The Burakumin Japanese Outcasts

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The Burakumin Japanese Outcasts

The Burakumin: Japanese Outcasts

Racism and discrimination is a common, but not accepted, practice in most societies. The thing that makes the discrimination of the Japanese Burakumin so different is the fact that they are racially the same as all other Japanese. Discrimination of Burakumin has been going on for centuries.

In feudal Japan, there was a cast system that was formed. There was the emperor, the feudal lords, samurais, farmers, artisans, merchants and a group called hinin. Hinin usually had dirty jobs like cleaning toilets or leather craft. Beneath this group were the Burakumin. A portion of historians believe that early Burakumin were most likely native Japanese tribesmen that were defeated during warfare and forces into slavery. The modern Burakumin are descendents of gravediggers, executioners, and animal slaughterers and of people who had other “dirty” jobs. They are excluded from normal social activity because of Buddhist law, which states people who killed and ate meat were impure. Today, the Burakumin make up about 2.5% of Japan’s population.

Officially, law has done with the Burakumin class away. However, people are still discriminated against for being a descendent of this original class.

To this day, the segregation continues. This segregation led to the construction of numerous communities to house Burakumin. Most maps of Japan do not show these communities. The people who lived in these settlements were referred to as Hinin (non-people) or Burakumin. They were not allowed to converse with the rest of Japanese citizens. In fact, as recent as fifty years ago, Burakumin had to wear a leather patch so people would know they were Burakumin.

The Burakumin were not allowed to marry a regular Japanese citizen. It was strictly forbidden. The following is an example of what would happen to someone who married a Burakumin woman—“My parents said I could not have any relationship with them. I have two sons ages nine and eleven. My father met the first one once when he was a baby, and the second time a few months ago by accident at the hospital when we were visiting my grandmother” (Daily). The families only lived miles apart for ten years but never talked. Even after his wife died of cancer, his father still would not talk to him. The embarrassment of having Burakumin grandchildren was too much to handle. If one were to come into contact with a Burakumin, they would have to see a Buddhist priest to be cleansed of their impurity. Burakumin had no given surnames; instead they were given a number. Burakumin were not allowed to eat, drink, or smoke near a non-Burakumin. They also suffer from medical ailments more than the average Japanese citizen. This is due to bad medical care. Many Burakumins have low-paying jobs with no insurance. They suffer from tuberculosis and trachoma at a higher than average rate.

Japanese citizens would not even touch something that a Burakumin had touched. For instance, if someone known to be Burakumin tried to buy food the storekeeper would most likely wear gloves rather than touch the money given to him by a Burakumin. Another example of this discrimination is when a fire would start in a Burakumin ghetto; neighbors would discuss how the fire had a tremendous stench. Most likely, the Burakumin house fires would be the last to be put out. In present day Japan, Burakumin work with non-Burakumin and most workers do not know the Burakumin, but management does know. They have private investigators to track addresses of potential employees. If they are found to have Burakumin residences, they will either not be hired or start off 5%-10% less than non-Burakumin employees. Burakumin are seen as uneducated and dirty even though they are racially identical to non-Burakumin. “Only 10.6% of Burakumin were reported to be employed in enterprises of over 300 employees, well below the national average of 23.3%” (Somucho 20).

Most of Japan’s large companies have Burakumin files-a list that shows all of the Burakumin slums in their area. When companies renew applications for employment, they hire private investigators to look for Burakumin addresses. In turn, the Burakumin applicants are not called in for interviews. Most companies simply throw the application in the trash.

Kiryu is home to the largest Burakumin ghettos; it has about ninety of them. There, numerous Burakumin live outside of the slums and meticulous methods are used to disguise their Burakumin backgrounds. Since Japanese firms keep records of Burakumin residences, the Burakumin will move frequently so they get lost in the system. They hope that their background will be hidden.

