Beginning in the 1990s, Japan’s policy of “leprosy prevention” was transformed into a human rights issue, a process that culminated in 2001 with the Kumamoto District Court’s order that the government pay reparations to some of those confined in Japan’s extensive system of national leprosy sanitaria. No issue has received more attention than the use of reproductive controls, such as sterilization and abortion, which has been portrayed as evidence of the Japanese state’s concern for eugenics and racial purity. This presentation re-examines the reproductive policy within the national sanitaria. Through the analysis of patient writings, I argue that the that many leprosy patients were deeply concerned about their biological responsibility towards their offspring and thus embraced sterilization and abortion as offering reproductive choice, something unavailable to those outside the sanitaria until the postwar era.
Professor Burns is a historian of Japan's "long" nineteenth century (1780s-1910s). Her previous books include Before the Nation: Kokugaku and the Imagining of Community in Early Modern Japan (Duke, 2003) and Gender and Law in the Japanese Imperium (Hawaii, 2014).