Disability Japan Sagamihara

Two years on from the Sagamihara murders

“Two years have now passed since the killings. How should society deal with statements that threaten the coexistence of the nondisabled and disabled people? And how can it make genuine coexistence a reality? The Yomiuri Shimbun asked experts on the issue. The following are excerpts from the interviews.”

From The Japan News

August 8th 2018

“Disabled people bring only misery and it would be better if they disappeared.” Satoshi Uematsu, is accused of murdering residents of the Tsukui Yamayuri-en care facility for people with intellectual disabilities in Sagamihara, Kanagawa Prefecture, in July 2016. Uematsu, a 28-year-old former employee of the facility, said this phrase repeatedly while he was in police custody as the case was being investigated and his criminal responsibility assessed.

Two years have now passed since the killings. How should society deal with statements that threaten the coexistence of the nondisabled and disabled people? And how can it make genuine coexistence a reality? The Yomiuri Shimbun asked experts on the issue. The following are excerpts from the interviews.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, July 26, 2018)

Concept of eugenics still exists in today’s society

YOKOHAMA — After entering its period of rapid economic growth, Japanese society began from the late 1960s to judge people based on their productivity and economic factors. People who were unproductive were deemed to be inferior, and the disabled in particular were seen as a burden on society. This distortion may have pushed Uematsu toward his warped actions.

Eugenics and the concept of eugenics, which seeks a world in which strong people survive and the weak and inferior disappear, was first advocated in the late 1800s. It spread throughout the United States and European countries, including Sweden.

The largest eugenics movement was started by German Nazis. They vowed to eliminate all people who would “soil” healthy German blood, forcefully sterilizing 400,000 people with disabilities and killing more than 200,000. This philosophy led to war and a genocide against Jewish people.

What would happen if the disabled were excluded by eugenics and other such policies? People would search for the next group of “weak” people, such as those with diseases and the elderly, and society would eventually be destroyed.

In prewar Japan, the National Eugenical Law modeled on similar German legislation was enforced in 1941. It was later replaced with the Eugenic Protection Law in 1948, which legalized the compulsory sterilization of disabled people even after World War II.

The law was revised into the Maternal Health Law, and provisions related to compulsory sterilization were removed, but even now, I hear that the rate of prenatal medical examinations has risen and expectant mothers often have an abortion if a disability is detected in the fetus.

In psychiatric hospitals, many people are admitted for a long period of time and are often physically restrained. These situations are left abandoned and people pretend like they’re not happening. Even though the form has changed, the concept of eugenics remains as deep-rooted discrimination in the heart of society.

It’s been two years since the Sagamihara murders, which thrust these issues back into the spotlight. However, there is no specific limit on us thinking about how society should be, reviewing social trends and examining our society.

The law to eliminate discrimination against people with disabilities was enforced in April 2016, just before the murders. It mandates “reasonable accommodation” of the disabled and stipulates that companies and organizations must strive to take action in this regard.

Local authorities have also taken a step forward by establishing rules to help reduce discrimination. But not enough has been done to raise awareness among the public.

In the Sagamihara case, the prefectural police kept the victims anonymous, and news outlets likewise did not reveal their names. This is one reason why the case was forgotten about so quickly. I’ve heard this was done at the request of bereaved family members, so this is neither good nor bad in itself, but it rather captures the essence of issues related to disabled people. I wrote this poem about it: “Why anonymous and fading so quickly? Knot of discrimination cannot be untied even after death.”

I think it’s time to discuss once again how society views families and disabled people who had to choose to be anonymous.

This interview was conducted by Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer Tomoko Kito.

■ Katsunori Fujii / Executive Director, Japan Council on Disability

Fujii, 69, had poor eyesight from childhood and eventually became completely blind in his 40s. He has authored works including “Ehon shogaisha kenri joyaku” (Convention on the rights of the disabled picture book) and “Shogaisha o shimedasu shakai wa yowaku moroi” (A society that shuts out the disabled is fragile). He has also studied the Nazis’ treatment of the disabled.

Seek to understand the spirit within everyone

What drove Satoshi Uematsu to commit his crimes? We need to rethink why he did what he did, not simply shrug them off as the “deeds of a madman.”

Uematsu had been an employee of the Tsukui Yamayuri-en for about three years when he left his job about five months before the night of his rampage. I’m sure he had trouble communicating with some residents through purely verbal means. However, as a welfare worker, he should form a proper relationship with each and every one of them. Maybe it was because Uematsu was incapable of finding a way to communicate, and was thus unable to build a relationship with the residents, that he came to hold the extreme opinion that “It would be better if the disabled disappeared.”

