The silence on burakumin

For those who don’t know — and you would be forgiven considering the lack of coverage the issue receives — a buraku is the term used to describe an area where some, but not all, of the residents have ancestral ties to the people placed at the bottom of feudal society in the Edo Period. These people were assigned tasks considered “tainted” according to Buddhist and Shinto beliefs, such as butchery and leather work, where the killing of and use of animal corpses was involved. Today, official statistics put the number of burakumin at around 1.2 million, with unofficial estimates as high as 3 million.

Despite the numbers, the issue is something of a taboo in Japan: Mention the word “burakumin” in conversation and the response you often get is a polite silence. This approach seems to extend to the mainstream media, with television and newspapers barely covering the issues regarding this minority group.

On the Internet, where people are less likely to be held accountable for what they say, things are different. On one discussion forum, a human resources worker explains that his company will not employ someone “if there is doubt about whether he/she comes from a buraku.” Another contributor says that while the habit of not employing people from buraku areas may have ceased for big companies, “for smaller, older companies, it is normal.”

As well as postings supporting the view that discrimination exists, you are just as likely to come across the opinion that not only is discrimination a thing of the past, but that buraku communities have unfairly benefited from special treatment by the government. There is criticism of the funding of dowa projects, first set up to help buraku communities in the 1960s, as well as allegations of corruption and links to organized crime.

On popular sites like 2channel, the topic is often discussed in less measured, often abusive, terms. This was noted by a U.N. report into discrimination in 2006, which criticized the level of discriminatory abuse on Web sites, much of it targeting the burakumin.

Continue to read on The Japan Times.

(c) IAN PRIESTLEY

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One response to “The silence on burakumin

  1. Pingback: Don’t Call My Name « The Incredible Tide·

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