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Disability Movement / Studies in Japan 2: The People

TATEIWA Shin'ya August 12, 2010

Translation by Midori Hiraga
Proofread by Yura Okamoto


The Actors of the Movement

  The disabled movement I started to introduce in section of Disability Movement / Studies in Japan was mainly driven forth by people who did not (or, rather, due to their disabilities, could not) attend school. For example, YOKOZUKA Koichi (1935〜1978), who was one of the leading members of Aoi Shiba no Kai and participated in the establishment of the National Alliance of Disabled People Liberation Movement (Zenshoren) only got as far as the second year of junior high school; YOKOTA Hiroshi (1933- ), who succeeded in Yokozuka's footsteps after the latter died of cancer at young age and has been active in Kanagawa prefecture, did not go to school at all; TAKAHASHI Osamu (1948〜 1999), who was active mainly in Tokyo in the 1980s to 1990s didn't go to school either. Japan has thus also seen times when some well-educated (through self-education) people did not (could not) attend school, and this generation - setting the later generation which "decided not to be educated" aside - might have been the last of its kind.★01 Very few people with disabilities, especially those with severe disabilities, went to "normal" schools and universities at that time, and the number has not increased significantly since. The disabled movement in Japan thus began quite differently from for example the American Independent Living Movement, which is said to have originated in the University of California, Berkeley. It is also different from the situation in South Korea, where again university students with polio (a relatively minor disability compared to cerebral palsy) learned the know-how of the movement from the non-disabled students engaged in the general student movement of the time, and then started and gradually built a movement of their own.★02
  Another difference is that compared to other countries, in Japan much more people with relatively severe disabilities - though the degree of disability naturally varied among people - stood at the front line of the movement. In other countries and regions the main actors of such movements were often people who have at least free command of the upper part of the body and have no impediments in terms of communication. The same had previously been true about Japan, but during this period the situation changed. This fact is a little strange, since it would seem to be more convenient for people with minor disabilities to engage in the activities of the movement and voice their opinions. One reason for this tendency might have been the fact that people with severe disabilities required others’ support more and in order to improve their situation needed to take action more that the others. Another is that students and workers who provided care to people with disabilities played a supporting role for the movement led by the people with disabilities. Such was the situation here in Japan, and it might have been yet another of its unique features.
   There was also a feeling that the real truth is to be heard from those whose situation was the hardest, those who had to face difficulties the most, and that for that reason people should listen to them. There was also an idea that many people whose disabilities are less severe, if given various opportunities and support to compensate for their disabilities, could become "able" - which, in itself, is a good thing - but this way some people whose disabilities are at the most severe end of the continuum would still remain disabled, and therefore, in considering the matter, one should use their needs as the starting point of the discussion. Japanese people with disabilities, when visiting the US or Europe for study tours or to attend events related to the movement, often commented that they did not see people with cerebral palsy, whereas in Japan people with severe language impediments caused by CP often led the movement. I believe that there was a hint of pride there - pride of people who participated in the movement even though their disability was severe or took action together with those with severe disabilities, people who felt that the matter should be considered from the point of view of those, whose disability is the most severe, those who strived to avoid the division of people into those with severe and light disabilities altogether.
  There are many people among the actors of the disabled movement in Japan who have written texts and published books. These books are not “academic” in form, but rather are simple descriptions of people’s lives. As far as I know, a large number of nonfiction and autobiographical books related to people with disabilities or diseases was and is published in other countries also, but probably in Japan a much larger number of books written by people with disabilities themselves or by people who have been involved in the disabled movement, people who are not particularly famous or well-known, has been published.★03 These books could see the light of day partly due to the fact that there were people who saw their significance and thus decided to provide support. Two important magazines were also founded in the 1970s.★04
そよ風のように街に出よう創刊準備号      そよ風79号  
  The movement by people with disabilities in Japan described in section [1] was both influenced by social movement of the period and at the same time strived to maintain its own color. In fact, some people involved in social activism actually supported the movement by people with disabilities.
  Japanese social activism of that time, at least in principle, embraced the slogan of "revolution" and the aim was "to change the political system". In terms of the aims, it, however, failed. The movement waned, those who were students at the time eventually ended up working regular jobs at companies and most of the society went back to its "normal life". Still, there were some who kept supporting lives of people with disabilities or supporting the disabled movement itself as they continued their social activities or even after they drifted away from the movement, some engaging in common kinds of work at the same time and some not working regularly. Some researchers stood for or supported people with disabilities from just such a position close to people with disabilities or to the disabled movement. However, some of them lost hope in continuing discussion in academic or political circles and those people rarely made their voices heard.★05

