Education About Asia: Online Archives

Teaching about Environmental Issues in Japan

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Environmental education in Japan’s schools has become more active in the last sixty years in both research and practical application. It is often said that environmental education in Japanese schools is now in the third phase of its development. In the first phase, during the 1960s, study of industrial pollution was the focus. Social studies curricula in elementary schools, as well as in lower and upper secondary schools, included lessons on the ways environmental pollution (river, seacoast, and air pollution by chemical and petrochemical industries) affected the population. In particular, four court cases of industrial pollution—Minamata, Yokkaichi, Toyama, and Niigata—were broadly studied.



Dower, John W., and John Junkerman, eds. 1985. The Hiroshima Murals: The Art of Iri Maruki and Toshi Maruki. Tokyo: Kōdansha International. On the artists who painted murals of Hiroshima, Nanjing, Okinawa, Auschwitz, and Minamata. 

George, Timothy S. 2001. Minamata: Pollution and the Struggle for Democracy in Postwar Japan. Cambridge: Harvard University Asia Center. A survey of the Minamata story arguing that it illustrates the nature of Japan’s postwar democracy as defined through citizen action. 

Harada Masazumi. 1972. Minamata Disease. Trans. Tsushima Sachie and Timothy S. George; translation edited by Timothy S. George. Originally published in 1972; the story of Minamata disease to that point, told by the activist doctor who worked most closely with the patients. Ordering information at book_e_frame.htm. 

Norie Huddle, Michael Reich, with Nahum Stiskin. 1975. Island of Dreams: Environmental Crisis in Japan. New York: Autumn Press; reprinted Cambridge, Mass.: Schenkman Books, 1987. Includes a chapter on Minamata. 

Ishimure Michiko. 1990. Paradise in the Sea of Sorrow: Our Minamata Disease. Trans. Livia Monnet. Kyoto: Yamaguchi Publishing House. Republished in 2003 by Center for Japanese Studies, University of Michigan. A combination of poetic and journalistic styles narrating real events but often changing the names of those involved.

McKean, Margaret A. 1981. Environmental Protest and Citizen Politics in Japan. Berkeley: University of California Press. 

Mishima Akio. 1992. Bitter Sea: The Human Cost of Minamata Disease. Trans. Richard L. Gage and Susan B. Murata. Tokyo: Kosei. 

Molony, Barbara. 1990. Technology and Investment: The Prewar Japanese Chemical Industry. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Council on East Asian Studies. Detailed study of Chisso (then called Nihon Chisso) before the disease. 

Oiwa Keibo, narrated by Ogata Masato. 2001. Rowing the Eternal Sea: The Story of a Minamata Fisherman. Trans. Karen Colligan-Taylor. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield. This autobiography is one of the most appealing and powerfully moving books one could assign on Minamata. 

Saitō Hisashi. 2009. Niigata Minamata Disease. Trans. and ed. Aileen M. Smith, Timothy S. George, et al. Niigata: Niigata Nippō Jigyōsha. The Niigata Minamata disease story, by the doctor most closely involved with the patients since the discovery of the disease. Ordering information at 

Smith, W. Eugene, and Aileen M. Smith. 1975. Minamata. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston. Final achievement of one of the world’s great photographers; the book that made the world aware of Minamata. 

Ui Jun, ed. 1992. Industrial Pollution in Japan. Tokyo: United Nations University Press.


John W. Dower and John Junkerman, Hellfire: A Journey from Hiroshima, 1985, sixty minutes. Focuses on the Hiroshima murals by Maruki Iri and Maruki Toshi; also deals with their Minamata work. Available on DVD with Tsuchimoto Noriaki’s Hiroshima no pika, 

Minamata: The Victims and Their World, directed by Tsuchimoto Noriaki (Higashi purodakushon), Black and white, 120 minutes, 1971. English version of Minamata: kanjasan to sono sekai. This and the film below are difficult to purchase but are in the film collections of a number of North American universities. 

Minamata Disease: A Trilogy, directed by Tsuchimoto Noriaki (Seirinsha), 16mm, color, 1974–75. English version of Igaku to shite no Minamatabyō

Minamata’s Message to the World, directed by Tsuchimoto Noriaki (Seirinsha/Radio Quebec), 16mm, color, forty-five minutes, 1976. Based on Tsuchimoto’s Minamatabyō: sono 20 nen. Available from Minamata Disease Center Sōshisha (see Websites below).


Minamata Disease Center Sōshisha, which supports disease victims in their daily lives, serves as a meeting place, operates a museum, publishes a newsletter, and collects documents, at 

Minamata City includes a section on Minamata disease, eng/index.htm. Ministry of the Environment’s National Institute for Minamata Disease, at 

Aileen Archive. Information on Minamata photographs by W. Eugene Smith and Aileen M. Smith, at


1. Nihon chisso hiryō kabushiki kaisha (An outline of Nihon Chisso’s operations.), Nihon chisso jigyō gaiyō (1940), unpaginated.