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Hokkaido gov't pamphlet praising defunct eugenics law found in Kyoto

In this file photo, the Kyoto Institute, Library and Archives is shown in the city's Sakyo Ward on Dec. 22, 2016. (Mainichi)

A booklet showing that the Hokkaido government, courts and those related to the medical field came together to promote forced sterilization of people under the now-defunct eugenics law has been found at the Kyoto Institute, Library and Archives.

The booklet, a copy of which was obtained by the Mainichi Shimbun, was created in 1956 by the Hokkaido Prefectural Government's then sanitation bureau and eugenics protection examination board on the occasion of performing over 1,000 forced sterilizations of those with intellectual disabilities and mental, genic or other illnesses. The text praises the efforts of the central government and the Eugenic Protection Law (1948-1996) as a "great step forward in racial hygiene policies," and summarizes the significance of the surgeries, along with prefectural statistics, an overview of the situation at the time and other information.

According to the booklet, the examination committee included the heads of the prefectural sanitation bureau and medical association, education board members, family court judges and arbitrators and university professors. From fiscal 1949 to December 1955, 1,012 cases of sterilization applications were recorded, and 1,001 cases were deemed appropriate for surgery. "Psychiatric disorder" is listed as the reason for all of the decisions, with "schizophrenia" making up 85 percent of the cases.

Most eugenic surgeries in Japan were performed in Hokkaido. The document said the reason for this was not because the number of patients was larger than other places, but because of the "cooperation between doctors, the examination committee and other related parties at every level in responding to the applications."

The booklet said the fact that surgeries had not been performed on those with "physical disorders resulting from low-quality genetics," among others, was a cause for "concern," and requested "all the more appropriate understanding and active cooperation."

Furthermore, the document also cited an anonymous case in calling for a need to perform the surgeries as early as possible, stating that "in the majority of cases handled by the examination committee, the problem is not only tragic for the person themselves, but also for their family and for society."

According to records at the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare and other organizations, a total of 16,475 forced sterilizations were performed in Japan. Of those, 2,593 were performed in Hokkaido, and during the 1956 fiscal year when the booklet was published, 315 surgeries were performed, making up roughly one-fourth of all cases in Japan that year. Based on this document and others, the prefecture plans to move forward with reviews to check if there were any problems in the application of the eugenics law during that time.

The booklet was originally sent by the head of the Hokkaido prefectural sanitation bureau to their counterpart in Kyoto, where it ended up being saved in the Kyoto Institute, Library and Archives. Hokkaido Gov. Harumi Takahashi stated that municipal governments in Hokkaido "performed the surgeries at the will of the central government." On the other hand, she said, "When I think of today's scientific knowledge and consideration for human rights, it saddens me as a woman to think that the surgeries were performed upon application from doctors without the person's consent, and I take this seriously."

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