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FOCUS December 2015 Volume 82

Nishiyodogawa: Community Struggle on Right to Health

AOZORA Foundation

By mid-1930s, Nishiyodogawa ward had seven hundred factories, sixty thousand employees, and four hundred sixty of these factories had ten or more employees. This made Nishiyodogawa ward the heart of Osaka’s industrial area.1

In the 1930s, Osaka city was named the “City of Factories”2 but also as “Smoke Capital” of Japan due to its industrialization history dating back to the 1870s. In a school textbook, Osaka city’s industrial development was symbolized by smokes coming from numerous factory smokestacks.

The strong demand of foreign trade as well as the military industry in the 1930s caused the fast industrial development of Nishiyodogawa ward; it resumed after World War II. In the 1960s, residents experienced brown-colored haze that enveloped the area all day. Residents believed that all types of chemical pollution existed in Nishiyodogawa ward, particularly sulfur oxides. Cars and trains had their lights turned on during the day due to poor visibility.

The Nishiyodogawa ward situation reflected the impact on people of increased heavy pollution due to rapid economic growth from the 1950s in the major industrial zones of Japan (linked under the Pacific Industrial Belt plan) and in other parts of the country. People in these areas began to suffer from respiratory ailments such as bronchitis, emphysema, and asthmatic bronchitis.

Protests (including law suits) against widespread pollution in the country led to the enactment of the Basic Law for Environmental Pollution Control in 1967, the Law on Special Measures Concerning Redress for Pollution-related Health Damage in 1969, and the Absolute Liability Law in 1972 and the Pollution-related Health Damage Compensation Law in 1973. The 1969 law designated parts of several cities including Yokkaichi, Osaka (including Nishiyodogawa ward) and Kawasaki cities as polluted areas. Under this law, people who were certified as suffering from pollution-induced health problems were qualified to receive medical care benefits. Under the 1972 Absolute Liability Law, lack of intent to pollute does not exempt companies from escaping their responsibility for the pollution caused.

Nishiyodogawa Residents’ Protest3

Residents of Nishiyodogawa ward started to complain in the 1970s about the health problems suffered. The residents’ protest was supported by the work of Mr. Kimio Moriwaki in early 1970s. He started calling on pollution victims to come out to avail of the law on pollution.4 While the organizing work was very difficult, four hundred victims and other residents came to a meeting in a school auditorium and formed the Nishiyodogawa Association for Pollution Patients and Their Families.

The Nishiyodogawa Medical Association established the Medical Care Center for Pollution-Caused Illnesses in a hospital (Semboku Byoin) to care for pollution patients’ health. Many of the residents with respiratory problems were old people and children because they hardly left their homes. Mr. Moriwaki worked as a receptionist in the Center that allowed him to invite them to join the Nishiyodogawa Association for Pollution Patients and Their Families.5

In mid-1970s, the Nishiyodogawa Association for Pollution Patients and Their Families contacted lawyer-members of the Osaka Bar Association to study the Nishiyodogawa problem. The difficulty of finding the sources of air pollution led the lawyers to do a three-year study on what legal action to take. In April 1978, the patients filed a case before the District Court in Osaka against ten companies believed to be sources of air pollution.6 More than twenty lawyers were involved in the filing of the complaint in court, but lawyers from different parts of Japan later joined the legal team that increased the number of lawyers to one hundred and fifty.

The tort liability complaint asked the court, among several demands, to stop the operations of the companies and to order the companies to pay compensation to the pollution victims. The lawyers of the Nishiyodogawa residents were young and idealistic who volunteered their time and effort in pursuing the complaint. They faced experienced lawyers of the companies. The young lawyers learned a lot during the long period of litigation on this complaint. They received support from scientists from the academe (Kyoto University) regarding the technical issues of the complaint.

The Nishiyodogawa residents received a lot of support from the general public in pursuing the complaint.

While proving which companies were the sources of specific types and amounts of pollutants was technically difficult, proving the unusually high rate of health problems (compared to the national average) among the Nishiyodogawa residents, especially the young and old, was not. And the court considered the health issue data in favor of the complainants.

After seventeen years of litigation, the companies sought to settle the complaint. Both sides subsequently agreed on a four billion Yen compensation package. The District Court accepted the settlement agreement in a decision issued in March 1995.7

The increased amount of compensation was meant to support the welfare of the pollution victims and the Nishiyodogawa ward on a long term basis. Part of the compensation money under the settlement agreement was meant for the establishment of a foundation that would assist the Nishiyodogawa residents in improving their community.

Public Campaigns

To support the judicial recourse, the Nishiyodogawa residents organized persistent public campaigns under the slogan “A Blue Sky for Our Children.” These campaigns received broad cooperation from groups of pollution victims in other parts of the country who also filed their own complaints in court both against companies and the government. They campaigned for support for medical costs and also for losses sustained in terms of lost income, livelihood and property.

