MINAMATA: WHY DON'T YOU DIE RIGHT NOW!
Sakamoto Teruki, a fisherman from Minamata, Japan, attended the Assembly as a witness. Through an interpreter he shared his story. Many people on the shores of Minamata Bay have been grievously affected by the long term pollution of the water by mercury effluent from the Chisso Company factory. Originally thought to be a disease rather than slow poisoning, Minamata disease has caused great suffering. CCA YOUTH began sending ecumenical youth to visit Minamata victims in 1982. Mr. Sakamoto repaid these visits by attending the AYA and informing many more Asian youth about the victims of the Japanese economic system.
I am Sakamoto Teruki, a victim of Minamata disease. Now I am a fisherman. To earn my livelihood I have been catching fish in the Minamata Bay which is being affected by mercury pollutants and sell them in the market. However, it is very recent that I have accepted this way of living.
When I was a little boy, I wanted very much to run away from Minamata because it was a nightmare for me to face the Minamata disease which I would like to have forgotten totally if possible. Ever since I can remember my family was totally destroyed by the Minamata disease. My mother was affected by the so-called “peculiar disease” and hopitalised all the time. My father could not get enough money from fishing to support the family and so he went to the Chisso Company to be employed. However, later on, due to hard labour and air pollution, he got TB and had to quit the job. Then he was ill in bed in the house. It was my grandfather who took care of the family and did all the work on the hillside to till the land and cooking and washing clothes. Everything he did.
Sometimes my mother escaped from hospital and came home. They said that then I shouted at my parents “I don’t need a mother at all. Because the people are saying that you are crazy. You always ill in bed. Why don’t you die right now! I need only grandfather.”
At that time my mother was suffering from serious headache and cramp fit. When she was seized with a cramp, she fell down on the village road. She also got angry when she was spoken ill of on a little thing. In a fit of passion she was looming around all of the villages through day and night while she was shouting. “Don’t make a fool of me! Don’t say a peculiar disease, peculiar disease!” Sometimes she rushed into houses which where strange to her.
When she left the hospital, her body and mind were nearly dying. While she was at home, the home was always in a mess and she did not care about the household work. In order to stand the pains she drank so much hard liquor. At midnight she went into others’ houses and shouted. Many times I have taken her home.
When I started schooling, I was teased by classmates by saying that “Your mother is a witch”. “You are the child of the demon”. In addition because of the influence of Minamata disease I was so weak that I could not do physical exercise. I was so lonely at the time. Then I became a troublemaker at school because I felt that nobody can understand my loneliness and plight at all.
Now I always suffering from headache. My ankles are twisted and do not move. I easily get tired. If I do hard work, all my muscles harden as if frozen to the extent I cannot exercise because of pain.
I feel shivers when I imagine that any time in the future my condition will get as bad as my mother’s was. Six years ago my grandfather died of Minamata disease. My father also died by the same cause. All of my family were affected by the Minamata disease. I have no brother and sister. After my mother got Minamata disease, she had miscarriages many times.
When I grew up, I left Minamata area to escape from the family and Minamata disease and got jobs outside. However my physical and mental strength were too weak to carry out the work. In addition I was afraid to be exposed that I came from Minamata. They were the reasons why I could not continue the same work at the same place. I could hardly relate to people of the working place and others. From place to place I transferred and engaged in numerous jobs.
Later I came back to Minamata and started fishing eventually. While I am fishing on the sea, I don’t need to care about anyone else but keeping attention on my body condition.
Even though the Minamata Bay has been polluted. I cannot live anywhere else but here.
Now I am married with a woman, who has been supporting the victims of the Minamata disease on the struggle, with three children.
My mother is now always ill in bed. However compared to the past situation she is now much better and happier with her grandchildren.
The Chisso Company was forced to pay compensation to the patients as a result of our twenty-year long struggle. However the compensation is not able to revive the lives and health of the patients lost in the past by the Minamata disease. The sea also will not be as abundant as it used to be before. What the Chisso factory brought to us was nothing but disaster for fishing, and madness and death.
We are eager to convey these facts which are inclined to be overlooked in the rich and prosperous society of Japan.