Archives and Acquaintances

Hello all!

This week was very much a “nose to the grindstone” affair. For the first time in a couple of months, I spent at least 3 hours each day digging through [digital] archives and books gathering information for the second chapter of my dissertation, which focuses on the reconstruction of the Japanese welfare system in postwar Japan (1945-1960) and its effects on persons with disabilities. I also attended a forced sterilization trial at the Tokyo District Court which heavily tied in with that research, as it centered around the now defunct Eugenics Protection Law (1948).

On Monday, I Skyped with a dear friend of mine and fellow disability studies PhD student, Frank Mondelli, before diving in to a host of digital archives. Among the archives I searched were the U.S. State Departments Records on the Internal Affairs of Japan, SCAP’s Summation of Nonmilitary Activities in Japan and Korea, the National Diet’s digital records archive, and others. I was rather displeased (but not at all surprised) to find relatively little mention of disability in the above English language sources. As it turns out, the Allied Powers were apparently more concerned with democratization and demilitarization than disability itself. Indeed, they seem to have paid little attention to the consequences of democratization and demilitarization on disabled populations (sans veterans, whom they attempted to deprive of special privileges.)

On Tuesday, I attended a forced sterilization trial at the Tokyo District Court House. The plaintiff, Saburo Kita (a pseudonym), came forward seeking compensation for his forced sterilization under the Eugenics Protection Law, which occurred approximately sixty years ago when he was 14. Representatives from the Japanese government argued that Mr. Kita  was not entitled to compensation as his sterilization occurred more than twenty years ago (the statute of limitations) and questioned why Mr. Kita did not attempt to seek reparations up until this point. Mr. Kita replied that he was unable to seek reparations as he did not receive a proper explanation regarding the surgical procedure that he was forced to undergo. He also indicated that he was unable to vocalize his grievances in an environment where eugenic ideology was actively taught in public schools (this was true in Japan at least until the abolishment of the Eugenics Protection Law in 1996) and felt significant shame about his inability to bear children. So much so, in fact, that he did not tell his wife until shortly before she passed away.

The trial was interesting for a number of reasons. That Mr. Kita is finally able to come forward with his claim seems to suggest that Japan’s atmosphere is changing with regard to attitudes toward eugenics and disability. But is this change a function of the passage of the Law for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities (2016)? The preparations for the upcoming Olympic/Paralympic games in 2020? The nation’s aging population, declining birthrate, and shrinking workforce? Perhaps some combination of all of these factors and then some? What does Japan’s shifting landscape mean in light of routine reports of violence and abuse in the media and tragic events like the Sagamihara Stabbings of 2016? There’s a lot to unpack here, that’s for sure.

What I was most struck by was the attendance and procedure at the trial (and after it). Before the trial began, the presiding judge went out of his way to call attention to the courtrooms’ accessibility features. He noted that a sign language interpreter was present in the room, and that the room was equipped with two video monitors for presentations. The judge also pointed out that there were several wheelchair spaces (three of which were occupied), and that it was ok to move around and leave the courtroom as necessary for comfort. I was delighted to see such treatment of accessibility, especially at a trial centered around disability issues. I was less delighted, however, to find out that a debriefing session organized by a group in support of Mr. Kita was not accessible to me. The venue was some distance away from the courtroom, and it had a rather steep slope outside that prevented me from entering. Alas, it seems that the group changes venues after each hearing. Maybe the next one will be more suited to my needs!

On Wednesday, I read a bunch of literature related to the establishment of the Social Welfare Industry Act (1951) in Japan. The act allowed the Japanese government to offer subsidies to private healthcare facilities and integrate them into a national healthcare network. That network would help administer protections, treatments, and services as indicated by a slew of healthcare laws passed in the immediate postwar, including but not limited to the Public Assistance Act (1946), the Child Welfare Act (1947), the Eugenic Protection Law (1948), the Law for the Welfare of Physically Handicapped Persons (1949) and the Mental Hygiene Law (1950). The passage of these laws forms a linear narrative of healthcare in Japan, which is punctuated by the activities and protestations of various disability movements. In the second chapter of my dissertation, I trace the activities of those movements to illustrate how they found solidarity with one another (or not) and paved the way for a new age of disability kinship in the 1960s and 1970s. I’m still in the researching stage, but it’s coming along nicely!

