Buraku Liberation News, March 1998 issue (No.101)

1.The Current Condition of Minorities in Japan and Challenges - the Buraku Issue

Shigeyuki Kumisaka,
Director of the IMADR
Secretary General of the BLL

At a forum held after the 10th Session of the IMADR's Board of Director's Meeting, in October 1997 in Germany, Mr. Shigeyuki Kumisaka delivered a speech on the current condition of minorities in Japan and challenges that the BLL faces, mainly focusing on the Buraku issue.

We carry the transcript of his speech in this issue. This is the first part.

  1. The UN General Assembly in December 1994 adopted the resolution declaring the "UN Decade for Human Rights Education" from 1995 to 2004 with the aim of developing human rights culture throughout the world. In Japan, through the campaign initiated by the IMADR-JC(Japan Committee), the BLL, the Japan Teachers' Union and the National Dowa Educators' Organization, the Japanese government established the Promotion Headquarters for the "UN Decade for Human Rights Education" in December 1995.

    This is chaired by the Prime Minister and consists of cabinet members from almost all ministerial departments. It was followed by the announcement of the "National Plan of Action" on July 4, 1997.

    The National Plan of Action includes the promotion of human rights education in every sector of society, while specifically addressing the human rights of women, children, the elderly, people with disabilities, the Ainu people, foreigners in Japan, people infected with HIV and those who have been released from prison, and the Dowa issue. It also encourages working with programs initiated by the UN for the Decade.

    The IMADR-JC and the BLL will continue to concentrate our efforts for the promotion of the UN Decade for Human Rights Education in Japan, in cooperation with other concerned NGOs, individuals, and local governments. Among other things, we have been preparing for the "International Conference for Human Rights Education (provisional title)" to be held in Japan in 1998 in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

    Minorities in Japan face various kinds of human rights problems. I wish I could clarify all these problems for you. Due to time constraints, however, please allow me to focus on the issue of Buraku discrimination which we have been directly involved with for many years.

  2. In 1993, the Japanese government conducted a survey on the actual condition of Dowa areas, in response to the request of the BLL. According to the survey, there are 4,442 communities with 298,385 households and a population of 892,751 throughout the country where Dowa projects have been implemented. (If those who are of non-Buraku origin living in Buraku communities are included, the number of households and the population are 737,198 and 2,158,789 respectively.)

    The government's survey covered only communities which were covered by the Government's Dowa projects, and did not consider an other 1,000 Buraku communities which have not been covered by Dowa projects. In addition, there are many Buraku people who have left their communities and live in non-Buraku areas. Considering these factors, we estimate that the actual number of Buraku communities could reach 6,000, while there are many more households and a greater population than counted in the government's study.

  3. Buraku discrimination is a form of discrimination according to social status, and is essentially similar to the caste system in India. It traces its history back to the class system of the feudal Japan.

    Since 13th century, there were some groups mainly engaged in disposing of dead oxen and horses or in tanning leather, which were considered as unclean by the society. In the period between the 16th and the 17th centuries, the ruling class placed these groups at the bottom of the social hierarchy. Feudal lords assigned them some duties as petty police officers, while forcing them to contribute leather goods as tax.

    By the end of the feudal era, the class system had become somewhat relaxed in the daily lives of the people. To tighten the slackened class system, the ruling class reinforced control over the life styles of the population by designating specific clothing, hair-styles, house designs and eating habits etc for each class.

    Despite the difficulties brought on by such discrimination, the oppressed people played an important role in some industries and nurtured culture. They maintained untiring resistance against discrimination.

  4. In 1868, the Meiji Restoration took place in Japan, bringing down the feudal social structure and transforming the country into a modern society. As part of the restoration, the so-called "Emancipation Edict" was promulgated by the government in 1871, eliminating the social rank of people placed at the bottom of the feudal class system.

    The transformation of Japan into a modern society was achieved a century later than in European countries. However, the modernization of Japan was not accompanied by the total elimination of the feudal class system. A new class system with the Emperor on top was created. Consequently, Buraku people were informally placed at the bottom of the "new class system".

    After the Meiji Restoration, Buraku people were engaged not only in the leather and meat industries, but also in the construction industry as day laborers in urban areas. In addition, there were many people who were under-employed or unemployed in urban areas. On the other hand, the majority of Buraku people in rural areas were tenants who tilled small plots of land, while some were merely agricultural workers casually engaged in farm work.

