Portraits of Japan's outcast people"

The Buraku-Min (tribal people) compose one of the main minority groups
in Japan, along with the Ainu of Hokkaido and the Ryukyuans of Okinawa. Despite being thoroughly Japanese, racially and ethnically, the Buraku-Min still face discrimination and struggle under the weight of their shared history in Japan.

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<History of untouchables>

The Buraku problem is a social problem that originated during the feudal
Edo period (1603-1867) when outcast groups such as the Eta (extreme filth), Hinin (non-human), Kawaramono (riverside dwellers), Tosha(butchers) and Kiyome (cleaners) were considered untouchables and discriminated against. Buraku-Min usually lived on riversides, and engaged in landscaping, public entertainment, disposing of dead cattle, manufacturing leather, cleaning shrines and temples. While some people looked down on them as lowly people, they were also thought to have extraordinary abilities and were held in awe by others.

Their status was not fixed but changing. The reasons why these people were looked down on were considerably related to the ideas of Japanfsindigenous belief system, Shinto; and to the ideas of Mahayana (great vehicle) Buddhism, which was influenced by Hinduism and had spread into Japan.

<New ordinary people>

This form of discrimination was legally abolished after the MeijiRestoration by the promulgation of the Emancipation Edict in 1871, along with the creation of other state policies. But legal prohibition did not translate into actual elimination. The Meiji Government sustained its discriminatory attitude against Buraku-Min, who were now called gnew ordinary peopleh or gspecial Buraku-Min.h

The people faced discrimination in marriage, hiring, employment, education and in their social lives. In reality, the discrimination against these groups was simply restructured and reinforced as Japan rapidly modernized. After World War II, the Buraku liberation movement made a fresh start.
As aresult of a strong demand for the government to abolish discrimination, the settlement of the Buraku issue was recognized as gthe governmentfs responsibility and a national task.h

In 1969, the gSpecial Measures Law for Anti - Discrimination Projecth was enacted, and by this law, gBuraku Areash are defined as gareas where improvement and stabilization of the living arrangements etc. are prevented based on historical and social reasons.h Projects were undertaken to improve those Buraku Areas designated by the government.


Residential conditions in the Buraku Areas have improved greatly through the special measures law, which ended in 2002, but the sense of discrimination against Buraku-Min still exists even after so many years. Negative images such as ggrim,h gpoor,h and gobsoleteh are still strong, and there are many examples of substantive discrimination to this day.

Now there are officially 4,442 Buraku areas spread across Japan, 298,835 households and more than 892,500 Buraku-Min people (survey of conditions
in Buraku Areas 1990fs/ Management and Coordination Agency).

Even now, many Buraku-Min still keep their identity a secret. They keep only NIHON-JIN (Japanese) identity for avoiding discrimination. Many people leave the Buraku Areas especially for marriage and employment. Parents and companies that want to examine the background of a would-be son-in-law or employee for any Buraku-Min gstainh ask private detectives to look for peoplefs gKoseki,h an official family registration form that details family and birthplace, which is registered with a ward office. Some Buraku-Min continually move from place to place, so no one knows their origins.

Even some parents donft tell their children that they were born as Buraku-Min. They keep their secret within the family, and they struggle against the constant fear that their secret will be made known.
Yet others make their Buraku-Min identity known, and they are vocal about their peoplefs history of discrimination. They could face further discrimination, but they fight for their own rights and they believe that freedom comes by bringing truth into light\not by hiding in the shadows.

Regardless of whether Buraku-Min make their identity known to the public, all Buraku-Min must struggle with their own history, dating back a few hundred years, to a time when their ancestors were considered untouchables.

Masaru Goto/2008

English text edited by Karen J. Coates

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