It was an epic moment, made all the stranger by the pell-mell rush of fifty journalists into the small room where the meeting took place.
On the one side were the women:
Kuwata Satoko, whose infection prior to August 1985 made her ineligible for full treatment under the Health, Labour and Welfare Ministry's final offer;
Yamaguchi Michiko, the national representative for the plaintiffs, whose rage and calm gave her the demonic strength necessary to break a government;
Asakura Mitsuko, the one who could not keep her emotions in; and
Fukuda Eriko, the youngest, the nearly pretty girl whose bloated visage and prognosis of premature death had become the arrow to everyone's heart.
Their backs straight in their chairs, they sat ready to pronounce sentence upon those who would consider themselves their betters.
On the other side, waiting, alone except for an amanuensis, standing, was the Prime Minister of Japan.
Fukuda Yasuo had never wanted to be in this position. He had never been in charge of the ministry that had sided with the perpetrators of so many crimes, the ministry that had fought with disheartening stubbornness to avoid taking responsibility for the resulting deaths and illnesses.
This was never Fukuda's fight. But it was his fight to end.
His shoulders sloped over, he said the words the women and the other plaintiffs had demanded to hear, the ones which all the billions of yen of promised treatment could not in the end buy.
His personal apology for their suffering....and his promise that all infected from the contaminated medical preparation would be treated equally under the law.
Strangest of all Fukuda's abject utterances was what seemed to be his praise of the plaintiffs for their perseverance over the many years in the courts fighting the government.
One more time: the Prime Minister praised the women for fighting the government...the government which, if you look at the organizational chart, he happens to be in charge of.
It should never had had to become a public spectacle, a P.R. meltdown, ending in the passage of a new law. It should not have required the intercession of the prime minister.
The bureaucracy failed to care for the citizens. The courts failed to provide some measure of common justice for the plaintiffs.
Why are the people asked to pay for this disfunctional system and obey the orders of its minions?
Left to right: Fukuda Eriko, Asakura Mitsuko (holding photo), Kuwata Satoko Courtesy: MSN Sankei News