Soma Jiken (Soma Incident) (相馬事件)

Some Jiken is one of the family troubles occurred in the Meiji period in Japan. The incident had a tremendous impact on the society, by raising controversy over treatment to mental patients and sensational reporting by newspapers that had emerged at the time.

Sequence of events
Tomotane SOMA, the former lord of the Soma-Nakaura Domain, was suffering mental disorder, reputedly schizophrenic, and the condition got worse.

In 1879, the Soma family reported to the Imperial Household Ministry to take Tomotane under custody, and did so for awhile, but eventually Tomotane was hospitalized to the Tenkyoin, a mental clinic of the time.

This was revealed to the public in 1883 when Takekiyo NISHIGORI, a former member of the Soma Domain, started to doubt the condition of his former master and accused the persons concerned, including Naomichi SHIGA, the steward to the family (grandfather of Naoya SHIGA, a famous novelist), of inappropriate custody.

The general public sympathized with NISHIGORI, and took him a loyal person.

At that time, diagnosis of mental illness was still immature, and even prominent university professors could reach inconsistent results. Against the accusation of NISHIGORI, some doctors announced the custody was proper, only causing more troubles.

In 1887, NISHIGORI sneaked into the mental clinic of the Tokyo-fu (Tokyo Prefecture) where Tomotane was hospitalized. NISHIGORI succeeded in getting Tomotane back, but was arrested in a week. NISHIGORI was accused of unlawful entry and was punished by imprisonment, and the public criticized his actions as paranoia.

In 1892, Tomotane SOMA died of disease. NISHIGORI asserted that Tomotane was poisoned and filed a suit against the concerned persons of the SOMA family, and tried to exhume the corpse to prove that was a murder by poisoning. But he failed to prove the death was caused by poisoning.

In 1895, in reverse, the SOMA family sued NISHIGORI for false accusation, and NISHIGORI was proved guilty. The incident settled down.

Impact on the legislative system
On the back of the incident, general concerns on how to treat people with mental illness, particularly on custody and protection, increased only to establish the Mental Patient Custody Act in 1900. The law was made not for the purpose of human rights protection or for treatment of mental patients, rather for isolating the patients, by settling a rule to place them either in hospitals specialized for mental patients, or at private residents (guest houses of shrines or temples, and private or public accommodations for mental patients are categorized as 'private resident' in some cases).