International Understanding DAYS

This year, we were honored to have Mr. Minoo Iha, a writer and human rights educator born in Okinawa in 1934, give a lecture.

Mr. Iha was diagnosed with Hansen's disease at the age of 14 and was separated from his family. He spent his life in a sanatorium, deprived of his dignity and freedom. He faced many challenges in his life, including pursuing an education, finding employment, and getting married. He spoke about his experiences of discrimination and his feelings at the time, weaving in his encounters with others at key moments in his life.

The lecture was divided into two parts. After the talk, there was a discussion time in vertical groups of high school students and junior high school students. Each group came up with questions for Mr. Iha and submitted them to the moderator (a high school student), who then asked Mr. Iha to answer them.

Finally, Mr. Iha spoke about disasters and wars, and left a strong message that we must not be indifferent to what is happening around us. Despite his advanced age, he stood in the middle of the students during the lecture and spoke about the importance of passing on the message to the younger generation.

After the lecture, the students wrote many messages on their comment sheets, which we will share with Mr. Iha.

Here are some of the students' messages:

  • "First of all, I want to remember that even if someone has a disease or disability, they are not 'pitiful.' And as one of my friends said, it just happened to be that person who got the disease or disability, and it's not anyone's fault. So I think it's our duty to start by learning about it, understanding it, supporting it, and making sure the same mistakes don't happen again."
  • "I thought Mr. Iha was really brave because he took action and carved out a life for himself even though he had Hansen's disease and there was still a lot of discrimination. I felt that the most important thing to correct is the state of 'indifference.' As one of the people who learned from Mr. Iha about Japan's wrong response to Hansen's disease and the cruelty of 'indifference,' I will try to live my life in a way that reflects this."
  • "The most memorable thing for me was his  friend's words, 'What does your disease have to do with your humanity?!' I was very sad to learn about the past when people were prejudiced and discriminated against for things that were not their own choice. In this 'age of diversity,' I feel that it is important not only to be aware of diversity, but also to care about it and accept it."