The Burakumin Discrimination
issue and its origin
TO: THE YOUNG MEN AND WOMEN IN CHRIST STRUGGLING AND LIVING TOGETHER WITH THE OPPRESSED PEOPLE
The problem of buraku discrimination (the mikaiho or un-liberated communities) in Japan is unique in all over the world. It was created within the social structures of Japan's particular history, economics & culture including its religion. This report is divided into four sections and is sent with the prayer that the Kingdom of God may come on earth as it is in heaven.
The Origins of the Buraku
The origins of the "discriminated communities" (hisabetsu buraku) began about 400 years ago based on the various political, economic and social regulations of Japan's feudal society. These people were concentrated in certain areas and were forced to live in these designated communities. Various explanations concerning the origins of the buraku have circulated and they include origins from: (1) other races, (2) other ethnic groups, (3) other tribal groups and (4) religious occupations involved with religious taboos. But these explanations are all put forward to perpetuate discrimination and have no basis in fact.
The ruling authorities, in order to more easily control the people, intentionally created a status system to divide and rule, fixing a class of the poor at the very bottom. They then regulated every phase of social life, determining the occupation place of living, marriage, inter-personal relations and clothing. As a policy, they established a class who were less than human: persons who were outside the human sphere; communities, which were a society outside society. At that time, the emperor became the economic and political authority.
The Solution to Discrimination
About 100 years ago (1871) at the beginning of our country's modernization under the reforms of the Meiji Restoration, Japan declared an Emancipation Proclamation. This was for appearance' sake at the time the country was being opened to foreign relations. The status system was abolished, the emperor became the head of the nation, a new status system of family registry was organized and the Burakumin, 3 million persons in 6,000 buraku communities were kept out of important sectors of modern industrialization including manufacturing. They were not provided with any regular employment (my own parents were among them) their children had no guarantee of an education; they were deprived of civil rights respect to freedom of marriage and so forth. There was no change from feudal times.
On March 3, 1922, the Burakumin, seeking liberation by their own power, organized a nationwide Levelers' Society. The word "leveler" implied equality and freedom & their symbol became the crown of thorns; the sign of our Lord is suffering. The desire for liberation spurred them on total commitment in a self-sacrificing struggle. But after Japan entered World War II the military pressure brought the movement to a halt.
On August 6, 1945, the atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. 2.7 kilometers from the epicenter of the bombing, there was a discriminated community with a population of 6,037 at that time. All houses were destroyed with a heavy toll of death and injuries. Persons from the mainstream society were able to relocate in other areas, but the Burakumin, deprived of the right of other places to live, were subject to secondary exposure to radioactivity. Knowing all along that there was danger, the Burakumin were forced to return to their former area many times sooner than society in general. As a result the number of atomic victims who emerged where twice the rate of mainstream society. Even though buraku discrimination has the power
of an atomic bomb, it persists with lasting effects and many problems remain without solutions.
In 1969, the government enacted the Integration Policy Counter-measures Act and began to tackle the solution to discrimination. But closely related to this effort as a form of backlash, was the appearance of "Directories of Buraku Place Names" both of the former names and the current names. Till now nine different types of these books have been published describing the number of households, occupations, etc. They are sold illegally and used as resource material by personnel departments of companies in order to exclude Burakumin from employment — thus depriving them of their right to a livelihood. Because this is the most vicious kind of discrimination, the buraku problem is the most basic expression of discrimination in Japan and remains contained within the confines of the buraku communities.
An incident at the Third "World Conference on Religion and Peace
At the Third World Conference on Religion and Peace, which convened at Princeton Theological Seminary in America from August 29, 1979, representatives from India and Canada raised the subject of the buraku problem in Japan. The General Secretary of the National Christian Council in Japan explained the actual conditions and it was included in one of the section reports. However, at that point, one of the Japanese delegates requested that it be deleted. Rev. Machida, chairperson of the All Japan Buddhist Council, stated three times over, "There is no buraku discrimination in Japan. It's only a case of a few people who are stirring up trouble using the buraku problems as an excuse. "He also emphasized that, for the sake of Japanese honor, he wanted to have the reference to buraku deleted. For a long time the chairperson had a deep concern for Japan's buraku problem. But because the other Japanese delegates did not object, Rev. Machida's request to
delete the reference to the buraku issue was inevitably accepted and the subject was resolutely deleted from the Conference Declaration because even the mention of the word “buraku” would draw attention to the country of Japan.
Moreover, Japanese representatives and the newspaper reporters at the Conference made no mention of Rev. Machida's maneuver after they returned to Japan. It was only when the issue became sensational. Since then a number of (denunciation) meetings were held between the representatives of the discriminated Buraku communities and Conference participants as well as representatives of related organizations. At those meetings, all the Conference participants agreed that the report in the above-mentioned religious paper is factual. Groups in Japan committed to the liberation movement and voices from the religious world, academic scholars, labor unions and citizens' groups directed strong protests against Rev. Machida.
Rev. Machida belongs to a particular Zen Buddhist sect which before the Emancipation Proclamation gave discriminating post-mortem names to the Burakumin such as beast, skin, lower of the lowest, filth, etc. Isn't this deceitful attitude of Rev. Machida also found among other religious sects and leaders? They avoid touching on the Buraku issue. Question should be asked as to how far those Japanese attending Asian and international conferences are conscious of the human rights issues and are prepared to live together with the oppressed people. They only talk about beautiful principles while doing nothing or not being involved in their own country.
Japan's culture is said to be a shame culture, and we take seriously the way we appear to outsiders. The Emancipation Proclamation mentioned earlier and the adoption this year of the International Covenant on Human Rights, were due to external considerations and not because Japan stands on its own respect for human rights.
How the Christian Community in Japan is coming to grip with Buraku Liberation
At the time when the Ban Against Christianity was revoked in 1870, Christians were also a discriminated minority. There emerged those who were concerned for buraku evangelism, there was a small number of Japanese who proceeded along the road to imperialism, and militarism, centering in the emperor system, the church followed the same course. The Christian community cut off its relations with the buraku and propagated its faith more among the middle class.
About 20 years ago, the Association of Christians for Buraku Liberation was founded. About 100 members have joined as individuals. In 1975, the United Church of Christ in Japan organized a Committee on the buraku issue. Among the 15 districts, there are 10, which have organized special committees. A small number of local congregations have taken up the cause endeavoring to truly eliminate discrimination by sharing together the groans of their neighbors until we achieve full liberation. In order to provide a permanent structure to deal with the issue of buraku liberation, the Special Committee of the United Church proposed to organize a Buraku Liberation Center and the 21st General Assembly of the United Church, held in January 1981 finally passed the resolution to set up the Centre.
Through buraku liberation we want to achieve solidarity with the worldwide struggle for human rights, and we make this report with the prayer that we may become witnesses for our Lord Jesus Christ together with the young men and women in the World Student Christian Federation, which is seeking the freedom and equality, the peace and abolition of war which is the hope of all humanity.
Taken from Praxis No. 1, 1981.