It’s the afternoon of April 6, Holy Thursday, when I call Sasaki Kazuo. He answers the phone and I am immediately taken aback. His speech is slightly slurred, his words rushing together as if he were willing himself to speak. Just a few days before he had left a voicemail message in the clear baritone of a seventy-three-year-old businessman. Today his strength is fading.
“Is this day ten?” I ask after we exchange introductions.
“Day eleven,” he replies.
My friend Vincent Katō first told me about Mr. Sasaki, a fellow prolifer who like Vincent lives in the Tokyo area. I have never met him; this is the first time we have spoken. Mr. Sasaki, a widower with a grown son, is on a hunger strike. He is protesting government approval of abortifacients for use in Japan.
Despite vocal opposition by prolifers and some allied politicians—readers may remember my blog on the subject last year—the process appeared to be moving toward a victory for the culture of death.
Then, on March 24, there was a reprieve. The deliberation session (shingi) that the controlling government agency, the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare (Kōsei Rōdō Shō), had been planning was postponed. The Asahi newspaper (no friend of the pro-life movement) reports that public responses on abortifacients were “more than one hundred times” the number usually received when other issues are opened to public comments. (I myself submitted a public comment against approval.)
Asahi also reports that the numbers in favor of approval are running more than two-to-one over those against abortifacients. Still, the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare wants more time to analyze and respond.
“I saw that as my chance,” Sasaki recounts during our phone interview. “The Ministry’s intent is to end up approving the abortifacients. But I want people inside the government and in Japan to know that there is serious opposition to this.”
I wonder what motivates this man to insist so strongly on life. I ask Mr. Sasaki if he is a Catholic. He is not, he tells me. He was raised in a loving home in Hiroshima, and, though poor, was happy. When younger, he heard the teachings of Dr. Taniguchi Masaharu, who started a new religious movement in the postwar period called Seichō no Ie, “House of Growth.” One of the central doctrines of Seichō no Ie is that “everyone is a child of God.”
Taniguchi was one of the first and most insistent critics of the eugenics movement that gripped Japan following World War II. In fact, eugenics had been making steady inroads long before the outbreak of war.
After a Eugenics Protection Law was passed here in 1948 (with the support of American Occupation officials), the country became known as an “abortion paradise.” Women from around the world traveled here to dispose of their children.
The dark legacy of eugenics remains as a stain on the social fabric of Japan. Even today, the staggering human consequences of the 1948 law and other eugenicist paradigms are being hashed out in courts of law and in the court of public opinion.
I ask Sasaki if he sees a similar eugenicist mentality at work in the looming approval of abortifacients. He thinks a bit and then replies.
“It’s maybe even worse than it was decades ago. Almost all the abortions in Japan are carried out due to economic hardship,” he says, referring to the loophole in abortion laws here on which doctors commonly rely when justifying the procedure.
“Is money more important than human life?” Sasaki asks rhetorically, emotion rising in his voice. “Convenience is placed above life, too. Children with disabilities, children with deformities—these children are routinely aborted.”
“But think about Tsujii Nobuyuki,” Sasaki says. “He was born blind. Now he is a world-class pianist. What would the world have lost had he been aborted? We must never kill innocent human beings. There is no reason for doing so. All human life must be valued and respected.”
I bring up recent news reports of major initiatives by Prime Minister Kishida Fumio and his cabinet to address the dire problem of population decline in Japan. The April 4, 2023, edition of the Tokyo Shimbun, for example, carried a long article on the launch of the Kodomo Katei Chō (Children and Families Agency), which is designed to help prevent child abuse and promote healthy family formation.
The prime minister has said, repeatedly, that Japan is facing its “last chance” to encourage families to bring more children into the world.
“It’s a complete contradiction for the government to be saying that while it’s trying to make abortifacients available to every woman in Japan,” Sasaki says sharply in reply. “We hear endlessly about policies to stem the shrinking of the population. But why are politicians trying to make it easier to kill children? I want to ask Prime Minister Kishida directly: ‘Are you serious about the population problem?’”
While there is some key pro-life support inside the political world, the media near-blackout on the abortifacients issue has matched the indifference shown by much of the Japanese government.
Sasaki tells me he has reached out to several media outlets in Japan, including the Sankei Shimbun, the conservative flagship paper and one of the major dailies here. So far, only the Japanese outlet of Christian Today and a Catholic paper in France have shown interest.
“If they only knew,” Sasaki tells me. “If the media would only report the truth that abortion kills a human being, the Japanese people would never accept what is about to happen.”
And so Sasaki’s hunger strike continues. He says he is still doing his best to run his company, which sells earthquake early-warning systems and other emergency equipment, while protesting against the taking of innocent human life. He spends his days in front of the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare building in downtown Tokyo. Some of his nights, too, in a sleeping bag on the street.
He also tells me he has already lost nine kilograms, nearly twenty pounds. He takes nothing but water. A doctor examined him and recommended, quite sensibly, that he at least take injections of nutrients. Sasaki refused.
About six hours after Sasaki and I speak on the phone, Vincent Katō e-mails me. Vincent has joined the hunger strike, taking some tea with a little milk to keep up his strength. An ambulance crew has been called, Vincent reports. Mr. Sasaki is suffering severe abdominal pain. I reply to Vincent and Mr. Sasaki that I am praying for the best.
The next day, Mr. Sasaki writes back. “I am ok,” he says. “I got in the ambulance, but the medics told me that if I were taken to an emergency room, I would need to eat something. So, I declined and got out.”
I wonder with increasing concern whether Sasaki means to keep this up until he collapses, or worse. He does not say.
“It is day twelve,” he continues. “I will keep up the hunger strike—until the people of Japan value life.”