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Modern Ambivalences: The Minamata Disease Disaster, Haptics, and the Social Movement in Japan

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Title:Modern Ambivalences: The Minamata Disease Disaster, Haptics, and the Social Movement in Japan
Authors:Daigle, Michelle Deborah Joanne
Contributors:Yano, Christine R. (advisor)
Anthropology (department)
Keywords:Asian studies
Environmental justice
show 3 moreJapan
Minamata Disease
Social Movements
show less
Date Issued:2020
Publisher:University of Hawai'i at Manoa
Abstract:Minamata disease is a neurological disorder of the central and peripheral nervous system caused by methyl mercury in chemical effluent. It is also the result of one of the most infamous and enduring technological disasters of Japan’s illustrious modernization at the turn of the 20th century and postwar era. People began suffering from acute methyl mercury poisoning in the early 1940s in fishing hamlets in Minamata, Kumamoto Prefecture, but Minamata disease was not officially discovered until 1956. A second occurrence of methyl mercury poisoning was officially discovered in 1965 in cities and towns in the Agano river basin in Niigata Prefecture. Today 2,985 people have been officially recognized with Minamata disease by national and prefectural governments through the Pollution-Related Health Damages Compensation System. However, this figure does not include the 67,759 people who have received relief through a political solution meant to solve longstanding conflicts over Minamata disease’s clinical image and provide closure to this part of Japan’s postwar past. It also does not include others who passed away prior to Minamata disease’s official discovery or those who choose to remain hidden or do not connect their symptoms to methyl mercury poisoning. However, Minamata disease endures and continues to draw attention through photojournalistic and cinematic representations, recent Supreme Court decisions in favor of plaintiffs (2013), robust and interconnected social activism linking Kumamoto, Niigata, and international forums, and cultural production through museums, storytelling, and various educational initiatives.
This dissertation uses Minamata disease as a case study to explore the intersections of subjectivity, disaster, and modernity in Japan. Utilizing ethnographic and archival data, this research focuses on the people suffering with the neurological effects of methyl mercury poisoning and the activists who support them as they confront stigma and bureaucratic barriers to redress in the greater Shiranui Sea area and in the Agano River Basin. Governmentally certified and uncertified Minamata disease patients must contend with ubiquitous representations of Minamata disease that rely on a visually distinct symptomology of acute poisoning. These representations inform discourses on fake patients and the official diagnostic criteria for the poisoning. This dissertation explores how patients and activists negotiate and engage with these representations, and counter them through storytelling and displays of haptic disability. Through engaging multiple sensorial modalities, patients and activists are able to communicate to the public their experiences of Minamata disease within the context of their life and struggle for recognition from the companies that poisoned them, as well as prefectural and national government entities. This research investigates how the senses, particularly the haptic, serve as contested sites of negotiation, translation, and interpretation within Minamata disease in contemporary Japan.
Pages/Duration:257 pages
Rights:All UHM dissertations and theses are protected by copyright. They may be viewed from this source for any purpose, but reproduction or distribution in any format is prohibited without written permission from the copyright owner.
Appears in Collections: Ph.D. - Anthropology

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