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Hokkaido man first to tell story of forced eugenic sterilization, hopes to inspire others

Kikuo Kojima tells the Mainichi Shimbun about undergoing forced sterilization surgery under the defunct eugenics protection law, in Sapporo's Nishi Ward, on April 11, 2018. (Mainichi)

SAPPORO -- "I couldn't tell anyone that I had been forcibly sterilized," began 76-year-old Kikuo Kojima, reflecting on the surgery he had in his late teens.

Among those who have sued or will sue the government over forced sterilization, Kojima is the first to come forward and recount to the Mainichi Shimbun his story, from the discrimination he faced as a child and the regret of not being able to have children to the agony of hiding the truth from his wife and the physical pain that continues to this day.

Even after over 50 years, there is still a phrase he will never be able to forget, the Sapporo, Hokkaido, resident said. When he was in his late teens, he was committed to a psychiatric facility, and heard the unfamiliar words "we will perform a eugenic surgery" from the mouth of a nurse. When he asked the nurse what it meant, she told him, "because if people like you make a child, it will cause trouble." There were other young people around the same age in the hospital with him. They, too, seemed to be there to be sterilized against their will, Kojima recalled

Not long after he was born, Kojima was traded to a farming family in Ishikari, Hokkaido. When the couple that adopted him finally had children of their own, their attitude toward him became frigid. All around him, people referred to him as the "adopted child" and he faced various forms of discrimination. After graduating from junior high school, he got a job at a printing company. However, from his experiences growing up, he harbored a deep distrust of society, and lived an unstable lifestyle, frequently getting into fights.

Then one day, the police were waiting for him at his home. Kojima was handcuffed and taken to a psychiatric hospital in Sapporo and committed. Without a single examination by a doctor, he was diagnosed with schizophrenia. While there were not many patients with mental illnesses at the facility, there were many "delinquent" young people. Sterilization surgeries were forced upon them, and Kojima ended up undergoing the surgery as well.

Without his consent, anesthesia was administered to his testicles and the surgery began. However, the numbing agent was not effective, and during the roughly one-hour procedure, he suffered immense pain. When he got angry at being treated more like an animal than a human and resisted, he received an electric shock to his head and lost consciousness. There was also punishment in which his hands would be bound in cuffs and he would be put into a room, like being in solitary confinement. Kojima eventually escaped.

Kikuo Kojima, who underwent a forced eugenic sterilization surgery in his teens, has finally been able to open up to his wife, right, about his experience. (Mainichi)

Getting a professional drivers' license, Kojima continued working as a taxi driver well into his 60s. After his escape, he got married and felt happiness for the first time. However, unable to conceive, he lied to his wife and told her that coming down with mumps in the past had left him infertile. Whenever he saw children and their parents together around town or in other places, he would grow depressed, thinking that he would never be able to have a child of his own.

There is still a scar where a scalpel was inserted near his seminal duct, and he occasionally suffers from stomach pain. His thyroid also sometimes becomes swollen. If he had let his anger out, he would have confessed to the surgery. "For 57 years, I couldn't tell anyone. Ah, it was so painful," he recalled, his voice catching in his throat.

"I don't want anyone to know what happened to me, but when I found out about the lawsuit filed by the Miyagi woman, I decided to come forward using my real name. I wanted to provide encouragement for those who still can't talk about it," Kojima said.

Kojima, who plans to file a compensation suit in the Sapporo District Court, is thinking of having a doctor examine his surgical scars, along with requesting eugenic records from the Hokkaido Prefectural Government. A lawyer representing him commented, "Even though he was not a psychiatric patient targeted by the eugenics protection law, there is a possibility that he was forced to undergo surgery due to a sloppy diagnosis."

"I would like to receive an apology from the government while I'm alive," Kojima said.

In response to a request for comment, a representative at the hospital where Kojima's procedure was allegedly performed said, "The records cannot be confirmed. His medical chart was probably discarded roughly 15 years ago with other documents with expired storage periods when the facility was rebuilt."

(Japanese original by Kotaro Adachi, Hokkaido News Department)

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