Learning about a history fraught with hardship: public conference on Hansen’s disease held

Learning about a history fraught with hardship: public conference on Hansen’s disease held

In the afternoon on May 20, the participants in the fieldwork visited Nusutoenu gama, a cave in which patients of Miyako Nanseien took refuge.

May 21, 2011, Ryukyu Shimpo

Designed to foster a greater understanding of Hansen’s disease and to help eliminate prejudice and discrimination against those afflicted by it, “The 7th General and Exchange Gathering of Public Conference on Hansen’s Disease in Nago, Miyako Island,” was held at the National Sanatorium Miyako Nanseien, in Miyakojima City in the afternoon of May 20. This was the first time that this meeting has been held in Okinawa.
At the exchange gathering, held under the banner “Thinking about war and Hansen’s Disease,” former patient of Miyako Nanseien, 76-year old Sakae Uezato, talked about his experiences during the Battle of Okinawa.

Miyako Nanseien was closed around March 1945 when resident staff abandoned the facility. Forced out by the Japanese military, the patients took refuge in caves along the coastline. “Many died of malaria, dysentery and malnutrition,” said Uezato. He continued, “When I came back to the sanatorium in September, not knowing that the war was over, I found that the 15 or 16 patients who had been in the boys’ hut with me had disappeared, so I was the only one who survived.”

Uezato wants people to understand the truth about those suffering from Hansen’s disease, saying, “Those with the disease have been plagued by discrimination and prejudice caused by the Japanese government’s misguided policies. People who have recovered have been living secretive lives on the fringe of society.”

The meeting included some fieldwork in which participants visited the facilities in the sanatorium and went to the caves along the beach.
Thirty-eight year-old Fumiaki Kaku, who now works for a self-support facility for disabled people, said, “It was a valuable experience. I wanted to know how disabled people were treated during the war. I now understand how they were shunted off to quite awful situations.”

Another meeting is scheduled to be held in Nago Civic Center on May 21 followed by a local meeting in Okinawa Airakuen, a national sanatorium, on May 22.

(English Translation by T&CT, Mark Ealey)

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