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HOME  > Past issues  > 2016 December 7 - 13  > Baseball helped eliminate discrimination against leprosy patients
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2016 December 7 - 13 [SOCIAL ISSUES]

Baseball helped eliminate discrimination against leprosy patients

December 7, 2016
Teenage sufferers from Hansen’s disease practiced and played with a top amateur baseball team, Akahata reported on December 7. This story shows the power of sports to overcome discrimination.

Leprosy patients had been kept in quarantine for a long time although the disease’s infectivity was very low and a cure was found after World War II.

Four men in their 70s, who had lived in a national sanatorium for leprosy patients in Okayama Prefecture, called Nagashima-Aiseien, reunited on December 4 in Tokyo and talked about the old days when they enjoyed playing baseball together. They belonged to a baseball club of the high school at the sanatorium.

At facilities housing leprosy patients across the country, including Nagashima-Aiseien, residents formed baseball teams accordingly and played in round-robins and tournaments. Tennis and ping-pong were also popular.

A former patient living in Nagashima-Aiseien, Yamashiro Masayasu, said, “At first, I had thought of committing suicide. But I made new friends by playing baseball there. I really appreciate baseball.”

The story spread outside Okayama that young people are committed to playing baseball in an isolated sanatorium.

In 1959, the team of Maruzen Petrochemical in Ehime Prefecture, which won the National Intercity Baseball Tournament that year, visited Nagashima-Aiseien. Maruzen players taught the students basic skills and hit balls for fielding practice. When a one-armed student caught a ball and threw it back quickly, those top players cried out with admiration.

Yamashiro said, “They put their arms around our shoulders soaked in sweat and drank water from a bucket using the same ladle with us. In those days, even school teachers avoided touching our skin. I was deeply impressed by the players’ behavior.”

At that time, society was prejudiced against Hansen’s disease. However, there was no wall of discrimination between these students and the visiting baseball players.

The arts section chief of the National Hansen’s Disease Museum, Kuroo Kazuhisa, stressed, “Playing sports helps people build a relationship based on mutual respect. We can easily cross barriers by playing sports together.”

Past related article:
> Ex-leprosy patients reject apology from Supreme Court over special courts [April 26, 2016]
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