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Man goes public in fight against gov't over forced sterilization operation

Saburo Kita answers questions during an interview with the Mainichi Shimbun at his home in Tokyo on Dec. 12, 2018. (Mainichi/Toshiki Miyama)

TOKYO -- A man suing the government for forcing him to undergo a sterilization operation under the now-defunct eugenic protection law has agreed to make his face public for the first time in an interview with the Mainichi Shimbun, emphasizing his determination to have the government "take responsibility for the inhumane procedure and apologize."

The 75-year-old man, now using the name of Saburo Kita, had refused to show his face in public since his decision to file the damages suit out of concern for social stigma. He said he decided to come out after learning about a joint plan among political parties to compensate victims of the surgery under the law implemented from 1948 through 1996. The plan "is papering over the state's responsibility" because it failed to identify the government as the responsible party, said Kita.

Kita is the fifth defendant to reveal his face among 13 who are suing the government over the sterilization procedure under the old law, and is a joint representative of a victims' organization. The third hearing of his damages trial is scheduled to take place at the Tokyo District Court on Dec. 20.

The eugenic protection law forced people with what was considered hereditary mental or physical disabilities to receive sterilization operations. At least 25,000 people are estimated to have undergone the procedure criticized now as violating the victims' reproductive and other rights.

Saburo Kita answers questions during an interview with the Mainichi Shimbun at his home in Tokyo on Dec. 12, 2018. (Mainichi/Toshiki Miyama)

In an interview with the Mainichi Shimbun at his home in Tokyo, Kita said he was born in the northern Japan Prefecture of Miyagi, where the second largest number of sterilization operation victims was reported, and received the surgery when he was 14 while staying at a home for troubled children.

He said he was told by a senior student at the home after about one month that what he underwent was "an operation that would make you not have children." He thought of complaining with two other children who received the same procedure, but the three gave up, thinking that they might not be able to stay at the child support facility.

Without knowledge that the procedure is based on a government policy, Kita kept blaming his father and the home. Because of the operation, he came to think of himself as "useless."

Kita recalled his wife of some 40 years who he married when he was 28 and passed away five years ago due to leukemia. He lied to her that he cannot bear children because of a disease he had when he was a kid. He sought a doctor's help without telling the wife, asking for "a return to my former self," but to no avail.

It was only several days before the wife's death when he was able to tell her about the operation he was forced to receive, he said. He wife tried to say something, then told him, "At least try to eat enough," according to Kita.

"She wanted to have a child but we couldn't. I caused the hardship to her," Kita said.

About five years after her death, he read about the first damages suit filed against the government by a woman in her 60s in Miyagi in a news report, and thought, "This is me." He now realized that it was the government, not his father or the child support facility, that was to blame.

The political parties' redress plan calls for an "apology" to the victims of the eugenic operation under the old law, but the apology is from "we" and not from the government. This arrangement, said Kita, "obscures where the responsibility lies. If the government does not apologize, who else ruined the lives of the victims and their families?" Kita asked.

"I wonder if government officials don't care if their loved ones had to undergo egregious surgeries. If the government admits it was responsible and apologizes, victims or their families can understand that they were not wrong, and some may decide to come out. I decided to fight till the end with my face in public."

Kita urged other victims to come out and complain about the damage they suffered. "They must be in agony right now, unable to tell anyone about the operations that were forced on them," he said.

He always attends his trial with a picture of his wife. He reported his decision to make his face public to her Buddhist altar. "I think my wife will support me as usual. I want the government to explain why I had to undergo such an operation. I want the court to give hope to many victims who exist across the nation."

(Japanese original by Asako Kamihigashi, Lifestyle News Department)

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