Hannah Riddell was an English women who devoted her life to leprosy victims in Japan. Leprosy is a serious chronic disease which destroys the flesh and nerves. From 1907 to 1996 in Japan, leprosy victims had serious discrimination problems. For example, they were treated cruelly by people, government, and even by hospitals.
However, in 1895, Hannah Riddell made a hospital called “Kaisyun hospital” in Japan, and she made a great contribution to the Japanese policy of leprosy, but if she were not inflexible person, deepen people’s understanding of leprosy was not easy. In this paper, I will focus on the reasons why she came to Japan, her achievements, and the two sides of her character.
Hannah was born in 1855 in London, and her family were Christian. She and her mother managed a women's school, and even though she was only 20 years old at that time, she could teach all the subjects. Her parents were quite old and she had a brother’s little nephew and niece to bring up, because he died of pneumonia. Hannah had to work to live, and she had no choice except being a teacher.
When she came to Japan as a missionary, she met a little boy suffering from leprosy at Honmyou temple in Kumamoto, and that made her decide to take care of leprosy victims for her whole life.
In 1895, finally she was able to build her ideal hospital, “Kaisyun hospital”, but it was not so easy. She had to negotiate with many top class people, and solicit funds. She had a bad relationship with middle echelons, and because of her character, she made many enemies on the church organization committee, so she had to manage without their help. However, that made it easier to collect funds. In 1905, she held a nationwide conference and her proposal for a nonprofit hospital was accepted.
Also, she cared about the location and hospital name too. The location was peaceful, and had beautiful nature, and moreover it was easy to go to the city, but was not too close. The outside of house did not look like a hospital. The design was a mix of western and oriental style. Hannah did not want to get image of “revival” and “regenerate”, so she choose the name very carefully. In English, it means “Resurrection of Hope”, but in Japanese, her concept of “revival” and “regenerate” is well expressed in appropriate language.
Hannah believed that leprosy is a hereditary disease, and was convinced that men and women should live separately, even though in 1873, a doctor proved it is bacterial disease. Here is her opinion: “Leprosy victims should not live in the same house, and if it is possible, the house should be as far as possible, and the best way to avoid this disease is to ban a marriage in two generation. It might sound little bit hard, but still it is possible to learn the happiness and joy, and they will understand that they just do not have choice to get married.” She strongly believed the best way to avoid leprosy is to control passions and desires, but in fact, just keeping a clean and noble life was not helpful. Her knowledge was too scanty, even though she devoted her life to leprosy.
Some victims felt “Kaisyun hospital” is like a religious house because sometimes victims felt pleasure to become Christian. However, even though the hospital was like a religious house, it was overwhelming popular to enter, especially for serious cases.
To build up the medical treatment of leprosy took a long time, but following all of her efforts, in 1910, Japanese authorities recognized leprosy as a social problem. Nowadays Hannah’s opinion is accepted and respected from some Japanese top class people, and patients had their love and respect for her.
Boyd, J. (1995.11.16). Hannah Riddell: an English woman in Japan, Charles E. Tuttle Company.