Myojin Voices, Vol. 1: The house is ready!
“We finally have a home!”
Sabu-san looked so happy as he said this, after registering the domain for our homepage. “This is the beginning of something new. Now let’s all think about what we will do in this brand new home – and how and with whom we’ll do it!” he added.
I consider the site of this “home” to be Myojin on the Shiranui Sea, where Minamata disease first appeared, and as a place where “storytellers” and their “inheritors” have the opportunity to meet.
And where we can turn our thoughts towards what was lost in an era devoted to the accumulation of riches and reconsider what “riches” are.
What was it like in Myojin 62 years ago? The branches of the Akou tree stretched out over the eaves, giving shade in the summertime. Ripe fruit, hung heavy in the garden after the rain. On the other side of the bamboo forest adjoining the garden is the Minamata Disease Municipal Museum. Daydreaming of the past as I look out from the veranda, I imagine what once was Minamata Bay, but which has now become the reclaimed land of Eco Park.
I was born in rainy season, right in the middle of the wheat harvest, here in this place called Myoujin, in Minamata. On the cape there is a small shrine to honour the deity Myojin. Both my 67-year-old grandfather and 60-year-old grandmother were fisherfolk. My father was 33 years old, and worked at the Shin Nippon Chisso Hiryo (now Chisso Corporation). My brother was six, and my sisters were four and two years old. My mother was 24 then. The four households in Myojin were blessed with delicious well water, small fields, and the bountiful sea.
Two years after the town of Minamata was incorporated as a city, Chisso, its only company, altered the formula for making acetaldehyde; to increase production, iron replaced manganese as the chemical catalyst. This resulted in large amounts of methyl mercury being discharged into the sea. Along with the increase in production came an increase in the amount of sludge in the surrounding sea, which impeded even the passage of large ships. At this time, Hyakken Port was in the midst of rapid expansion with the aim of becoming a trading port.
Soon after, along with unidentified objects found bobbing in the ocean, came change in Myojin. And even the power of the deity Myojin could do nothing. This was the beginning of Minamata disease.