Islands of Shame
by Luc Novovitch
In 1907 Japan enacted the Leprosy Prevention Law. Under this new segregation policy, and despite the fact that a cure had been developed, Japanese authorities forced thousands of patients to be confined in sanatoriums. Japan's lepers remained quarantined until the law was repealed in 1996. Colonies, set up on islands, were chosen for the many advantages they offered for segregation.

By 1955, more than 15,000 leprosy sufferers had been quarantined, thousands more would join them until 1996. For more than 89 years, lepers lived a life of imposed deprivation from family ties and humiliation on top of their medical condition. Heavy labour for the able was the rule, as was sterilization for men who wanted to marry and forced abortions for women who became pregnant.

The traditional shame culture of Japan induced most patients to change their family names so as not to embarrass their relatives and to accept the fate imposed on them by the government. Since the law was revoked in 1996 very few have left the sanatoriums, most have no place to go and no families awaiting their return.

These islands are still home to the majority of Japan's lepers.
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