Accepted Paper:

Reconstructing experiences of Minamata disease through artifacts: a case study of Hongan-no-kai (the Club of the Original Vow)  


Kentaro Shimoda (Keio University)

Paper short abstract:

I analyze the interactions between the members of Hongan-no-kai and stone statues created by them, to discuss how the materiality of these statues affects the reconstruction of the member's experiences of Minamata disease, a topic that has not been discussed by previous studies on the disease.

Paper long abstract:

A part of Minamata Bay in Kyushu, Japan, was transformed into a landfill by the pollution control public works of Kumamoto Prefecture in 1990, because it had been polluted with organic mercury from the Chisso Corporation factory. Individual members of Hongan-no-kai, founded in 1995, have continued to carve various images (such as Jizo statues in the traditional form of Buddhas and modified Jizo to represent each member's feelings, self-images etc.) out of stone. They have set up these statues on the landfill as an expression of their memories of the tragedy that remain in spite of governmental acknowledgement of and compensation provided for the Minamata disease. They have cumulatively erected 52 stone statues over nineteen years.

The members of Hongan-no-kai have not only narrated their memories but inscribed their memories onto the statues. However, stone statues remain in a landscape once they are erected, unlike a narration, which is temporal in nature. I therefore analyze how the materiality of these statues, such as their durability, affects the reconstruction of the member's experiences of Minamata disease sensually and physically. I focus on the changes, both in their practice of narrating memories and in the landscape of the landfill, including the statues, based on field data collected over 27 months between 2007 and 2013. The findings suggest that more than reflecting or representing each member's reality, the materiality of these statues have helped their creators, the members of Hongan-no-kai, to reconstruct and pluralize their realities.

Panel P014
The day after: illness experiences of Minamata disease and some possibilities of multi-layered ethnography (CLOSED - 4)