Miyojin Voices, Vol. 2: A 3.8 billion-and-60-year-old giant
I once heard someone say, “What distinguishes Minamata disease from other environmental pollution and drug-related suffering is that it produced new thoughts and philosophy.” I don’t know about other kinds of pollution, but I think there is certainly truth to the idea that in Minamata, absurdity gave birth to thoughts and philosophy. I personally like to call such thinkers and philosophers “giants.”
One of these giants is Ogata Masato, who gave a lecture at a study meeting in July 2013.
“If someone asked me, “Why did you come into this world?’ I’d like to answer, ‘I came to have fun.’” Masato-san began his talk so casually that I almost missed what he was saying.
Masato-san was born in 1953, so his life overlaps the history of Minamata disease, which was officially confirmed in 1956. He was the youngest of 20 children; at the age of 6, he witnessed the death of his father, an amimoto, or fishermen’s ‘boss’, suffering from madness induced by Minamata disease. As a result, when he became an adult, to exact vengeance on the disease and its perpetrators, Masato-san devoted half his life to patient activism, which he details in Tokoyono funewo kogite: minamatabyoushishi [Rowing the boat to eternity: a personal history of Minamata disease] (Yoshokushobou, 1996). He himself is also a patient.
From that life comes the words, “I came to this world to have fun” – I thought this was so typical of Masato-san. And he had more to say:
“For me, for the most part, it is not possible to say what exactly Minamata disease is.”
Liberated, he takes a giant step, nimbly moving beyond the perpetrator・victim “position”
to show us a giant’s-eye-view of the world, and call out to us.
“Both Chisso and the patients are the same: they both bear responsibilities related to Minamata disease. So they should carry out these responsibilities together.”
“We have to stop taking sides in opposition to each other; let’s instead try to grasp the Minamata disease incident as a ‘Story of Life’ found within the long history of existence.”
For the giant, time also circulates on a big scale. Considering that the origins of life on the planet can be traced back to 3.8 billion years ago, someone suggested that we include this when we calculate our age. Isn’t that really how old we are? If so, then Masato-san’s ‘real age’ is 3.8-billion-and-sixty years old.
A giant is big and I am small. The giant walks far, far ahead, but I have been trying hard in the 13 years since we met, to follow, tracing his footsteps. It took me nine years to understand a single word of the giant, although it was not with my head but an understanding deep in the pit of my belly. That’s how slow my pace is. But I want to know. I wonder where the giant is going. I wonder if I can follow him there.
In the incredible span of 3.8 billion years, I am forever grateful that I was able to meet Masato-san.