Nonagenarian painter still fights for Minamata patients

Painter, 91, still fights for Minamata patients
07/20/2007, BY AYAKO TSUKIDATE, THE ASAHI SHIMBUN

Kikue Wakatsuki, moved by the plight of the mercury-poisoning victims, decided to bill her customers specifically for “fund-raising,” saying their “donations” would be sent to help the patients in Minamata, Kumamoto Prefecture. No one complained.

Wakatsuki retired from the bar called Noa Noa long ago. She is now 91 years old and uses a wheelchair. But she continues to help Minamata disease victims.

Last month, Wakatsuki, who is also a painter, held her first private art exhibition in her hometown of Niigata, bringing her together with mercury-poisoning victims in the city for the first time….

Kikue Wakatsuki, 91, at her art exhibition in Niigata, greets former patrons of her bar in Tokyo’s Shinjuku district. (AYAKO TSUKIDATE/ THE ASAHI SHIMBUN)

Sanji Watanabe, 91, a Japanese folk singer who is also a victim of industrial mercury poisoning, sang in front of Wakatsuki.

Many of Wakatsuki’s fans, including former patrons of her bar in Shinjuku, showed up and danced to the music….

Minamata disease is a neurological syndrome first discovered in 1956. It is caused by consumption of marine products tainted with methyl mercury discharged from a Chisso Corp. plant into Minamata Bay. Although certified Minamata disease patients are entitled to payments for medical treatment, the standards for certification are rigid, and many sufferers have been left out.

Hideto Hatano… is also a key figure in managing the Niigata Eya art gallery, and he said he remembered hearing about Noa Noa’s manager who continued to support Minamata disease victims. When Hatano learned that Watatsuki had never held a private showing in her hometown, he invited her–and her paintings–to Niigata. […]

See also
A Case Study of a Documentary Portrait (the article discusses the impact of the Eugene Smith photo on the family under a discussion of ethics in photography)

Editor’s Note: If you wish to view the photograph discussed in this article, it is still viewable online at www.masters-of-photography.com. Click on Smith, then click through the slides to the last one, which is “Tomoko Uemura in Her Bath.”

Tomoko Uemura in Her Bath From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Thursday, Sept. 12, 2004 THE ASIAN BOOKSHELF MINAMATA DISEASE Exploring a cautionary tale By STEPHEN HESSE

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