An exhibition on the 60-year history of Minamata disease will open soon in the city of Kumamoto, at a time when the mercury-poisoning disease has drawn attention worldwide since an international treaty to prevent mercury pollution entered into force in August.
The Minamata Disease Exhibition from Nov. 16 to Dec. 10 will showcase Minamata-related items, including contaminated sludge collected at the bottom of Minamata Bay and a collection of photographs portraying the struggles of the victims of the worst pollution-triggered disease in postwar Japan.
Minamata disease first came to light when a local public health center in Minamata, a coastal city in Kumamoto Prefecture, received a report on May 1, 1956, about patients who had suffered unexplained neurological disorders.
It was eventually discovered that the illness was caused by mercury-tained water dumped into the sea by chemical maker Chisso Corp.
In addition to the items, those involved in the decades-old tragedy, including patients, their families as well as their supporters, will give 15-minute on-site lectures occasionally during the upcoming event.
"People have explored even the meaning of human existence while confronting the Minamata disease issue," said Yuta Jitsukawa, chief of Minamata Forum, a Tokyo-based nonprofit organization which has organized the exhibition.
"We hope even those who do not know much about the Minamata disease issue will visit the exhibition to reflect on society and human life," he said.
The exhibition will also include around 500 portraits of dead Minamata disease victims, while presenting a series of lectures by sufferers, scholars and writers, including award-winning novelist Natsuki Ikezawa and actor Keiko Takeshita.
The exposition will come after Shinobu Sakamoto, a fetal Minamata disease victim, attended the first conference of signatory states to the Minamata Convention on Mercury in Geneva in September to tell the world "Minamata disease has not yet ended."
The convention was adopted at a 2013 U.N.-led conference in the city of Kumamoto.
The Minamata Disease Exhibition was first held in Tokyo in 1996 and has attracted nearly 140,000 visitors in total during the past 24 events all over Japan.
While the 25th exhibition was initially scheduled for October last year to mark the 60th anniversary of the official recognition of Minamata disease, it was postponed in the wake of massive earthquakes that hit Kumamoto and surrounding areas in southwestern Japan.
More than 100 local volunteers are working on the event, some of whom are attending the preparatory meetings from temporary housing, according to Jitsukawa.
"They say their experiences as disaster victims have enabled them to understand the Minamata issue more deeply," Jitsukawa said. "And many of the volunteers are young mothers. I expect them to play a leading role in passing on the lessons learned from Minamata to future generations."
The exhibition will be open from 9:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. from Monday to Thursday, closing at 8 p.m. on Friday and 5:15 p.m. on weekends and national holidays. The admission fee is 1,200 yen for adults, 800 yen for college and high school students, and 300 yen for junior high and elementary school students.