On Thursday, I had a visit from a medical supply retailer about buying a new hospital bed. I’ve been renting my current bed for a while now, and while its nice and everything it’s rather costly to do so. In fact, it’ s probably cheaper for me to just buy a new bed (with the help of my national/disability insurance) than continuing to rent one! I’m pleased to say that the retailer was very nice (he helped me tighten up some bolts on my wheelchair!) and although I didn’t find any working options in his catalogue, I look forward to working with him in the future.

After finishing up with the retailer, I turned my attention back toward my studies. First, I read some exciting literature about the foundation of the Japanese Federation for the Blind (1948) and various patient movements in the late 1940s, including Tateiwa Shinya’s new book: Sick and Disabled Persons After the War: A Biopolitical Sketch of History 病者障害者の戦後 – 生政治史点描 (2018). Then, I headed out into Odaiba to meet with Jennifer McGuire, an assistant professor of sociology at Doshisha University in Kyoto. Jennifer finished her PhD at Oxford a couple of years ago. Her research focuses on issues surrounding mainstreaming deaf students in Japan with a particular focus on education. Our conversation covered a large swathe of disability history and politics in Japan, and I really enjoyed myself. I hope that Jennifer and I can continue our exchanges in the future!

On Friday, I awoke to something of a shock. My caregiver was supposed to arrive at 10:30 AM, but ended up coming quite late. Apparently, the train was delayed at one of his transfers, so he decided to take a taxi. Unfortunately, the taxi driver went the wrong way (twice) leading to his being over an hour late. While such delays are inevitable, they can be life threatening for persons with disabilities like myself. In a large city like Tokyo ( where train delays are common), one has to wonder how often lapses in care and serious incidents occur. Regardless, I was able to get myself together and get out the door in time to grab lunch with an old acquaintance from my time at Sophia University: Maxélle Neufville. Apparently, Maxélle went to Temple Law School after graduating from her undergraduate university and is now studying at their Japan campus. To think, we were only a few minutes away from each other for the last few years (while I was at Penn) and didn’t know! After a brief (but delicious) meal, Maxélle and I parted ways. Unfortunately, I couldn’t stay for too long as I had a Skype date with my dissertation advisor, Jolyon Thomas. Jolyon was able to give me some good advice about archival method, which I hope to carry with me into the National Diet Library come the start of March.

On Saturday, I read books for around sixteen hours straight. I won’t go into all the details here, but I learned a lot about disability magazines and literary culture in postwar Japan, as well as the connection between new diagnostic technologies available at that time and institutionalization.

On Sunday, I continued my reading, and buttressed it with a bit of translation work. More specifically, I translated the relevant/important clauses of many of the laws and policies that I’ve mentioned throughout this post. It was long and grueling work, but very rewarding in the end! To give myself a treat, I met up for dinner with a friend from my time at Toyo University, Kenki Kuibira. Kenki is now in his fourth year as an undergraduate, and is actively pursuing work in social welfare. I’m really proud of him!

Today, I spent all day at the University of Tokyo’s hospital being poked and prodded. I’m pleased to report that I received a clean bill of health (relatively speaking) and that my stamina levels have returned to normal (indeed, that should be evident, based on the flurry of activities described above)!

I have a lot of plans this week: Skyping with old friends/former mentors, meeting with representatives from the Japan Foundation, planning events with professors from the University of Tokyo and University of Boston, and more!

Thanks for reading, and as always, stay tuned!

Outside the Tokyo District Court
Outside the Tokyo District Court


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