Japanese Asbestos Protests 

by Laurie Kazan-Allen



The anger of Japanese asbestos victims shows no sign of abating. In the run-up to the 3rd anniversary of the Asbestos Victims Relief Law, the media was full of reminders of just how far Japanese society still has to go until all the injured receive adequate medical treatment and compensation. Statistics publicized on March 23, 2009 by the Ban Asbestos Network of Japan (BANJAN) revealed that only 44% of mesothelioma fatalities received compensation or government relief. The situation is even worse with lung cancer patients of whom fewer than 7% receive compensation for asbestos-related injuries. Campaigners believe that this deplorable situation is due not only to the lack of awareness of government schemes but also to the stringent requirements imposed under the Asbestos Health Damage Relief Law.1 Despite a program begun in 2008 by the Ministry of Environment to inform families of the availability of relief under the Asbestos Law, many eligible claimants do not make claims. Sugio Furuya, BANJAN's Director, says: “It is crucial that the government set a relief rate goal, and to extend deadlines for compensation and relief application until those goals are met.”

The widow of mesothelioma victim Masanori Takeda would have been yet another uncompensated asbestos victim but for a landmark ruling which established that the asbestos death of 59-year-old Masanori Takeda, a municipal employee from Osaka, was a workplace injury and as such was eligible for compensation. The decision handed down on March 24, 2009 comes more than 3 years after the death of the government worker; for over 30 years Takeda had supervised the maintenance of sewage lines in Osaka Municipality during which he cut and processed asbestos-containing insulation materials. The initial claims brought by Mr. Takeda's widow were dismissed on the grounds that “asbestos work was not his main job.” Campaigning groups said the decision by the “Fund for Local Government Employees' Accident Compensation” will facilitate more public service casualty claims. Speaking on behalf of an asbestos victims' group, Fuyushi Nagajura said that he was hopeful more public service workers will have their asbestos-related conditions accepted: “The standards for recognizing workplace accidents and public service casualties should be the same, but there have been far fewer public service casualty claims (accepted).”2


On March 27, 2009, a mass meeting and rally was held in Tokyo which was attended by 1,300 people. Widespread media coverage reported the demonstrators' demands which included much-needed changes to government compensation schemes to reduce the complexity and bureaucracy for bringing claims and for broadening the categories of claimants who are eligible. The following day (March 28), BANJAN held its annual meeting in Tokyo. Throughout the day, a panel of Japanese victims and experts detailed the current situation and discussed strategies for reaching BANJAN's ultimate objectives which are: the provision of free medical treatment and equitable compensation for all asbestos victims and the asbestos decontamination of the built and natural environment in Japan. Addressing the meeting, Scottish Professor Arthur McIvor, of the University of Strathclyde, spoke of the “innocent victims” whose lives have been claimed by “these dreadful, obscene diseases.”3 Quantifying the horrific consequences of asbestos use in Scotland, he said that by 2025 there will have been in the region of 25,000 deaths because of the heavy use of asbestos in the Scottish shipbuilding, engineering, construction and manufacturing sectors. Asbestos victims' groups, working with agencies in the new Scottish Parliament, have succeeded in effecting positive changes for Scottish asbestos sufferers: on March 11, 2009 the Scottish Parliament acted to reinstate the rights of pleural plaques and (non-disabling) asbestosis victims to claim compensation, a right now denied to their English counterparts.


Translator Rie Monika and Professor Arthur McIvor.

Bringing the meeting to a close, Mrs. Kazuko Furukawa, the Vice-President of the Japanese Association of Asbestos Victims and Their Families, said:

“The asbestos legacy is never ending. Asbestos companies and the government have to hear our voices. We will continue to fight together until justice for all asbestos victims and an asbestos free world is achieved.”

April 4, 2009


1 Majority of those with asbestos-related illnesses getting no government support. March 23, 2009. Mainichi Japan. http://mdn.mainichi.jp/mdnnews/news/20090323p2a00m0na007000c.html

2 Accident compensation panel grants claim over Osaka worker's asbestos-related death. March 24, 2009.
Mainichi Japan. http://mdn.mainichi.jp/mdnnews/news/20090324p2a00m0na014000c.html

3 Johnston R, McIvor A. Lethal Work – A History of the Asbestos Tragedy in Scotland Tuckwell Press. 2000.



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