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Former leprosy patient's daughter says she does not want to spend her life hiding

Nobuko Harada, daughter of a former leprosy patient and one of the plaintiffs in a damages suit against the government, speaks at a news conference in Kumamoto's Chuo Ward, on Feb. 15, 2016. (Mainichi)

KUMAMOTO -- The daughter of a former leprosy patient has come out in public, saying she does not want to hide any longer, after family members of former patients sued the national government for damages inflicted by its former policy of isolation.

    Nobuko Harada, 72, appeared at a news conference in Kumamoto on Feb. 15, after the plaintiffs sued the state, claiming that they had suffered discrimination and prejudice as a result of the policy of isolating sufferers of the disease.

    Harada's father had been a sufferer of Hansen's disease. She still remembers the white disinfectant she saw when she was 8 years old. Public health care staff barged into her home in a port town of Hokkaido and covered the house with the disinfectant while the neighbors watched. Her father was immediately taken to a national leprosy sanatorium in Aomori Prefecture. His belongings, including his futon mat, were burned in the mountains.

    From that day, the attitudes of people around Harada changed. The family no longer had interaction with the neighbors and her mother was fired from a fish factory. They started a peddling business, but had trouble even paying for meals for the day. They avoided starvation by picking up potatoes and other produce from fields.

    Harada was bullied at school. Her classmates would tell her not to get close to them or they would rot. When she put a cleaning cloth in bucket of water during cleaning time, her classmates would dump the water out, saying that they would catch the disease.

    After graduating from a junior high school, Harada found a job at a restaurant where she met her future husband. She only had a brief moment of peace, however, as her husband would become violent every time he got drunk and would go on about her father.

    "I won't be able to get a promotion if my company finds out about your father," the husband said.

    She was punched at least once and had her teeth broken. She divorced her husband after their eldest son turned 20.

    Harada's father died in February 2001. She regretted treating him harshly. She would tell him, "I get bullied at school because of your disease."

    When her fathers' cremated remains came home, Harada buried them with the remains of her mother who had already passed away, thinking that her parents should be together as their marriage was broken up after only a brief period.

    In May that year, the Kumamoto District Court ordered the state to compensate former patients. Harada felt like the ruling changed something in society and told her friend that her father was a former leprosy patient. She then lost contact with the friend. Harada was reminded how she could not tell other people about her father, and gave up on making friends.

    "There weren't many times I thought I was happy. I spent many days of my life crying," Harada recalls.

    At the Feb. 15 news conference, a teary-eyed Harada said, "I have tried to live unnoticed, but I don't want to hide anymore." She added, "I want people to know through this lawsuit that I have lived under discrimination and prejudice ever since I was little."

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