The July killings at Tsukui Yamayuri En, a residential care facility in Sagamihara, Kanagawa Prefecture, for people with intellectual disabilities, claimed 19 lives, sending shockwaves through Japan. Many were left speechless when confronted with some of the remarks the suspect had reportedly made about people with disabilities.
The following is an interview with Seiko Noda, a House of Representatives legislator from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), who is raising a 5-year-old son who was born with serious disabilities.
Mainichi Shimbun: There have been reports that the suspect, 26-year-old Satoshi Uematsu, had told former colleagues at the facility that he believed euthanasia of the disabled should be allowed, indicating a discriminatory attitude resembling that held by the Nazi regime, which exterminated tens of thousands of people with disabilities.
Seiko Noda: There are so many things going through my head, and I can't really pull them together ... To be frank, I wasn't that surprised about the recent killings, as compared to random killings. I always thought that something like this would happen. I've felt this way because through my son, I'd been made aware on a day-to-day basis that there are a significant number of people who loathe the disabled.
Mainichi: You've felt society's loathing for disabled people?
Noda: My son and his tiny body have undergone and overcome 11 operations to treat heart conditions and strokes. Next year, he'll be starting elementary school. I'm aware that people are making various comments on the internet regarding my son's medical treatment. For example, I saw one person write, "Seiko Noda is a civil servant. And right now, we are told the government has no money to waste because of the budget deficit. If Noda is a civil servant, she should leave her son to die, since he uses up so much government money for medical care." The person who wrote this was apparently inspired by something the writer Ayako Sono had written.
Mainichi: Indeed, Sono has written in her book, "Ningen ni totte seijuku towa nanika" (What maturity means for human beings), about you, saying that she sees not an ounce of remorse or gratitude coming from you for the expensive medical care that your son receives at the cost of taxpayers.
Noda: I respected Sono, so my mind went blank when I read that. Because what she's saying is that I gave birth to a child who I knew would be disabled, and the cost of medical care that he requires comes from tax money, and therefore I should be expressing my gratitude for the rest of my life. I'm fine with being criticized in this way. But I was filled with horror over what might happen to my son after I die.
Among those without so-called disabilities, there are some who believe that the very existence of disabled people is a waste, and that they are a burden on the state. But people with disabilities will never completely disappear and with the population aging at the rate it is in this country, everyone has the potential of becoming disabled. I wish society would not view the disabled as people to be pitied, but rather, that they embody the kind of people we may become at some point in our lives.
Mainichi: The reason we pay taxes and national insurance premiums is to protect the rights of everyone -- including those who cannot pay that money -- to receive medical and nursing care. There's no reason certain people should receive gratitude for carrying out that duty, and there's no reason for other people to feel less than human, either. I'd believed that Japan had already become a mature democracy in which that was just a natural course of things.
Noda: Perhaps it began in the Meiji period, but because Japan is an island nation and is lacking in natural resources, it had always been in awe of power and strength. People love talking about strong this and strong that. This trend remains today, in spite of the fact that our society is aging and our population is dropping. It's a sign of an inferiority complex. We're not actually strong, but we want to be. And because of that, there's a line people want to draw between themselves and those who can't have that strength no matter how hard they try because they were born that way. That was something I realized only once I became a mother to a disabled child.
Mainichi: What would you say to someone with ideas like that held by the suspect in the Sagamihara massacre?
Noda: Hmmm. It's not something that can be resolved just by pointing at the suspect as the bad guy. Let's use the analogy of a physical illness, for example. Just like how you get sick when your immune system is weakened, and illness-causing bacteria enters your body, it can happen to anyone. Certain ideology can slip into your mind at times when you are unhappy in life ... What I don't like is that the focus has been placed on the fact that the suspect was using marijuana, or that he has tattoos, and had been committed to a hospital. The compulsory hospitalization system is up for debate now, but what we truly need to be focusing on is the stages before something like that becomes necessary.
Mainichi: So you're feeling that the case isn't being handled properly?
Noda: How about I ask you a question? Why haven't the names of the victims been reported in the media? It's as if decades of these victims' lives never took place. Does this help us empathize with the sadness that comes with the loss of life?
Mainichi: The police have explained that the bereaved families of the victims do not want their identities released.
Noda: That's because the families would become secondary victims of people who believe in eugenics. Isn't there something wrong with that? That's why I want to move in the opposite direction. That's why I've made my son's disabilities and photos public. I bet there are lawmakers who have family members who are disabled. There's no need to hide that. I also want my son to have pride in himself. To be honest, though, I feel as though my son and I are walking through a jungle in which we never know when we'll be attacked.
Mainichi: Will that jungle ever disappear?
Noda: I think it's possible. Think about it. Just a little while ago, sexual harassment was very common, and women were forced to bear it silently. But now, we're able to call people out on sexual harassment. Maybe deep inside, men's attitudes are the same today as they were years ago, but at least now they have to put on a different public face. There's meaning in that. The Law to Eliminate Discrimination against People with Disabilities went into effect in April. I feel that this, too, is something that has finally gotten the wheels turning toward changing society.
Mainichi: So you think there's more that can be done through politics?
Noda: That's right. I, too, have people I don't like. Everyone has some sort of poison in their hearts. But to become an adult means not showing that poison in your heart and valuing your public face. That's what it means to be a mature adult, a mature nation.
Mainichi: Your son Masaki, who makes frequent appearances in your blog, seems like quite a handful.
Noda: He's naughty at home, but in front of girls at day care, he tries to act cool. He does impressions of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, too. It's just an impression of how Mr. Abe raises his hand toward reporters when he enters his office in the morning. I'll refrain from revealing any details, but Masaki does a pretty good impression of Mr. Shigeru Ishiba, too. Ha, ha, ha.
Mainichi: We'd love to see it.
Noda: ... I would've wanted the suspect in the Sagamihara case to know this, too. That life is amazing. That a child who until just recently was connected to 17 tubes to keep him alive now has just two, and is proud of his impressions of Mr. Abe and Mr. Ishiba. I wish the suspect had known how rich a life could be. (Interview by Riki Yoshii, Evening Edition Department)