On July 22, 2014, Japan’s Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko called at National Sanatorium Tohoku Shinseien in Miyagi Prefecture. The couple took the hands of each resident — individuals who have endured years of prejudice and discrimination — and offered words of encouragement. They also conveyed their appreciation to the staff of the facility for their dedication and hard work.
The imperial couple’s care and concern for people affected by leprosy has been a long-standing one. Their visits to the leprosy sanatoria began when they were still the crown prince and princess. With this visit in July, Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko have now met with residents of all 14 leprosy sanatoria (13 national and one private) throughout Japan.
One resident conveyed his deep appreciation to the imperial couple for visiting the sanatoria. He said the visits were not only encouragement for the residents and staff, but also important in raising public awareness about leprosy and the issues surrounding it. It is my hope that the genuine compassion exhibited by Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko toward people affected by leprosy will be passed down the imperial line.
As of May 1, 2014, there were a total of 1,840 people living in Japan’s national sanatoria, with an average age of 83.6 years. They have led lives of considerable hardship. As their numbers decline, we need to do all we can to preserve their memories and experiences.
I feel it is crucial that we hand on the history of leprosy and the history of these people’s sufferings — what I call the negative legacy of humanity — to future generations. They must not be forgotten.
With that in mind, I greatly respect Their Majesties for the interest in and concern for people affected by leprosy they have always shown.
Yohei Sasakawa, WHO Goodwill Ambassador
MESSAGE: Compassionate Concern
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