Societal conflicts between various citizen groups have emerged as a result of the Minamata Disease Saga. Even as early as 1908, before Chisso established their factory in Minamata city, societal rifts were present between the fisherfolk in the south and the other citizens who were living closer to the city center. Due to their status as migrants (from other parts of the country or abroad), and their low income, people from the fishing communities were unfortunately seen as lower-class citizens. Chisso’s inauguration in Minamata City in 1930 brought further economic growth to Minamata city through providing the resources for the city to expand, providing jobs and increasing living standards. When the Minamata Disease started to spread due to the discharge of factory wastewater into the Minamata Bay, the people who were most affected by Mercury poisoning were the fishermen – the group of people who benefited least from Chisso’s economic contributions to Minamata city. When Chisso was found guilty of causing the Minamata Disease in the 1970s, many Minamata City citizens were still employees of the factory. As such, they felt no incentive to be sympathetic towards the victims of the Minamata disease, partially in fear that the company would be in an economically bad situation if they had to pay too much compensation. Patients of the Minamata Disease were further ostracized by the other citizens due to the misconception that the disease was contagious. In fear of being discriminated against, sufferers of the Minamata Disease became hesitant to apply for compensation. There was also conflicts even between the patients who receive compensation because of differences in perceived fairness of demand due to varying compensation amounts and their symptoms. Perhaps the most ironic of all developments is that Chisso still remains the main economic provider of Minamata city, and despite causing the Minamata Disease, it is still highly esteemed by the populace as the employer-of-choice.
Author: Joanne Khew; Figure by Joanne Khew; Contributors: Mahdi Ikhlayel, Heng Yi Teah, Angeli Guadalupe