economic growth that would become so central to subsequent debates about the “limits to growth” and “sustainable development.” In particular, their experiences with mercury in Canada, Finland, and, earlier, in Japan itself, raised troubling questions about the geopolitics of pollution and environmental injustice. Mercury contamination hit hardest in geographically peripheralized and impoverished communities, which were literally sacrificed for the affluent, globally connected metropoles they serviced. In Ontario, Kotka, Minamata, and Niigata they witnessed similar processes at work.

Investigating mercury contamination in other national settings greatly expanded their framing of the problem. What was previously understood as “Chisso Corporation versus the residents of Minamata Bay” or “Shōwa Denkō versus people along the Jinzū River” could now be positioned within a framework of global, multinational capitalism: executives of Reed International wreaked havoc in indigenous communities in Ontario from boardrooms a world away in the United Kingdom, factories in Milan borrowed technology from Chisso Corporation in Japan, and government officials in Finland concealed reports from the Japanese Ministry of Health and Welfare. As we will see in chapters 4 and 5, opposing “pollution export” by Japanese corporations would come to dominate Japanese transnational initiatives throughout the 1970s and 1980s.

Yet, while travel abroad alerted Japanese activists to the intensification and interconnectedness of industrial pollution worldwide, it confirmed the importance of local communities as the building blocks of effective resistance to environmental injustice. Ui, Miyamoto, Harada, and others came away convinced that the first step toward stopping pollution and discrimination lay in the forging of human-to-human ties between affected local communities. The Japanese term kōryū—meaning exchange, interchange, (p.79) or mingling among people—appears again and again in their writings of the time. Despite the different social, linguistic, cultural, and political conditions of countries, Ui saw great value in exchange and interaction as a way to inspire pollution victims to act for themselves. After all, only when the Canadian Indians met with Minamata sufferers and saw polluted sites in Japan firsthand did they understand the seriousness of the issue and make a firm commitment to act.95 Harada similarly observed that, while Japanese corporate and government elites feared the negative repercussions of communicating the story of Japanese pollution abroad, from a long-term perspective, such “negative exchange” or “mutual interchange among victims” represented the best way to forge authentic international friendship and goodwill.96 Pollution was certainly a “fearsome” phenomenon built on the foundation of human discrimination and injustice, but through it new transnational communities of resistance, trust, and mutual therapy had begun to take root.

Indeed, it was in the very creation of such communities that these Japanese scientists envisioned a new international responsibility for themselves as the representatives of victims from the world’s most polluted nation. As we have seen in this and the previous chapter, Harada, Ui, and others harbored a deep sense of remorse for their own self-perceived failures, for example, in the worldwide propagation of the typical symptoms required to diagnose Minamata disease. But their travels and missions abroad demonstrated a new way of seeing the outside world radically at odds with the intellectual conventions of modern Japan. As Miyamoto explained, for Japanese from the Meiji era (1868–1912) onward, foreign journeys—especially to the West—were all about learning. “But ours was not this kind of passive journey,” he observed; it was about “communicating the Japanese experience” and “seeing conditions abroad with our own eyes, and mutually exchanging information.” In this sense, “learning” took on a slightly different meaning from that to date.97 Meiji-era statesmen, for instance, were only interested in the “bright” aspects of the countries they visited and how these could be useful for an emerging nation. According to Miyamoto, they completely ignored the “shadows” of Western development, primarily because they were part of the elite ruling classes and were oblivious to the “voices of the people.”98 But, as Miyamoto reflected, “Our journey is about listening to the voices of the people. What we are ‘learning’ is not only about … the environmental policies of central and local governments, but we are also listening to the voices of victims and to the opinions of the very few scientists and politicians who are struggling with and helping them.”99 (p.80) Miyamoto admitted that he was still not confident to speak about the necessity and value of their journeys abroad, especially given his limited linguistic ability and the very short time spent overseas. But, when they “visited a rainy Los Angeles suburb located beside an oil refinery,” and when they met with Nicky, the principal physician for the Huckleby family in El Paso, Miyamoto “keenly felt” the significance of their journey, which knit together a therapeutic translocal community against discrimination and injustice.100 The reality was that they were not alone, and this was a remarkably invigorating discovery for pollution victims and their indefatigable advocates. The final statement of the Canadian Indian visitors after their 1975 visit to Japan captured this sentiment perfectly:

We came on the invitation of the Minamata disease patients’ alliance.

