Japan is considered, in many regards, to be an extremely advanced and civilized society. Yet I have just now discovered the long history of eugenics amongst Japan’s people and legal system. I’m not sure whether this is due to the Japanese people trying to hide this shameful past or the lack of interest in the topic by American media.
In 1948 Japan passed the Eugenic Protection Law (EPL), whose purpose was purportedly “to prevent birth of inferior descendants from the eugenic point of view, and to protect life and health of mother, as well.” The law allowed for voluntary sterilization (and abortion when appropriate) in the cases of “psychopathia, bodily disease, malformation” or “mental disease of feeble-mindedness” in the partner, any of the listed in a less than fourth degree amongst kin of either spouse, leprosy, or if the mothers health was in danger form brith, especially in the case of carrying several children at once. The law required the consent of both the patient and the spouse and the monstrosities were not carried out under this general law, but rather under articles 4 and 12 which allowed for involuntary sterilization, mainly of the mentally disabled under parental consent, those parents being ones which allow for the surgery such that their disabled child may be admitted to an institution. In 1953 an addendum to the law stated for it to be legal to perform these operations against the patient’s will if it is recommended by the committee, even if this involves physical restraint or anesthetic and deceit. Overall, the EPL made lawful many inhumane actions solely geared at purifying and improving upon the genetic pool within the Japanese race.
The EPL was passed after decades of a developing propensity for ethnic purity and fear of a deteriorating people. Otsubo and Bartholomew contribute the cultivation of these ideas to the geographic isolation of Japan, especially in a period of changing social dynamics. They cite the fact that Japanese eugenists solely gained scientific information through text rather than direct contact and were largely influenced by Germany (in the midst of The Holocaust). In addition to the isolation, Japan faced the threat of “defending national independence” in an era of rising and eminent imperialism. Prior to the passing of the EPL, sterilizations were being performed on Japanese citizens with a criminal background or disorders which were believed to be inheritable. In addition, during WWII Japanese brothels were created and supplied with lower class, “less respectable” women such that occupying American soldiers didn’t breed with upper class Japanese women, therefore maintaining an intact upper-class Japanese blood line.
These were all horrific, yet atrocities increased exponentially in number once the EPL was passed and in 1952 when mental illnesses became included on the list of conditions which deemed someone eligible for sterilization. While the law did provide for the legalization of abortion, resulting in “a 1/3 reduction in the number of children born with Mongolism and a 1/10 reduction in aggregate of all of the other major congenital abnormalities… accomplished simply as a result of introducing legal abortion and encouraging smaller and earlier families,” it also resulted in a reported 16,500 involuntary sterilization carried out up until 1996 when the law was abolished. To this date, the Country of Japan issues no apology, stating that every action carried out was legal at the time therefore just. Women and victims continually plea for reparation for the unjust actions carried out against them via the EPL and the Japanese government continues to dodge accountability.
I believe that the lack of media interest in this topic, both historically and recently greatly contribute to the failure of the Japanese government to make amends, as there is no real political pressure for them to do so. I believe in the time of extensive social debate about the legality of abortion, such a topic would garner the public’s attention such that it should serve as a worthy headline in major media sources. I wonder if the root of the problem leading to the incognito nature of the Japanese Eugenic issue is purely political, yet also and reluctant to give that theory merit since many other countries have also never raised concern over these wrongdoings.