Forced to Undergo Sterilization Under Japan’s Eugenics Protection Law

From 1948 to 1996, Japan’s eugenics protection law was responsible for several inhumane treatment of its citizens.

A woman from Miyagi Prefecture in her 60s is currently suing the nation asking for compensation to what was done to her when she was younger. When she requested for the responsible hospitals to provide her medical records, the hospitals claim that those records have been disposed of and cannot be recovered.

At 15, the woman was admitted to a school for the intellectually disabled, and following graduation, she was handed over to a guardian for the intellectually disabled who would be responsible for teaching her the basics of life. Little did she know, that was the beginning of her troubles. Her guardian scolded her saying that she shouldn’t eat too much food because it would make her even more stupid. She was never given ample food since.

At 16, she was labeled “mentally retarded” after failing to perform in an IQ test held in Miyagi and was immediately brought to a clinic in the city. Not knowing what was happening, she was given a jab and before she knew it, she woke up in bed. Upon reaching home, she found out that she had been sterilized after overhearing her parents’ conversation.

However, she couldn’t give up her dreams of having her own children, and when she was in her 20s, she adopted a child.

While intellectually disabled persons in Japan are given a medical care book, she never had one. And when she confronted her father on why she had to be sterilized, her father helplessly replied that he was forced by welfare officers and the guardians to sign on the agreement to her sterilization.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg. During the period before the law was abolished, 859 people (men and women) were forcibly sterilized without their consent in Miyagi Prefecture alone. Among them, 52% were minors, the youngest girl of which was 9 years old, and youngest boy being 10.

In response to Mainichi Shimbun’s interview, Miyagi officials provided the newspaper with a portion of the remaining records. According to the records, 80% of those were made to undergo the surgeries due to “genetic mental retardation,” including those with schizophrenia and epilepsy. The remaining 20% were made to do it due to hearing and physical disabilities.

When interviewed, Horiguchi Sadao (84) who was responsible for many of the surgeries agreed to reveal his real name and commented, “while it is insane in today’s context, the law of the olden times gave him no choice.”

The Eugenics Protection Law was modeled after Nazi Germany to prevent inferior offsprings from being produced. The law allowed sterilization operations to be performed on disabled persons without their consent. Doctors were consulted on the necessity for the operations and government officials will decide whether or not to proceed with it. Those who were marked for such operations were detained, anesthetized, and/or deceived into the operation. And in the case where said person gets married, the spouse will have to be informed of their partner’s sterilization.

Below is an extracted list of such surgeries performed in each prefecture across Japan during the period the law was in place.

1) Hokkaido
2) Miyagi
3) Okayama
4) Oita
5) Osaka
6) Shizuoka
7) Tokyo
8) Yamagata
9) Kanagawa
10) Saitama

45) Nara
46) Tottori
47) Okinawa


It’s hard to imagine such a cruel law actually existed in postwar Japan and I was actually born during a time when it still existed. But it’s a consolation that it no longer exists now.


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