Japanese Silence About Burakumin

Many Japanese people are sharing the world wide interest in an African American becoming president of the United States, but few ever pause to think about their own nation’s abuse of people who are from buraku backgrounds. A buraku is the term used to describe an area where many people have ancestral ties to the people who were placed at the bottom of feudal society in the Edo period where they carried out low level tasks considered “tainted” according to Buddhist and Shinto beliefs. Many were engaged in butchery and leather work where the killing and use of animal corpses was involved. The estimate of the number of such people in modern Japan ranges from 1.2 million up to three million.

Few Japanese people will even use the expression and its use is considered a conversation stopper. Most large corporations have finally gotten around to hiring people from a buraku area but few smaller sized companies will hire such people. It is commonly assumed people of this background are linked to organized crime. A recent incident in which a leader of the Buraku Liberation League was found to be connected to crime lords reinforced beliefs in their criminality. As a result of this story, Osaka Governor Toru Hashimoto cut all government assistance to buraku areas.

There is not government legislation to deal with discrimination based on one’s origin in Japanese society nor does Japan have a vibrant multicultural education which would raise such topics with students in school. It is believed silence and not seeing are the best solutions to dealing with hate and discrimination.