Our hearts have been warmed by the beauty of the land and the warmth and hospitality of our hosts.

But, we came to learn about a horrible truth: Minamata disease—industrial methyl mercury poisoning in human beings.

We have seen the destruction caused by this industrial pollution on the human body and the suffering of entire communities. And as fellow human beings we are deeply hurt.

We are also horrified at the similarities of the Minamata experience in the early stages, and our present situation at Grassy Narrows and Whitedog in Canada.

The facts of our situation in Canada are quite simple. The Dryden Chemical Company has polluted our waters and fish with mercury. They have destroyed our food and livlihood [sic]. During this time they have made increasing profits and received millions of dollars in government aid.

We suffered for five years without relief from either the Dryden Chemical Company or our government.

Now support and help is coming from our brothers and sisters, the Minamata disease patients, some seven thousand miles away.

The struggle of Japanese victims has been difficult enough. Our struggle is compounded by a history of racism.

This beginning of contact with the Minamata disease patients is the beginning of our struggle in Canada.101


(3) Ash Amin, “Spatialities of Globalisation,” Environment and Planning A 34 (2002): 395.

(4) Sallie A. Marston, John Paul Jones III, and Keith Woodward, “Human Geography without Scale,” Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 30, no. 4 (2005): 422.

(5) Ibid., 426.

(6) Ui Jun, Ui Jun Repōto: Ōshū no Kōgai o otte (Tokyo: Aki Shobō, 1970), 76.

(7) Ui Jun, “Sekai no Kōgai Hantai Shimin Undō,” in Sekai no Kōgai Chizu 2, ed. Tsuru Shigeto (Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 1977), 149.

(8) Miyamoto’s observations after touring Eastern Eu rope are recorded in the committee’s monthly report, dated December 16, 1967 held at the Institute of Economic Research (IER) Library at Hitotsubashi University in Tokyo.

(10) Ibid., 121–122.

(11) For details see Ui, Ui Jun Repōto, 13–25.

(12) Ibid., 26, 45–46, 48.

(13) Ibid., 112.

(14) Ui Jun, “Mercury Pollution of Sea and Fresh Water: Its Accumulation into Water Biomass,” Kogai: The Newsletter from Polluted Japan (hereafter KOGAI) 8 (Special Issue 1975): 22.

(16) “La ‘morte chimica’ da noi come in Giappone?”

(17) Ibid., 217.

(18) Ibid.

(19) Ibid., 210.

(20) Ibid., 254–256.

(21) Ibid., 263, 274.

(22) See Ui Jun, “Kōgai Genron III,” in Ui Jun, Kōgai Genron Gappon (Tokyo: Aki Shobō, 1990), 127–202.

(24) Ui Jun, “Minamatabyō to Kanada Indian,” in Genchi ni Miru Sekai no Kōgai Sōkatsu: Sekai Kankyō Chōsadan Hōkoku, ed. Tsuru Shigeto (Tokyo: Chūnichi Shinbun Tokyo Honsha, 1975), 139.

(27) Tsuru Shigeto, “Maegaki,” in Sekai no Kōgai Chizu 1, ed. Tsuru Shigeto (Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 1977), i.

(p.242) (28) Hanada Masanori and Inoue Yukari, “Kanada Senjūmin no Minamatabyō to Junan no Shakaishi Dai-1-kai,” Gekkan “Shakai Undō” 382 (January 2012): 21; and Ui, “Minamatabyō to Kanada,” 147.

(31) See Tsuru Shigeto, ed., Genchi ni Miru Sekai no Kōgai Sōkatsu: Sekai Kankyō Chōsadan Hōkoku (Tokyo: Chūnichi Shinbun Tokyo Honsha, 1975), 2, 3, 354.

(32) Miyamoto Ken’ichi and Harada Masazumi, “Kanada Indian Suigin Chūdoku Jiken,” in Sekai no Kōgai Chizu 1, ed. Tsuru Shigeto (Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten), 88.

(33) Tsuru Shigeto, “Sekai Kankyō Chōsadan no Shuppatsu ni atatte,” in Genchi ni Miru, 14.

(34) See Tsuru Shigeto, ed., Genchi ni Miru; and Tsuru Shigeto, ed., Sekai no Kōgai Chizu 1 and 2 (Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 1977).

