Nishiyodogawa in Osaka, air pollution court cases, Japan

Nishiyodogawa ward is an industrial area located in Osaka with businesses and adjacent housing, as well as highways. Air pollution victims filed lawsuits against industrial companies and the Hanshin Expressway Public Corporation.


 In the 1870s and 1880s, and Osaka developed into an industrial city. Osaka was also the place where citizen opposition quickly arose in response to the spread of pollution, and among them were the farmers and fisherfolk who lived on the city outskirts. They took  action in demanding that the factories be shut down or moved, and that compensation be paid.  Pollution and environmental damage became chronic, and from among professionals, students, lawyers, government administrators, businessmen, and other groups there were people who started pollution opposition movements, which in 1932 led to the enactment of Japan’s first statutory controls on particulates by Osaka Prefecture.   By mid-1930s, Nishiyodogawa ward had seven hundred factories. This made Nishiyodogawa ward the heart of Osaka’s industrial area. Osaka city was named the “City of Factories” but also as “Smoke Capital” of Japan due to its industrialization history. The  fast industrial development of Nishiyodogawa ward resumed after World War II. All types of chemical pollution existed in Nishiyodogawa ward, particularly sulfur oxides. Cars and trains had their lights turned on during the day due to poor visibility. People in these areas began to suffer from respiratory ailments such as bronchitis, emphysema, and asthmatic bronchitis. Protests (including law suits) against widespread pollution in the country led to the enactment of the Basic Law for Environmental Pollution Control in 1967, the Law on Special Measures Concerning Redress for Pollution-related Health Damage in 1969, the Absolute (Strict) Liability Law in 1972 and the Pollution-related Health Damage Compensation Law in 1973. The 1969 law designated parts of several cities including Yokkaichi, Osaka (including Nishiyodogawa ward) and Kawasaki cities as polluted areas. Under this law, people who were certified as suffering from pollution-induced health problems were qualified to receive medical care benefits. Under the 1972 Absolute Liability Law, lack of intent to pollute does not exempt companies from escaping their responsibility for the pollution caused.  Nishiyodogawa residents had started strongly to complain in the 1970s about the health problems suffered, supported by the work of  Kimio Moriwaki.  As he himself explained years later: " I stood on about 100 street corners in the ward speaking with a megaphone, and walked around delivering leaflets to homes. About 400 people attended the meeting in a school auditorium at which the Nishiyodogawa Association for Pollution Patients and Their Families was formed. Many of them were not pollution victims themselves, but rather people who were angry about pollution and wanted it stopped. But as we held study meetings in our area on the landmark decision in the Yokkaichi Pollution Lawsuit, people became increasingly aware that the corporations are responsible for compensating their suffering, and this realization helped make progress in organizing the victims." The Nishiyodogawa Medical Association established the Medical Care Center for Pollution-Caused Illnesses in a hospital (Semboku Byoin). Again, in Kimio Moriwaki's words: "In March 1973, 200 Nishiyodogawa pollution victims did a round-the-clock sit-in at the Osaka City mayor’s office, where many of them collapsed and were taken away in ambulances. This action won a system that certified pollution patients through a program called the “System for Compensating Program Patients,” under which only Nishiyodogawa patients were eligible. It used donations from companies in the ward to partially pay pollution victims’ medical and livelihood expenses.”

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Basic Data
NameNishiyodogawa in Osaka, air pollution court cases, Japan
ProvinceOsaka prefecture
SiteNishiyodogawa, Osaka
Accuracy of LocationHIGH local level
Source of Conflict
Type of Conflict (1st level)Infrastructure and Built Environment
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Pollution related to transport (spills, dust, emissions)
Other industries
Specific CommoditiesPollution caused by industry and transport
Chemical products
Project Details and Actors
Project Details"Nishiyodogawa Ward is an industrial town located in Osaka City.

It has businesses and housing adjacent to each other, as well as several highways operated by the State or the Hanshin Expressway Public Corporation (HEP). Osaka City became one of the first designated under the Pollution-Related Health Damage Compensation Law, and it has the largest number of certified patients in Japan. In April 1978, air pollution victims filed lawsuits against ten private companies (Godo Steel Ltd., Furukawa Co., Nakayama Steel Product Co., Kansai Electric Power Co., Asahi Glass Co., Kansai Coke and Chemical Co., Sumitomo Metal

Industries Ltd., Kobe Steel Ltd., Osaka Gas Co., and Nippon Glass Co.), the State, and the HEPC in the Osaka District Court (...)

Plaintiffs sought an injunction to stop the emission of air pollutants (NO2, SO2, and SPM) that exceeded air quality standards and damages totaling 3.8 billion yen. In 1984, a second group of victims filed lawsuits against the above

companies, the State, and the HEPC; a third group of victims filed lawsuits in 1985; and a fourth group of victims filed lawsu

its in 1992. The total number of certified patient plaintiffs in the second to fourth lawsuits was 432, and the sum of

their compensation claim was 8.6 billion yen". (Eri Osaka, 2009).

In March 1991, the Osaka Nishiyodogawa Pollution Lawsuit went in favor of plaintiffs. A second lawsuit in July 1995 recognized causality between health damage and air pollution due to NOx from motor vehicle exhaust, and awarded victory to the plaintiffs, saying that liability lay with the national government and the Hanshin Expressway Public Corporation, which built and manage the main roads passing through Nishiyodogawa Ward. The settlement included other companies, and it was for 4 billion Yen.