More than a few disabled people have trouble with verbal communication. We have some people like this in the welfare center that I represent. However, even if you can’t exchange words with a person, you can perceive how they are feeling through their expressions and mannerisms if you make an effort. You will see the spirit that lives within them.

At our welfare center, we have formed a rock band with both users and staff members, and perform shows throughout the country. The reason so many praise our shows as “bright and fun” is because we are able on a daily basis to share our feelings with each other and experience fun and happiness together.

This type of communication is not just limited to interaction between the disabled and welfare staff. Humans do not convey all of their emotions through words alone. If two people are facing each other, there are things they can perceive about each other without having to express them verbally.

However, with the spread of smartphones, opportunities to directly interact with other people and perceive their emotions and the signs of their existence are decreasing. I think this is not wholly unrelated to the seemingly endless series of these kinds of cold-blooded attacks in which people are getting hurt.

Uematsu is believed to have said, “The disabled bring only misery,” and comments sympathizing with this opinion spread throughout the internet after the incident. However, this is a mistaken point of view. I myself have only come this far with the support of people with disabilities. Around four years ago, I was diagnosed with cancer, and disabled people encouraged me every single day, giving me the power to go on. I am so grateful to them.

Japan is aiming to create a society in which everyone can coexist and flourish, whatever their disability, age, gender or nationality, in the run-up to the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games. Coexistence means sharing the joy of life among a diverse range of people.

The attitude that “the nondisabled are superior and the disabled are inferior” that is taking root in society is wrong. The incident that occurred at the Yamayuri-en should have taught us this. Even though it has been two years since that night, if we forget what we learned from the incident we will never be able to build a society in which people can truly coexist.

This interview was conducted by Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer Takeharu Yasuda.

■ Tetsu Kashiwa / Representative of NPO Hitension

Kashiwa, 68, formed the mixed disabled and nondisabled rock band Salsagumtape in 1994. He has managed a welfare center in Atsugi, Kanagawa Prefecture, since 2011.

Understanding each other without prejudice

YOKOHAMA — Although this incident was very tragic, I wasn’t entirely shocked that it happened. There are many disabled people whose way of life is not valued and whose human rights are ignored. There was always the possibility of this sort of incident occurring.

I am 100 centimeters tall and weigh only 20 kilograms. My disability means that my bones fracture easily, and I live my life in a wheelchair. I rely on a team of 10 helpers, and live with my husband and two children. When I got married, my husband’s family voiced their strong opposition to our marriage, saying, “It’s hell to be married to a disabled person.” I was shocked when my friends and colleagues responded with comments like, “It cant’t be helped that they’re against it.”

After I married and decided I wanted to become pregnant, many hospitals refused to even examine me. People close to me worried about my physical health and opposed my desire to have a child. Such opposition, which was based only on the fact that I am disabled, was a product of their ignorance. I wanted to show those around me that I could give birth and raise my child with the assistance of helpers.

Although not as extreme as Uematsu’s assertion that “There is no reason for the disabled to live,” plenty of similar messages are still conveyed. A nondisabled person would never be asked “Why would you get married?” If you think more deeply about the question’s implication, you conclude that it implies, “There is no reason for you to live.”

In the wake of this incident, one issue that merits serious consideration is the segregation of the disabled. When I attended a disabled school during my elementary and junior high school years, I interacted with friends who had all sorts of disabilities. I learned that it was quite natural for people to be able to do certain things and be unable to do other things. Areas or schools where the disabled are not segregated from others are ideal for developing such an awareness.

When people of different backgrounds, like the disabled and nondisabled, try to live together, they tend to become afraid of each other if they do not regularly interact. The realization of a society without segregation would have great significance.

In the two years since the Sagamihara incident, there have been more opportunities for disabled people to connect with others. The presence of elevators in train stations arose from activism by the disabled 40 years ago. However there are some disabled people who are unaware of this and say, “Activism by the disabled doesn’t look good.”

Because of this incident, I realized that I could also be the target of discrimination and could very well have my life taken. I now often talk with my other disabled friends about what we need to do to prevent a recurrence of this tragedy.

However, nondisabled people may feel as though it occurred in a faraway land. We must work to make them perceive the incident as something that happened around them.

This interview was conducted by Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer Erika Noguchi.

■ Natsuko Izena / Columnist

Izena, 36, was born with osteogenesis imperfecta, a condition in which one’s bones form imperfectly. She writes columns and gives lectures on coexistence between the disabled and nondisabled. She previously worked as an English language instructor at a public elementary school before her marriage.

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