The Protestant Missions — June 20, 2011 at 3:09 am

Leprosy in Japan! Three Christians instrumental in their care!


Katoo Kiyomasa

Leprosy is very common in Japan. Exact statistics are not obtainable; for the disease is considered to bring such disgrace upon the family which it enters that its existence is often concealed. When the family is in comfortable circumstances, the patient is usually shut off in a separate room in order that he may not be seen by outsiders, and there he must remain until his death. In other cases the man often becomes an outcast, being left to beg and prolong his miserable existence as best as he may. Rev. M.L. Gordon, D.D., in “An American Missionary in Japan” tells of one such sufferer.
“He was one of the original members of the church, and it was known at the time that he had the taint of leprosy in his system. The dread disease was, however, quiescent, and it was hoped would remain so and hence he mingled freely with the other Christians, visited us in our homes, and often sat with us at the communion table. But of late years the disease became virulent, and by the end of 1890 he was totally blind and otherwise greatly disfigured. The unchristian villagers drove him out of the village; his brothers and other relatives deserted him; and he lived alone in a rude hut in the mountains, receiving a little aid from the prefectural government and more from Japanese Christians and missionaries. At A later period the Christians cooked his food and otherwise cared for him, but for quite a while he built his own fire and cooked his own rice, going, in his solitary blindness, to and from the spring that furnished him with water, guided by the straw rope which had been put there, for that purpose. The evangelist…went to condole with him, but to his surprise he was met by the assurance that he was not an object of condolence; that his heart was full of joy, because Kami ga shiju waga ushiro ni oru, ‘God is always behind me’.”

About 1886 Father Testevuide, a French Catholic missionary, had established at Gotemba an asylum for lepers and in 1894 Miss Kate Youngman of the Presbyterian Mission began a similar work in the suburbs of Tokyo. The attention of Miss Hannah Riddell, an English missionary living in Kumamoto, was also drawn to this pitiable class of sufferers. In the vicinity of Kumamoto are small villages whose population is almost wholly composed of such persons. Of one village it was commonly said: “Everybody in it is a leper except the stone idol.” Large numbers of lepers from other parts of Japan make their way to Kumamoto in order to pray at a shrine dedicated to Kato Kiyomasa, the former persecutor of the Christians, which, because he became a leper, gained the reputation of being a favorable place for gaining relief from the dread disease. At almost any time many of them can be seen about this shrine engaged in prayer or asking for alms. There was reason to hope that by proper medical treatment some of these persons could be permanently benefited, and through the efforts of Miss Riddell and her friends’ funds were raised for the erection of a hospital which was dedicated in November, 1895. Since then it has brought both physical and spiritual blessings to those that have been gathered within its walls.
site about leprosy in Japan
Hannah Riddell
Miss Kate Youngman
Koyama Fukusei Hospital
Katō Kiyomasa

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  1. When I was stationed in Japan while in the us marine Corps at camp Fuji in 1956 some of my marine buddies and I, including a navy corpsman, walked up to the Leper colony in the mountains south of Gotemba. It has been established by Father Testervuide. We took canned foods and other items to them. They seemed extremely grateful that we visited. I’m so glad I did that as a young Marine.

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