The Disabled Movement and the Struggle among the Leftist Students

  Some people who drifted away from leftist social movements supported the activities of people with disabilities, and at the same time activists of the social movements themselves built relationships with those engaged in the movement led by people with disabilities and influenced the ideas regarding people with disabilities generally held in the society.
  Leftist movements in each country have their own peculiar features. The main force of the leftist movement in Japan was the now defunct Socialist Party of Japan, but the Japanese Communist Party (JCP) also played an important role. I will not go into details here, but in addition to these two parties a new force of the so-called "New Left" appeared in the 1960s and gained certain influence among students. New leftists criticized both of the parties and especially the JCP, which claimed to be the legitimate major force of the revolution. The leftist movement slows down a little in the middle of the 1960s but sees its revival in social activities during the period from the end of the 1960s to the beginning of the 1970s, when students of the New Left attempted to develop a movement of their own.
  At the same time the movement of that period incorporated many people who did not belong to any particular political party, those who followed different political doctrines from those around them and those who with no particular doctrines at all. It is often said that the activities of "Zenkyoto" (short for "Zenkyotoundo", United Protest Movement) has been led by "non-sectarians (radicals)" of just this kind, but the reality was not so simple. The structure was truly complicated with people belonging to certain parties mixing with those proclaiming not to be affiliated with any, but one confrontation appeared very clearly, and that was the confrontation between the JCP and all of the rest. In terms of national scale, as the JCP was and is but a small force, this confrontation might not seem to be of much importance, but in the context of the time it was truly significant.
  The two groups of Zenkyoto and the New Left were the ones who began the struggles and disputes and made the conflict escalate. On the other hand, the JCP and the student organizations that worked together with it, advocating reforms of universities and education in general, tried to "normalize" the state of confusion in universities of that time, for example attempting to restore the cancelled entrance examinations. At the same time there were also various struggles among fractions of the movement regarding leadership and other issues.
  What were they fighting about? I shall not discuss the differences in views regarding the global political situation or strategy to be employed in the movement. But one point that is worth stressing though is that during that time the universities and the science in general advocated what they called "reform" much stronger than they do today. For example, Marxian economics, which seem to have all but disappeared today, were still strong at the time as a viable theory standing firm next to modern economics. Also, the JCP and organizations related to it at least at that time had quite strong connections in such areas as welfare, medicine, and (special) education. Many people among school teachers and staff at welfare facilities chose their occupations motivated by anger they felt towards social injustice or sympathy they held for the "weak". Another point also worth stressing is that mainly it was none other than the government that supplied the expenses. Therefore, some activists tried to establish and maintain relationships with political parties which were close to the axis of power. Some, on the other hand, criticized lack of beneficial policies and insufficiency of the governmental budget spent, and chose to join the opponents of the government, building ties with labor unions and reformist parties. Some of these latter organizations, also due to the fact that the JCP put a lot of effort into this area, were organizations related to the communist forces. Also, during the period when the movement led by parents of people with disabilities was still representing the demands of people with disabilities, these organizations of parents built ties with those groups. They have also had significant influence on aspects of research and education related to social security and welfare.★06
  Having described the general framework above, I shall now add a few more points about the social movement of that period. The major part of the activities was naturally revolving around the Vietnam War. However, problems of pollution such as the Minamata Disease surfaced and became important issues at the same time. Accusations regarding pollution and criticism of scientists who were involved (in cover-ups) of pollution or drug-induced damages started to appear, leading to skepticism and criticism toward science and technology in general.
  Mental health became a particularly important issue in the areas of medicine and disability policies of the time. In the 1950s, in North European and North American countries there was a surge of criticism against the confinement of people with learning and mental disabilities in large scale institutions, which eventually grew into the movement of "normalization" (refer to Tateiwa[2002a]for a brief description of this issue). This trend was dictated by criticism and rejection of the process of confinement of people with disabilities in large scale mental health institutions, the process which had developed starting from the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, ending by completion of confinement of a large number of people in such institutions. In case of Japan, although mental hospitals were built from a relatively early stage, institutions for people with physical disabilities were established much later in the 1970s, and thus, since the object of criticism came to exit only then, and since the establishment of such institutions itself had certain aspects that improved the situation of those with disabilities, it did not receive much criticism. Still, documentaries exposing the situation inside mental hospitals appeared in the 1970s, drawing public’s attention to such issues as confinement in institutions itself, as well as the way patients and people with disabilities were treated there.★07 The first organization led by people with mental disabilities themselves was established in 1974.★08
  In the first half of the 1970s, reformist movement started in academic societies of such fields as psychiatry and psychological counseling, for example in the Japanese Association of Clinical Psychology (Japanese page) or the Japanese Society of Psychiatry and Neurology. The movement was led not by the societies en masse, but rather by certain members who had at a certain point of time influential voice in the societies, and in the 1970s felt remorse for what they had done.★09
