Accepted Paper:

Injured spirit on the move: Kokeshi dolls from the forest on the landfill areas of Minamata Bay, contemporary Japan  

Author:

Kentaro Shimoda (Keio University)

Paper short abstract:

This paper analyzes how spirits injured by Minamata disease (MD) are perceived, experienced, and transformed into tangible artifacts, which affect other people's lives through their movements, focusing on Kokeshi dolls - made by a man living with MD - and their social trajectories in the world.

Paper long abstract:

Minamata disease (MD), first discovered in 1956, is a neurological syndrome caused by the release of methylmercury into the wastewater of Minamata City, Kumamoto Prefecture, Japan, by the Chisso Corporation's chemical factory. Methylmercury is absorbed by plankton, which are eaten by fish and shellfish, and then passed up the food chain. In 1990, part of Minamata Bay was transformed into a landfill by the Kumamoto prefectural government. In this process, the fish contaminated by high-concentration methylmercury were buried in the landfill along with toxic sludge. My fieldwork, which took place over 27 months between 2006 and 2016, revealed that the landfill is considered a memento of the tragedy and is called "a place where injured spirits gather" by some victims.

This paper analyzes how these spirits injured by MD have been perceived, experienced, and transformed into tangible artifacts, which affect other people's lives through their movements, focusing on the Kokeshi dolls - made by a man living with MD - and the social trajectories they trace in the world. This man has carved thousands of Kokeshi dolls from trees grown in the forest of the landfill areas of Minamata Bay, and given them to the Japanese Minister of the Environment, the chairman of Chisso, children who visited Minamata, and others, in order to breathe new life into the injured spirits, both human and nonhuman (such as the fish and birds), that were contaminated with mercury. The findings suggest a community engendered through learning to share suffering with nonhumans.

Panel LL-AS05
Poison, movements and communities