Years before the lawsuit, medical professionals in different parts of the country organized support groups to help pollution victims. These support groups held study sessions and seminars on the mechanisms that produced pollution and the legal and social institutions that could support the pollution victims. They also held informal meetings with local governments and submitted written petitions to them. In 1973, groups of pollution victims and the support groups formed the National Liaison Council for Pollution Victims Organizations. This network of pollution victims’ organizations facilitated the circulation of relevant information and made joint requests to government agencies on issues that member organizations could not solve locally.8

Aozora Foundation

The Nishiyodogawa pollution victims established in 1996 the Center for the Redevelopment of Pollution-damaged Areas in Japan (Aozora Foundation). The Aozora Foundation was established as a nonprofit organization (NPO) working for the redevelopment of pollution-damaged areas using part of the settlement package given by the companies under the 1995 court settlement agreement.

Before the District Court decision came out, the Nishiyodogawa Association for Pollution Patients and Their Families released in March 1991 the “Nishiyodogawa Redevelopment Plan” aimed at having a pollution-free community development in Nishiyodogawa ward. The plan gained prominence as an unprecedented community development proposal by pollution victims, and has found audience in venues such as the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) meeting and hearings of the Central Council for Environment Pollution Control. The Association brought forth a series of proposals, including one directed at defendant companies and on reconstruction after earthquakes.9

Aozora Foundation adopted a logo with three blue lines at the top to represent the blue sky supported by three elements: partnership of citizens, government administration, and business. There is a green horizontal line at the bottom to represent the green-enshrouded land.

It organizes studies and practical activities that are creatively carried out from the standpoint of pollution victims and community members, and aimed at rejuvenating local areas and environments.

It also holds public lectures, symposiums and other events with the participation of the residents, gathers documents and source materials, provides information, hosts observation tours and trainees, lends support for school classes, conducts international exchanges, and more.

Redeveloping polluted areas does not merely involve rejuvenating, recreating, and preserving the natural environment. In the Aozora Foundation way of thinking such redevelopment depends on recovering and improving the health of local citizens; recovering and fostering community functions lost on account of economics-first development; rebuilding relationships of trust and cooperation among government, business, and citizens; and other such efforts. This necessitates basing initiatives on the idea of “participation” as proposed in the Basic Environment Plan10 and, from a citizens’ standpoint, obtaining the cooperation of local authorities, businesses, and all other social entities.11

In view of the serious pollution problems in Asia and around the world, Aozora Foundation aims to provide information on Japan’s pollution experience and the lessons learned from it. It aims to provide information, beyond technical matters, on the practical actions consisting of the struggles and labors of citizens and pollution victims, as well as industry and the variety of other social entities, in implementing measures to achieve redevelopment. In this way, it hopes to arrest the pollution around the world by providing information on Japan’s pollution experience, and by building an international cooperation network of grassroots initiatives on redeveloping pollution-debilitated areas.12

For further information, please contact: Aozora Foundation, 4F, Aozora Building, 1-1-1 Chibune, Nishiyodogawa-ku, Osaka, 555-0013; ph (816) 6475-885; fax (816) 6478-5885; e-mail: webmaster@aozora.or.jp; www. aozora.or.jp.


1 “A City of Factories Appears," Osaka Asahi Shimbun, 16 November 1936, an English version of the article is found in http://aozora.or.jp/lang/english/nishiyodogawa-field-museum/citizens-struggle.

2 Japan’s Air Pollution from the Perspective of Pollution Victims, Center for the Redevelopment of Pollution-damaged Areas in Japan (The Aozora Foundation), page 9.

3 Part of the discussion in this and other sections is based on the interview of Mr. Kimio Moriwaki, Mr. Toshiyuki Ueda, Mr. Yanqing Wang, and Ms. Tomoko Kurimoto by HURIGHTS OSAKA staff (Jefferson R. Plantilla and Emika Tokunaga) on 15 September 2015, and from Kimio Moriwaki, “The Experience of Organizing Pollution Victims in Nishiyodogawa,” The Aozora Foundation, http://aozora.or.jp/lang/english/papers-from-overseas-workshops/the-experience-of-organizing-pollution-victims-in-nishiyodogawa.

4 “About 7,000 pollution patients were certified under the law in Nishiyodogawa Ward,” see Yoriko Yariyama, "The Pollution Experience Can Be the Engine of Community Renewal-The Aozora Foundation’s Environmental Education Initiative," www.aozora.jpn.org/pdf/071025_ws_eng.pdf

5 Moriwaki, op. cit.

6 Three more complaints were subsequently filed by the patients in court including those filed against the government about the air pollution (nitrogen oxides) from vehicle exhaust from public roads.

7 Along with the other cases filed in court, the Nishiyodogawa cases ended after twenty years lapsed from1978.

8 See Japan’s Air Pollution from the Perspective of Pollution Victims, op. cit.

9 See website of Aozora Foundation, http://aozora.or.jp/lang/english/nishiyodogawa-field-museum/regeneration-begins.

10  See Basic Environment Law and Basic Environment Plan, www.env.go.jp/en/aboutus/pamph/html/00pan250.html for basic information on the Plan.

11  “Our mission,” The Aozora Foundation, http://aozora.or.jp/lang/english/our-mission.

12    Ibid.

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