For over one hundred years, sporadic uprisings have occurred. The first of these started in the early 1870’s. It was very unorganized and only involved a few local people. In 1903 another movement took place. Instead of uprising, they organized a group, somewhat of a lobbyist group. This was for the most part unsuccessful. There have always been some politicians that support the Burakumin. Some of them come from Burakumin backgrounds and were able to break the cycle of poverty and illiteracy. By 1920, political movements for the Burakumin had developed into a few ideological groups, partly because of the spread of Marxism. Some of the groups were communist, anarchists and revisionists.

The progression of Japanese military power in the 1940’s pushed these groups into obscurity fearing repercussions from the government. In 1947 numerous Burakumin were elected to the House of Representatives.

After the war, the United States helped the Burakumin with land reforms. They helped out into place a program that allowed the Burakumin to purchase land they had farmed for years. Although Americans helped them for the most part, the Burakumin are anti-American. The Burakumin Liberation League constantly lobbies the government in hopes of upgrading their Burakumin status. They also hope the government will do something about the Burakumin ghettos. But for the most part, Buddhist monks and other religious leaders are the only ones that are dedicated to help their plight.

The Japanese government had invented its own version of racism. Instead of based on racial differences, it is based on impurity. Japan’s version of racism is deeply rooted in tradition and the fear of being polluted or contaminated. One of the worst fears for a parent is for his or her son or daughter to marry a Burakumin. Racism is also prevalent against the indigenous people of Japan, the Ainu.

Many Japanese like to believe that Burakumin do not exist. They deny knowing anything about them or say that discrimination had ended about fifty years ago. Discussing Burakumin is unacceptable. Dictionaries do not even have the definition for Burakumin and the media never talks about them, even when the Burakumin Liberation League (BLL) is holding a rally. The BLL is a major group that tries to influence the government for reforms. Think of it as a lobbyist group. But the government has tried to covertly pass anti-Burakumin rights laws. These anti-Burakumin laws are unconstitutional. S. Uesigi who is an independent researcher states, “Minister Murayama, following the advice of his ministry of justice, arguing that it’s ratification would conflict with the constitutionally guaranteed freedoms of speech and publication” (Uesugi 6). The Asia Pacific Human Rights League is a new organization for the liberation of the Burakumin. “It aspires to provide information to the Asian public about racism. It aims to be the precursor of some kind of formal human rights organization that will operate within the Asian Pacific to promote human rights” (Hurights 9). For the most part the position of the Burakumin has gotten much better over the years. The rise of political organizations such as the Burakumin Liberation League has helped the Burakumin to break the cycle of poverty, But there is still along way to go.

Racism and discrimination is a common, but not accepted, practice in most societies. The thing that makes the discrimination of the Japanese Burakumin so different is the fact that they are racially the same as all other Japanese. Discrimination of Burakumin has been going on for centuries.

In feudal Japan, there was a cast system that was formed. There was the emperor, the feudal lords, samurais, farmers, artisans, merchants and a group called hinin. Hinin usually had dirty jobs like cleaning toilets or leather craft. Beneath this group were the Burakumin. A portion of historians believe that early Burakumin were most likely native Japanese tribesmen that were defeated during warfare and forces into slavery. The modern Burakumin are descendents of gravediggers, executioners, and animal slaughterers and of people who had other “dirty” jobs. They are excluded from normal social activity because of Buddhist law, which states people who killed and ate meat were impure. Today, the Burakumin make up about 2.5% of Japan’s population.

Officially, law has done with the Burakumin class away. However, people are still discriminated against for being a descendent of this original class.

To this day, the segregation continues. This segregation led to the construction of numerous communities to house Burakumin. Most maps of Japan do not show these communities. The people who lived in these settlements were referred to as Hinin (non-people) or Burakumin. They were not allowed to converse with the rest of Japanese citizens. In fact, as recent as fifty years ago, Burakumin had to wear a leather patch so people would know they were Burakumin.