(35) CVCC = Compound Vortex Controlled Combustion. Hanayama Yuzuru, “Jidōsha o Kangaeru,” in Sekai no Kōgai Chizu 1, ed. Tsuru, 149.

(36) Ibid., 146.

(38) Nagai Susumu, “Ōbei no Genpatsu Hantai Tōsō,” in Genchi ni Miru, ed. Tsuru, 112.

(39) See Nagai Susumu, “Sekai Kankyō Chōsadan Hōkoku: Ōbei Senshinkoku ni okeru Genpatsu Hantai Undō,” Kōgai Kenkyū 5, no. 2 (October 1975): 52–58; and Nagai Susumu, “Ōbei Senshinkoku ni okeru Genpatsu Hantai Undō,” in Genchi ni Miru, ed. Tsuru, 177.

(40) Karaki Kiyoshi, “Wareware Chikyū Kazoku,” in Genchi ni Miru, ed. Tsuru, 91; Nagai, “Ōbei Senshinkoku,” 178; Nagai, “Ōbei no Genpatsu,” 113.

(42) Ibid., 112–113.

(44) Ibid., 93–94.

(46) The following details are drawn from Harada Masazumi, “Finrando no Suigin Jiken,” in Sekai no Kōgai Chizu 1, ed. Tsuru, 127–133.

(47) Ibid., 131.

(48) Ibid., 132–133.

(49) Harada, Minamata ga Utsusu, 212. The typical symptoms of Hunter-Russell syndrome are concentric constriction of the visual field, paresthesia (skin numbness and tingling), ataxia (loss of muscle coordination affecting movement), impaired hearing, and speech impairment.

(54) Ui Jun, “Jinrui ga Ikinokoru tame no Kakutō,” in Genchi ni Miru, ed. Tsuru, 109.

(59) Ibid., 135.

(61) See First National Bank in Albuquerque, As Guardian for and On behalf of Dorothy Jean Huckleby, et al., plaintiffs-appellants, v. United States of America, Defendant-appellee. 552 F.2d 370. United States Court of Appeals, Tenth Circuit. 1977. JUSTIA US Law, https://bulk.resource.org/courts.gov/c/F2/552/552.F2d.370.75-1301.html accessed May 2, 2014.

(62) Miyamoto, Kankyō to Jichi, 125–126. For more on the case see, Jack Vancoevering, “The Truth about Mercury,” Field and Stream 76, no.1 (May 1971): 14–20, 137.

(64) Ibid., 127.

(65) Miyamoto Ken’ichi and Harada Masazumi, “Aramogorudo Kokujin Suigin Chūdoku Jiken,” in Sekai no Kōgai Chizu 1, ed. Tsuru, 82.

(66) Ibid., 83.

(68) Ibid., 77.

(69) See the “Grassy Narrows and Islington Bands Fonds Collection,” Library and Archives Canada, http://collectionscanada.gc.ca/pam_archives/index.php?fuseaction=genitem.displayItem&lang=eng&rec_nbr=98381&rec_nbr_list=98381,3026162, accessed January 7, 2016. Also see the “Lamm, Marion, Mercury Collection,” Harvard University Library, accessed January 7, 2016, http://oasis.lib.harvard.edu/oasis/deliver/~env00002.

(70) Miyamoto Ken’ichi, “Fukamaru Kōgai: Shinaseru Toshi,” in Genchi ni Miru, ed. Tsuru, 28.

(71) Barney Lamm initiated these investigations. See Jane M. High tower, Diagnosis Mercury: Money, Politics, and Poison (Washington, DC: Island Press, 2009), 117.

(72) Karaki Kiyoshi, “‘Minamata’ no Suiseki,” in Genchi ni Miru, ed. Tsuru, 55.

(77) Ibid., 105.

(78) Ibid., 106.

(82) Ibid., 164.

(90) Ibid., 271.

(91) Ui, “Interview,” 69.

(93) On this visit see ibid., 276–278.

(94) Ui, “Interview,” 69.

(97) Miyamoto Ken’ichi, “Naze Gaikoku no Tabi ni Derunoka,” in Genchi ni Miru, ed. Tsuru, 19–20.

(98) Ibid., 20, 22.

(99) Ibid., 22.

(100) Ibid., 23.

(101) Canadian Indian Dryden Minamata Disease Group, “Final Statement,” Jishu Kōza 54 (September 1975): 12, FJK 3–1, 202.