When reading or writing, I am sometimes made acutely aware of the power of figurative language. The use of a metaphor or an analogy in describing something can infuse the writer's words or phrases with shape and vivid color.

When poet Yukari Kojima was pregnant, she likened her unborn baby to a letter. She wrote: "Deep inside my body/ There is a yet-unopened letter/ I think of the due date that's still far ahead."

Once the anxious months of wondering what her baby will be like is over, the mother's focus turns to when the infant will start talking and begins standing up. In her poetic imagination, Kojima heard the sounds of the natural world in her child's meaningless babbling: "My baby's nonverbal utterances/ The rustling of green leaves and the trilling of a pristine spring."

I cannot think up a single analogy to describe the inhumanity of denying the joy of motherhood to any woman without her consent.

Decades ago, a teenage girl was forced to undergo surgical sterilization because she was intellectually impaired. Now in her 60s, the woman in January became the first in Japan to sue the government, demanding an apology and damages.

Under the 1948 Eugenic Protection Law that remained in effect until 1996, more than 16,000 men and women are believed to have been surgically sterilized without their consent. The government's stated reason was to prevent the birth of "inferior progeny," while "incapable of raising children" was the reason for some of the victims.

The Asahi Shimbun recently ran a story about a woman in her 70s who was sterilized when she was 16. After being forced to take an intelligence test, she was operated on the following year without being told about the nature of the operation, according to the story.

She eventually married and divorced.

"I felt inferior for my inability to bear children," she was quoted as saying.

Nothing can restore a ruined life, but surely the government can at least try to give relief.

But the government has not even apologized yet, claiming that what was done at the time was within the law.

Every era has its own limitations. If the government refuses to see that past era from today's standard, that is tantamount to continuing to walk backward.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Feb. 23

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.