The Burakumin were not allowed to marry a regular Japanese citizen. It was strictly forbidden. The following is an example of what would happen to someone who married a Burakumin woman—“My parents said I could not have any relationship with them. I have two sons ages nine and eleven. My father met the first one once when he was a baby, and the second time a few months ago by accident at the hospital when we were visiting my grandmother” (Daily). The families only lived miles apart for ten years but never talked. Even after his wife died of cancer, his father still would not talk to him. The embarrassment of having Burakumin grandchildren was too much to handle. If one were to come into contact with a Burakumin, they would have to see a Buddhist priest to be cleansed of their impurity. Burakumin had no given surnames; instead they were given a number. Burakumin were not allowed to eat, drink, or smoke near a non-Burakumin. They also suffer from medical ailments more than the average Japanese citizen. This is due to bad medical care. Many Burakumins have low-paying jobs with no insurance. They suffer from tuberculosis and trachoma at a higher than average rate.

Japanese citizens would not even touch something that a Burakumin had touched. For instance, if someone known to be Burakumin tried to buy food the storekeeper would most likely wear gloves rather than touch the money given to him by a Burakumin. Another example of this discrimination is when a fire would start in a Burakumin ghetto; neighbors would discuss how the fire had a tremendous stench. Most likely, the Burakumin house fires would be the last to be put out. In present day Japan, Burakumin work with non-Burakumin and most workers do not know the Burakumin, but management does know. They have private investigators to track addresses of potential employees. If they are found to have Burakumin residences, they will either not be hired or start off 5%-10% less than non-Burakumin employees. Burakumin are seen as uneducated and dirty even though they are racially identical to non-Burakumin. “Only 10.6% of Burakumin were reported to be employed in enterprises of over 300 employees, well below the national average of 23.3%” (Somucho 20).

Most of Japan’s large companies have Burakumin files-a list that shows all of the Burakumin slums in their area. When companies renew applications for employment, they hire private investigators to look for Burakumin addresses. In turn, the Burakumin applicants are not called in for interviews. Most companies simply throw the application in the trash.

Kiryu is home to the largest Burakumin ghettos; it has about ninety of them. There, numerous Burakumin live outside of the slums and meticulous methods are used to disguise their Burakumin backgrounds. Since Japanese firms keep records of Burakumin residences, the Burakumin will move frequently so they get lost in the system. They hope that their background will be hidden.

For over one hundred years, sporadic uprisings have occurred. The first of these started in the early 1870’s. It was very unorganized and only involved a few local people. In 1903 another movement took place. Instead of uprising, they organized a group, somewhat of a lobbyist group. This was for the most part unsuccessful. There have always been some politicians that support the Burakumin. Some of them come from Burakumin backgrounds and were able to break the cycle of poverty and illiteracy. By 1920, political movements for the Burakumin had developed into a few ideological groups, partly because of the spread of Marxism. Some of the groups were communist, anarchists and revisionists.

The progression of Japanese military power in the 1940’s pushed these groups into obscurity fearing repercussions from the government. In 1947 numerous Burakumin were elected to the House of Representatives.

After the war, the United States helped the Burakumin with land reforms. They helped out into place a program that allowed the Burakumin to purchase land they had farmed for years. Although Americans helped them for the most part, the Burakumin are anti-American. The Burakumin Liberation League constantly lobbies the government in hopes of upgrading their Burakumin status. They also hope the government will do something about the Burakumin ghettos. But for the most part, Buddhist monks and other religious leaders are the only ones that are dedicated to help their plight.

The Japanese government had invented its own version of racism. Instead of based on racial differences, it is based on impurity. Japan’s version of racism is deeply rooted in tradition and the fear of being polluted or contaminated. One of the worst fears for a parent is for his or her son or daughter to marry a Burakumin. Racism is also prevalent against the indigenous people of Japan, the Ainu.