The initial law suit had 726 plaintiffs, while under the Pollution Related Health Damage Compensation Law, bout 7,000 pollution patients were certified in Nishiyodogawa Ward (Yoriko Yariyama, Aozora Foundation). In Japan as a whole certified patients in air pollution cases reach tens of thousands. (Eri Osaka, 2009).
Level of Investment (in USD)40,000,000
Type of PopulationUrban
Potential Affected Populationat least 7000
Start Date1970
Company Names or State EnterprisesHanshin Expressway Public Corporation from Japan
Relevant government actorsOsaka prefecture

Japans' national government (pollution laws between 1967 and 1973)

District Court, Osaka
Environmental justice organisations and other supporters-Nishiyodogawa Association for Pollution Patients and Their Families

- Nishiyodogawa Medical Association, Medical Care Center for Pollution-Caused Illnesses in hospital Semboku Byoin

-Japan Air Pollution Victims Association / National Liaison Council for Pollution Victims Organizations

-Aozora Foundation. Aozora means a blue sky. The Nishiyodogawa pollution victims established in 1996 the Center for the Redevelopment of Pollution-damaged Areas in Japan (Aozora Foundation), an unptrecedented experiment in Japan, using part of the settlement package given by the companies under the 1995 court settlement agreement.
The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)MEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
When did the mobilization beginMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Groups MobilizingLocal ejos
Local scientists/professionals
Fisher people
Forms of MobilizationCommunity-based participative research (popular epidemiology studies, etc..)
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Occupation of buildings/public spaces
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Air pollution
Potential: Soil contamination, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality
Health ImpactsVisible: Other environmental related diseases
Potential: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…)
OtherRespiratory diseases. "The democratic medical care facility movement in which I was involved was linked to the movement to protect the livelihoods and health of local citizens." (Kimio Moriwaki).
Socio-economic ImpactsVisible: Loss of landscape/sense of place, Other socio-economic impacts
Potential: Specific impacts on women, Violations of human rights
Project StatusStopped
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseCompensation
Court decision (victory for environmental justice)
Strengthening of participation
Withdrawal of company/investment
Development of AlternativesPollution victims in Osaka’s Nishiyodogawa Ward ... have drawn illustration-style maps that show their proposed redevelopment plans for the kind of places they would like to live. Their ideas include streamside footpaths, neighborhood vegetable plots, boats ferrying rivers, lively shopping districts, and others that take advantage of regional characteristics. People who have lived in these neighborhoods many years while suffering from illnesses add to these ideas their feelings of attachment to the neighborhoods, and the hope that the children of the next generation will be healthy.

The initiative of the Nishiyodogawa Association for Pollution Patients and Their Families is a pioneering effort among these community development activities. The Association created the “Nishiyodogawa Redevelopment Plan,” which seeks cooperation in community development from the companies that were defendants in the Nishiyodogawa Pollution Lawsuit, and on six occasions since 1991 area residents, the companies, and the local government have tendered proposals for a relationship under which all can cooperate.

In March 1995 plaintiffs reached an agreement with the companies in the Nishiyodogawa Pollution Lawsuit, and in September 1996 part of the monetary settlement was used to establish a foundation called the Center for the Redevelopment of Pollution-damaged Areas in Japan (Aozora Foundation), whose job is to actualize redevelopment plans.
Do you consider this as a success?Not Sure
Why? Explain briefly.Justice had to wait too long, and compensation payments were small. Japan’s largest air pollution lawsuits ended after many years in 1998 when plaintiffs settled court cases with companies, the state and Hanshin Express Public Corp. As reported in The Japan Times (July 1998) the settlement calls for specific measures to improve air quality, effectively showing the state’s partial responsibility for the pollution, observers said. The agreement ended a 20-year legal battle in which the plaintiffs sought damages for health problems caused by the exhaust fumes from vehicles and smokestacks in Nishi-Yodogawa Ward. The plaintiffs — sworn victims of illnesses caused by factory and auto emissions or victims’ surviving relatives — filed the four cases over a span of 14 years, demanding compensation for respiratory ailments. Companies also sued in the litigation reached a compromise in March 1995 to pay about 4 billion yen in damages.

Specific antipollution measures outlined in the settlement include easing traffic on the expressway in Nishi-Yodogawa Ward by reducing the number of lanes, removing nitrogen oxides from auto emissions and implementing highway air pollution tests.

Known collectively as the Nishi-Yodogawa case, the suits were filed by four different groups of plaintiffs between 1978 and 1992.

Among the plaintiffs in the four lawsuits, more than 200 people have already died, and many relatives appeared at the courthouse carrying photographs of the deceased.
Sources and Materials

- Basic Law for Environmental Pollution Control in 1967

- Law on Special Measures Concerning Redress for Pollution-related Health Damage in 1969

- Absolute Liability Law in 1972

- Pollution-related Health Damage Compensation Law in 1973.


REEVALUATING THE ROLE OF THE TORT LIABILITY SYSTEM IN JAPAN, Eri Osaka, Arizona Journal of International & Comparative Law, Vol. 26, No. 2, 2009 (covers Minamata cases and several air pollution cases including Osaka).
[click to view]

The History of Japan’s Air Pollution, Azaora Foundation
[click to view]


Kimio Moriwaki, “The Experience of Organizing Pollution Victims in Nishiyodogawa,” The Aozora Foundation (important source).
[click to view]

Polluted skies to clear over Nishi-Yodogawa. JUL 29, 1998, The Japan Times
[click to view]

Media Links

Asia Pacific Human Rights Information Centre, FOCUS December 2015 Volume 82. Nishiyodogawa: Community Struggle on Right to Health
[click to view]

"About 7,000 pollution patients were certified under the law in Nishiyodogawa Ward,” see Yoriko Yariyama, "The Pollution Experience Can Be the Engine of Community Renewal-The Aozora Foundation’s Environmental Education Initiative"
[click to view]

Other Documents

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Last update08/12/2016
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