The Nippon Foundation announced its Global Appeal 2016 at The Sasakawa Peace Foundation Building in Tokyo on January 26, 2016. This was the second year in a row the Global Appeal was launched from Tokyo. This year’s partner, Junior Chamber International (JCI), is an organization of young leaders aged 18 to 40 from around the world. As the ages of people affected by leprosy increase, the Global Appeal sought to promote activities by young people to preserve the harsh history of the disease as a legacy of humanity. The Nippon Foundation has also been responsible for the operation of the National Hansen’s Disease Museum since April. Using its more than 40 years of experience in addressing issues related to leprosy, the Foundation is working to make more people aware of the disease while at the same time preserving its history.
Global Appeal 2016
The launch ceremony for the Global Appeal 2016, held on January 26, 2016, was attended by persons affected by leprosy, organizations supporting persons affected by leprosy, and medical professionals from around the world. For the second consecutive year, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Yasuhisa Shiozaki, Minister of Health, Labour and Welfare, attended the event as well. Prime Minister Abe expressed his hope that this year’s Global Appeal will provide an opportunity for people around the world to gain a proper understanding of leprosy, and think and take action to eliminate prejudice and discrimination toward the disease.
Paschal Dike, 2016 JCI president, commented, “I am proud to be here today to represent JCI members in nearly 5,000 communities around the world, and our commitment to ending discrimination against people affected by leprosy. As we take this step together today, we believe that there is more that can be done together, in overcoming the challenges that the world face, whether it is working together to promote peace in the world, or empowering young people with resources to play a more active role in community development.”
The Nippon Foundation Chairman Yohei Sasakawa noted the importance of young people being involved, adding, “JCI members are future business leaders of the world. They are actively involved in social and economic development, and international cooperation. I would like to once again express my deepest gratitude to the members of JCI, who have so willingly agreed to collaborate with us in our efforts.”
The Nippon Foundation has issued a Global Appeal to End Stigma and Discrimination against People Affected by Leprosy every year since 2006, making this the 11th Global Appeal. Leprosy-related prejudice and discrimination remain deeply rooted because of a lack of correct knowledge regarding the disease, which is why the Global Appeal continues to call attention to the fact that “leprosy is a curable disease, and treatment is free,” and that “there is no basis for prejudice or discrimination.” The advocacy campaign THINK LEPROSY NOW was launched in 2015 to provide opportunities to think about leprosy, including through the collection of video messages from the general public as well as from celebrities and social leaders.
Side events held in conjunction with the Global Appeal included an international symposium to consider various aspects of leprosy, a leprosy-themed Bibliobattle social book review game, a “World Café” to give young Japanese people a chance to interact with persons affected by leprosy from around the world, and a photo exhibition by The Nippon Foundation photographer Natsuko Tominaga.
The history of leprosy is a human legacy
On the occasion of the Global Appeal launch in Tokyo, The Nippon Foundation and the Sasakawa Memorial Health Foundation jointly held an International Symposium on Leprosy / Hansen's Disease History as Heritage of Humanity over three days from January 28.
Leprosy has been an object of prejudice and discrimination around the world throughout human history. The history of leprosy is one of a fight against prejudice and discrimination; once a person was diagnosed with the disease they were completely cut off from their hometown, family, friends, and society, meaning that in one sense the disease is a human legacy. In recent years, however, medical treatment has been established and the number of new cases is declining, and leprosy has come to be viewed as “a disease of the past” with this history rapidly fading. The conference brought together 30 specialists from 17 countries to explore ways of recording and preserving historical documents in various locations around the world, and formulate approaches to address common issues.
At the opening event on January 28, animated film director Hayao Miyazaki, who lives near the National Sanatorium Tama Zenshōen, gave a special address. In his walks on the grounds of the sanatorium, Mr. Miyazaki got to know Osamu Sagawa, chairperson of the residents’ association, Yasuji Hirasawa, a member of the steering committee of the National Hansen’s Disease Museum, and several other sanatorium residents. Mr. Miyazaki was an early supporter of the restoration of the original men’s dormitory, built early in the Showa Era (1925-1988), and the creation of a “forest of human rights” that encompasses the sanatorium buildings and surrounding forest as well as the adjacent National Hansen’s Disease Museum.
Mr. Miyazaki discussed how he visited the sanatorium and museum many times during the production of his 1997 animated historical fantasy “Princess Mononoke.” Those visits convinced him, “There can be no question of doing things carelessly; I will make this film looking life in the face,” and he explained how this was represented in some of the film’s major scenes.
The conference’s four working sessions were on the subjects of “Efforts around the World to Preserve the History of Leprosy,” “Key Players for Preserving, Learning, and Communicating,” “Living Proof, Creativity, Works: Art, Literature, and Daily Items,” and “Finding a Way to Leave a Legacy for the Future.” These sessions introduced museums around the world and how they are registering cultural legacies, activities to preserve history by government institutions, related organizations, and other parties, and valuable materials and photographs including writings and artwork left behind by people who lived in sanatoriums.
Approximately 500 members of the general public also attended, and over three days participated in lively discussions on various aspects of preserving the history of leprosy.
Although there are differences in policies regarding the segregation of persons affected by leprosy and other issues in different countries around the world, the danger of losing valuable buildings and structures, and other cultural and historical assets and many medical documents, emerged as a common theme. At the close of the conference, a Tokyo Resolution was adopted that expressed the desire to preserve this history because “The history of leprosy is a valuable asset to humanity and one that we have been entrusted with an important challenge and mission to preserve.”
Making the National Hansen’s Disease Museum a Global Hansen’s Disease Museum
As part of the discussion of efforts underway around the world, Kazuhisa Kuroo, literary director of the National Hansen’s Disease Museum, talked about issues related to the preservation of the history of leprosy in Japan.
“Our idea is to preserve 13 sanatoria in Japan, and the government is willing to cooperate. Only two, however, are being administered as national historical landmarks: the National Hansen’s Disease Museum in Tokyo and the Jyu-Kanbo Museum in Kusatsu. The National Sanatorium Nagashima-Aiseien has a splendid museum and staff from the National Hansen’s Disease Museum. Going forward, we need to create a network of these sanatoria and cooperate more actively.”
The Nippon Foundation has been entrusted by the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare with the operation of the National Hansen’s Disease Museum and the Jyu-Kanbo Museum from April 1, 2016. In addition to building a network in Japan, the Foundation is using its more than 40 years of experience to preserve history and assist with the museums’ operations, with the aim of creating a global Hansen’s Disease museum.
Durian Sukegawa, poet and author of the book An (Sweet Red Bean Paste) that was made into a film shown at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival, about a woman who had previously lived in a sanatorium, strongly recommends visiting the National Hansen’s Disease Museum, noting “Whenever I leave there I feel like I have gained great strength. Visiting the museum isn’t depressing, it gives you energy.” Mr. Sukegawa hopes that the museum will become a focal point for the preservation and dissemination of the history of issues associated with leprosy.
The Global Appeal and side events were a first step toward starting a movement to preserve the history of leprosy at the global level. The Nippon Foundation will continue to promote the importance of preserving this history, in the hope that by learning about this history, younger generations will be able to live in a society without prejudice or discrimination.
Photographs by Noriaki Miwa etc.