  The movements did not necessarily criticize the conservative forces. Rather, their criticism was directed against the forces demanding the use of technology and medicine for the benefit of the society and expansion of services to be provided by social welfare. Criticism of these forces at the same time was criticism of the JCP and of the organizations and academics related to it. It was symbolic that one of the major student revolts started in the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Tokyo, stemming from a punishment of students studying at the Faculty of Medicine, and the confrontation mentioned above reappeared here also. Those who were criticized and who gave counter arguments trying to defend themselves were the very same professors and research fellows who later in the early 1980s introduced to Japanese public in affirmative light the Independent Living Movement and other American movements of people with disabilities.
  Many people acknowledge the fact that science and technology caused many evils, agreeing that scientists must reflect on and regret the mistakes thus made. However, many people including those who are criticized believe that the damages were caused by abusive use of science and technology, and that all we need to do is to use it properly. The new critics of that time, though, were different from the conventional leftists who approved of science in general (for the sake of the people) and of those who shouldered such science. The new critics, on the other hand, stressed the need to reconsider the very fundamentals of science and technology to expose their problematic nature. They stressed that we should start our questions from such fundamental issues as the acts of "curing", "development (in both transitive and intransitive sense)", and "being able to do / becoming able to do".
  Those who were thus criticized argued back that the criticism is no less then a complete denial of medicine and rehabilitation practice, and an irrational argument to boot. I do not think that the arguments were made based on solid understanding of the opponents' points of view. And I also think that it is an unnecessary self-abuse when experts turn skeptical towards their own expert knowledge and start denying it. And, in fact, most of them continue their work nonetheless. In addition, the arguments of this kind and the movement to uphold them are often said to have been mainly done by health care professionals, and to some extend they were.
  As often is the case with political conflicts, a large part of this conflict eventually exhausted itself and disappeared. But, as far as I see it, the fact that this conflict did happen was beneficial after all in the sense that arguments regarding some issues were made - though in radical ways which for some might seem nonsensical - and that the issues were thus presented as something the society should reconsider.★10
   Relationships of solidarity and unity in the struggle were built among people participating in the movements led by people with disabilities described in [1] and people mentioned above. In academic societies of psychiatry and psychological therapy the idea that people with mental disabilities should also be given a chance to participate in the discussion and voice their opinions grew stronger, and some people with mental disabilities actually joined such societies. They started to state their opinions in meetings and academic conventions and contributed their texts to academic journals published by such societies.
  In this context it is perhaps understandable that both the JCP and the Liberal Democratic Party , which had already been holding the power for a long time, voted for making special education compulsory. This law had two aspects to it. On one hand it aimed for "full development" of the potential for every individual, saying that we need to develop those abilities that can be developed, and affirming the necessity for special education to provide educational environment best suited for this purpose. On the other hand, it stipulated that this environment is to be created by segregation, saying that the disabled should be grouped together with no distinctions made regarding the level of ability, and that we need such places of confinement to divide them from everyone else. At the time when those who were influenced by political parties and those who rejected such influence participated in the student movement, a big issue for the student council was to support children with disabilities who were trying to attend normal schools or classes instead of schools or classes of special education. This was also one of the points of dispute in the struggle for leadership between "Minsei" (Democratic Youth League of Japan), which is a JCP's organization for young people on the one hand, and everyone else opposing them on the other.★11
  This conflict eventually exhausted itself, but it was effective in the sense that it "purified" arguments and ideas. The new leftists tried to defend a very radical idea that "those who are not able, do not have to be". But is it truly possible? And, even if it is, in what terms can one defend this statement? These issues were left unsolved.
  The movement at the time did not result in any academic achievements or establishment of any new policies. Although there were people in the movement who felt that thinking about such social issues is important, there were some who held the idea that they need to lead the movement at the front rather than support one issue only, and these people spent their time dealing with one problem after another as problems appeared without adhering to any particular social issues. Most of the texts written did not fall in the “academic” category . However, it does not mean that the issues discussed or points raised in the texts written by the activists were not suitable as subjects of "academic" examination. And also a number of scientific work was also published at the same time.★12
  My generation (of those born in the 1960s) was a decade or two late to witness these activities, and we have not directly experienced the first half of the movement. We have learned about it by reading, listening to the stories of the participants, and then later have experienced some activities of the movement that happened after the 1980s, while some of us have actually been involved to some extend with later activities that could be called social movement. Some people after entering universities learned about the movement that supported people with disabilities who wanted to attend ordinary schools or classes, some were involved in it, and others did not. We have been learning about these movements and thinking about the issues they raised through connections, which one could not easily apply the label of "academic" to. Some people have been involved in "care". As for me, I got to know some people who participated in the movement of the time after I had began my research, by reading or hearing about them, by being invited to their meetings, and thuis way learned about their organizations and people who participated in them.★13 I shall write about the connection between these people and the Disability Studies in Japan. I have always intended to write about the issues raised by the movement and believe that these issues have not yet fully received the attention they deserve.★14 And I shall write about them later, too.

★Notes are available in Japanese only


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