Many Japanese like to believe that Burakumin do not exist. They deny knowing anything about them or say that discrimination had ended about fifty years ago. Discussing Burakumin is unacceptable. Dictionaries do not even have the definition for Burakumin and the media never talks about them, even when the Burakumin Liberation League (BLL) is holding a rally. The BLL is a major group that tries to influence the government for reforms. Think of it as a lobbyist group. But the government has tried to covertly pass anti-Burakumin rights laws. These anti-Burakumin laws are unconstitutional. S. Uesigi who is an independent researcher states, “Minister Murayama, following the advice of his ministry of justice, arguing that it’s ratification would conflict with the constitutionally guaranteed freedoms of speech and publication” (Uesugi 6). The Asia Pacific Human Rights League is a new organization for the liberation of the Burakumin. “It aspires to provide information to the Asian public about racism. It aims to be the precursor of some kind of formal human rights organization that will operate within the Asian Pacific to promote human rights” (Hurights 9). For the most part the position of the Burakumin has gotten much better over the years. The rise of political organizations such as the Burakumin Liberation League has helped the Burakumin to break the cycle of poverty, But there is still along way to go.

Racism and discrimination is a common, but not accepted, practice in most societies. The thing that makes the discrimination of the Japanese Burakumin so different is the fact that they are racially the same as all other Japanese. Discrimination of Burakumin has been going on for centuries.

In feudal Japan, there was a cast system that was formed. There was the emperor, the feudal lords, samurais, farmers, artisans, merchants and a group called hinin. Hinin usually had dirty jobs like cleaning toilets or leather craft. Beneath this group were the Burakumin. A portion of historians believe that early Burakumin were most likely native Japanese tribesmen that were defeated during warfare and forces into slavery. The modern Burakumin are descendents of gravediggers, executioners, and animal slaughterers and of people who had other “dirty” jobs. They are excluded from normal social activity because of Buddhist law, which states people who killed and ate meat were impure. Today, the Burakumin make up about 2.5% of Japan’s population.

Officially, law has done with the Burakumin class away. However, people are still discriminated against for being a descendent of this original class.

To this day, the segregation continues. This segregation led to the construction of numerous communities to house Burakumin. Most maps of Japan do not show these communities. The people who lived in these settlements were referred to as Hinin (non-people) or Burakumin. They were not allowed to converse with the rest of Japanese citizens. In fact, as recent as fifty years ago, Burakumin had to wear a leather patch so people would know they were Burakumin.

The Burakumin were not allowed to marry a regular Japanese citizen. It was strictly forbidden. The following is an example of what would happen to someone who married a Burakumin woman—“My parents said I could not have any relationship with them. I have two sons ages nine and eleven. My father met the first one once when he was a baby, and the second time a few months ago by accident at the hospital when we were visiting my grandmother” (Daily). The families only lived miles apart for ten years but never talked. Even after his wife died of cancer, his father still would not talk to him. The embarrassment of having Burakumin grandchildren was too much to handle. If one were to come into contact with a Burakumin, they would have to see a Buddhist priest to be cleansed of their impurity. Burakumin had no given surnames; instead they were given a number. Burakumin were not allowed to eat, drink, or smoke near a non-Burakumin. They also suffer from medical ailments more than the average Japanese citizen. This is due to bad medical care. Many Burakumins have low-paying jobs with no insurance. They suffer from tuberculosis and trachoma at a higher than average rate.

Japanese citizens would not even touch something that a Burakumin had touched. For instance, if someone known to be Burakumin tried to buy food the storekeeper would most likely wear gloves rather than touch the money given to him by a Burakumin. Another example of this discrimination is when a fire would start in a Burakumin ghetto; neighbors would discuss how the fire had a tremendous stench. Most likely, the Burakumin house fires would be the last to be put out. In present day Japan, Burakumin work with non-Burakumin and most workers do not know the Burakumin, but management does know. They have private investigators to track addresses of potential employees. If they are found to have Burakumin residences, they will either not be hired or start off 5%-10% less than non-Burakumin employees. Burakumin are seen as uneducated and dirty even though they are racially identical to non-Burakumin. “Only 10.6% of Burakumin were reported to be employed in enterprises of over 300 employees, well below the national average of 23.3%” (Somucho 20).

