Photo/IllutrationKimio Moriwaki, left, with a book that documents a battle by residents against air pollution in Osaka’s Nishi-Yodogawa Ward and their efforts to rehabilitate their community (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

About half a century ago, Osaka’s Nishi-Yodogawa Ward was in perpetual gloom, even in broad daylight.

Situated downwind of a heavy industrial zone, the air in the neighborhood was thick with black or yellow smoke from chemical plants and steel mills.

“You couldn’t see Mount Rokkosan and Mount Ikomayama, even on sunny days. I had to drive with headlights on, even in the daytime,” recalled Kimio Moriwaki, 83, a retired taxi driver.

Residents would go to the factories to complain, only to be turned away and told to mind their own business.

Alarmed by the growing number of people developing throat and lung problems, Moriwaki and his like-minded neighbors sued the government and businesses concerned in 1978.

The Nishi-Yodogawa Pollution Lawsuit, as it came to be known, had 726 plaintiffs.

It took 20 years to settle. However, in a landmark ruling, the court acknowledged damage not only from smoke emissions, but also from car exhaust as well.

The case left an indelible mark on the history of environmental pollution in Japan.

The plaintiffs remained in touch after the case was over. Moriwaki and others set up the Aozora Foundation (blue sky foundation) with the settlement money.

It has engaged in such activities as creating open, treed spaces, teaching schoolchildren about the realities of environmental pollution and receiving study groups from abroad.

This month marks the 50th anniversary of the institution of the Air Pollution Control Law, which reinforced regulations against smoke emissions.

Photochemical smog still occurs from time to time, and ominous clouds appear over major highways.

To avert grave damage from air pollution, we obviously need to keep a close eye on the sky and continue to voice our concerns.

Starting Dec. 14, a three-day event called Kogai Shiryokan Renkei Forum will be held in Tokyo.

Pollution victims and operators of pollution-related archives from Minamata, Niigata, Nishi-Yodogawa and elsewhere will hold discussions. The program also includes field trips to parts of Tokyo where air pollution used to be severe.

These efforts remind me anew of the firm commitment of people who have suffered from pollution to creating a pollution-free society.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 13

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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.