Last month saw the passing of two men who had been leading lights in the movement to restore the dignity and human rights of people affected by leprosy in Japan.
Michihiro Ko, the president of Zenryokyo, the All-Japan Hansen’s Disease Sanatoria Residents’ Association, died at the age of 80 on May 9. Born in Fukuoka Prefecture, he developed symptoms of leprosy at 17 and was sent to Oshima Seishoen, a leprosarium on an island in Japan’s Inland Sea. As general secretary of Zenryokyo from 1995 (and president from 2010), he campaigned tirelessly to improve conditions for Japan’s sanatorium residents and was active in the movement that saw the overturning of Japan’s Leprosy Prevention Law in 1996. At the time of his death, Mr. Ko was working on an appeal against the government’s plans to cut back the number of personnel at sanatoriums, arguing that this posed a danger to the lives of the remaining elderly residents, many of them living with disabilities.
Yuji Kodama, who died of lung cancer on May 11, was also a key figure in championing the rights of people affected by leprosy. Born in 1932, he displayed symptoms at 7 and was sent to a sanatorium in Tokyo. He was later transferred to Kuryu Rakusenen in Gunma Prefecture. An activist and poet, he led the fight for compensation from the central government for its decades-long policy of isolating those with the disease.
Following a legal challenge mounted by Mr. Kodama and a group of plaintiffs, the Kumamoto District Court ruled in 2001 that the policy had been unconstitutional and those who suffered under it should receive an apology and compensation. Just before he died, he was able to attend the opening in April of a museum he had campaigned for: a reconstruction of a detention facility showing the appalling conditions in which sanatorium residents were held for disciplinary reasons.