Most of Japan’s large companies have Burakumin files-a list that shows all of the Burakumin slums in their area. When companies renew applications for employment, they hire private investigators to look for Burakumin addresses. In turn, the Burakumin applicants are not called in for interviews. Most companies simply throw the application in the trash.

Kiryu is home to the largest Burakumin ghettos; it has about ninety of them. There, numerous Burakumin live outside of the slums and meticulous methods are used to disguise their Burakumin backgrounds. Since Japanese firms keep records of Burakumin residences, the Burakumin will move frequently so they get lost in the system. They hope that their background will be hidden.

For over one hundred years, sporadic uprisings have occurred. The first of these started in the early 1870’s. It was very unorganized and only involved a few local people. In 1903 another movement took place. Instead of uprising, they organized a group, somewhat of a lobbyist group. This was for the most part unsuccessful. There have always been some politicians that support the Burakumin. Some of them come from Burakumin backgrounds and were able to break the cycle of poverty and illiteracy. By 1920, political movements for the Burakumin had developed into a few ideological groups, partly because of the spread of Marxism. Some of the groups were communist, anarchists and revisionists.

The progression of Japanese military power in the 1940’s pushed these groups into obscurity fearing repercussions from the government. In 1947 numerous Burakumin were elected to the House of Representatives.

After the war, the United States helped the Burakumin with land reforms. They helped out into place a program that allowed the Burakumin to purchase land they had farmed for years. Although Americans helped them for the most part, the Burakumin are anti-American. The Burakumin Liberation League constantly lobbies the government in hopes of upgrading their Burakumin status. They also hope the government will do something about the Burakumin ghettos. But for the most part, Buddhist monks and other religious leaders are the only ones that are dedicated to help their plight.

The Japanese government had invented its own version of racism. Instead of based on racial differences, it is based on impurity. Japan’s version of racism is deeply rooted in tradition and the fear of being polluted or contaminated. One of the worst fears for a parent is for his or her son or daughter to marry a Burakumin. Racism is also prevalent against the indigenous people of Japan, the Ainu.

Many Japanese like to believe that Burakumin do not exist. They deny knowing anything about them or say that discrimination had ended about fifty years ago. Discussing Burakumin is unacceptable. Dictionaries do not even have the definition for Burakumin and the media never talks about them, even when the Burakumin Liberation League (BLL) is holding a rally. The BLL is a major group that tries to influence the government for reforms. Think of it as a lobbyist group. But the government has tried to covertly pass anti-Burakumin rights laws. These anti-Burakumin laws are unconstitutional. S. Uesigi who is an independent researcher states, “Minister Murayama, following the advice of his ministry of justice, arguing that it’s ratification would conflict with the constitutionally guaranteed freedoms of speech and publication” (Uesugi 6). The Asia Pacific Human Rights League is a new organization for the liberation of the Burakumin. “It aspires to provide information to the Asian public about racism. It aims to be the precursor of some kind of formal human rights organization that will operate within the Asian Pacific to promote human rights” (Hurights 9). For the most part the position of the Burakumin has gotten much better over the years. The rise of political organizations such as the Burakumin Liberation League has helped the Burakumin to break the cycle of poverty, But there is still along way to go.

Bibliography:

Daily Telegraph. 24 May 1994.

Hurights Osaka. “What Will Hurights Osaka Do?”. Hurights Osaka Newsletter. Osaka.

(1995): 1.

Somucho. Outline of the Results of the 1993 Surveys to Assess Conditions in the Dowa

Areas. Tokyo. 1995.

Uesugi, S. “Thirty Years after the Deliberative Council Report and Buraku Liberation”. Human

Rights 85 (1995): 2-7.

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