In the 1950s, a Japanese housewife and poet heard that a young woman had fallen ill and died from a disease that plagued the people of the fishing village Minamata. They were suffering convulsions and numbness and having difficulty speaking, often falling into a coma and dying. By 1959, researchers had concluded that the disease was caused by mercury from a local chemical plant that was poisoning the waters – and fish and shellfish – of Minamata Bay. However, it took nearly a decade before it was officially acknowledged that the company was to blame. Ishimure visited the local hospital and was sickened by what she found, later chronicling the horrors of the disease in Pure Land, Poisoned Sea, which brought it to the nation’s attention. Besides shedding light on the tragedy, Ishimure helped show humanity’s effects on the environment – a remarkable achievement given the subservient role women then played in the country’s society.