Beyond the Bay – 2 – Japan’s leprosy patients

There was a time in the world when it was usual to segregate people with leprosy in remote places, especially islands. In Queensland, Moreton Bay’s Peel Island housed our leprosy patients from 1907 to 1959. Fortunately, the cure was discovered in 1943, and such segregation was soon to pass into our history. 

It was interesting, then, to read this small article that appeared in the London Evening Standard of Tuesday 9 July 2019:



Prime minister Shinzo Abe today said the government would compensate the families of former leprosy patients over its segregation policy that caused long-lasting prejudice. He announced it will not challenge a court decision awarding 2.7 million (Pounds Sterling) in damages to 541 families for financial and psychological suffering.

Compensation for the families of leprosy patients? I am not aware that such families in Queensland had received any such payout resulting from our segregation policy here. Perhaps there is a case.

The other interesting point of the above article is “Why now?” It’s been over 75 years since the cure was discovered and 60 years since segregation was discontinued.

Ben Hills writing in the Sydney Morning Herald in 1995 provided a clue:

“The white-painted arched span, like a miniature version of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, is barely 100 metres long – but it took more than half a century to get it built. This highly symbolic bridge links Japan’s mainland with a tiny, mountainous island called Nagashima which juts out of the warm, grey waters of the Seto Inland Sea, surrounded by a cobweb of oyster-beds. Since 1930, when the first settlers came to Nagashima, the only way to reach the island was by ferry or by swimming across the fast-flowing straits in which many people drowned. And that was the way most Japanese wanted it to stay, because Nagashima is one of the country’s most shameful secrets – an island of the damned, where people were exiled, never to return.

“The outcasts were not criminals or psychopaths who posed a danger to society, though that’s how they still are treated by the law. Their only crime is that they suffer from Hansen’s disease, leprosy, a disfiguring but not fatal and relatively non-contagious infection, for which a cure has been known for 50 years.

“After decades of opposition, the bridge was finally finished in 1988 …”

Japan’s The Oku Nagashima bridge

If the bridge was to be the first symbolic span towards integrating Japan’s leprosy patients, then surely the Government’s current compensation to be paid to their families will be the final span across the breach that has divided the country for so long.