    In 1922, in the midst of the rising clamor for the establishment of democracy and human rights inside and outside the country, the National Levelers Association(Suiheisha) was founded. It encouraged Buraku people to develop the movement to eliminate discrimination against them. The founding convention of the Levelers Association adopted the "Declaration of the Levelers Association," which concluded with the statement, "Let there be warmth in society, let there be light in humanity." To date, this has been acknowledged as Japan's Declaration of Human Rights.

    The National Levelers Association resolutely and bravely stood against Buraku discrimination by denouncing all forms of discrimination in schools, local communities, and inside the military.

    Meanwhile, the National Levelers Association actively sought international solidarity in order to combat discrimination. By liaison with the Hyongpyongsa, the Korean counterpart of the BLL fighting for the liberation of discriminated-against people, and adopting a resolution protesting against the persecution of the Jews by the Nazis.

    Whilst oppressing the movement against discrimination at home, Japan accelerated its aggressive expansionism against the neighboring countries in Asia, which led to the outbreak of the Pacific War. Under the war-time regime, labor unions and political parties were compelled to dissolve one after another. The National Levelers Association also faced suppression and a dissolution order was issued by the authorities. Despite strong resistance against state suppression, the National Levelers Association was finally forced to support the war.

  5. In August 1945, the war ended with the surrender of Japan. In February 1946, the Buraku liberation movement started anew as an organization called the National Committee for Buraku Liberation. People rallied to the National Committee to initiate a campaign calling for the inclusion of a provision stating the elimination of Buraku discrimination in the new constitution that was then being drafted. As a result, the Japanese Constitution, promulgated in November 1946, contained Article 14 which explicitly stated the elimination of discrimination.

    Mr. Jiichiro Matsumoto, the then president of the National Committee, who had been in the front line of the liberation movement since the time of the National Levelers Association, became a member of the Upper House, and Vice-chair of the House for some time. Not only as a leader of the Buraku liberation movement, but also as a legislator, he fought for genuine democracy. One time, he steadfastly refused to give a salutation to the Emperor as was required of Diet members at the opening of Diet sessions.

    In the early 1950s, the National Committee initiated a campaign urging local governments to take administrative measures to improve the poor condition of Buraku communities and people, which were obviously the result of many years' discrimination against them. It eventually developed into the campaign urging the national government to initiate state policies to solve the Buraku problem.

    Through these campaigns and actions, the liberation movement spread nationwide and involved many people. In 1955, the Committee changed its name to the Buraku Liberation League (BLL), as it is now.

    As a result of the extensive campaign for national policies, the government finally established the Cabinet Dowa Policy Council in 1960, which was mandated to make recommendations for policy-making.
    In 1965, the Council concluded its recommendations which affirmed that discrimination against Buraku people is a most serious and important social problem in Japan, and that it is the responsibility of the state as well as the nation to seek its early resolution.

    Based on its recommendations, the Law on Special Measures for Dowa Projects was enacted in 1969. Since then, a series of "law for special measures" have been issued under different titles and with some revision.

  6. In May 1963, a female high school student was kidnapped and murdered in Sayama City, Saitama Prefecture, near Tokyo. A month earlier, a small boy had been abducted and killed in a separate incident. Since the police had failed to catch anyone in connection with the first murder, people were blaming the police authorities for their failure.

    Consequently, the police wanted to restore its prestige and gave the priority to arresting the murderer in the second kidnap-murder, later known as the "Sayama Case."

    However, it was not easy for the police, who failed to catch the murderer when he appeared at the designated place to receive the ransom. Impelled by the repeated failure and the mysterious death of an important witness seemingly holding clues to the case, the police conducted an investigation based on prediction and prejudice.

    On the pretext that "A Burakumin (Buraku person) might have committed such a crime," the police arrested a twenty- four-year-old man named Kazuo Ishikawa, who was from a Buraku community, on a separate charge, for the purpose of forcing him to "confess" that he had killed the girl.
    Using the art of words, the police drew a false confession out of him. Mr. Ishikawa was sentenced to death at his first trial, and to life imprisonment at the second trial. The case was brought to the Supreme Court which dismissed the final appeal and confirmed his sentence of life imprisonment.

    From the beginning of the second trial, Mr. Ishikawa has consistently maintained his innocence. In December 1994, he was given a conditional release after being imprisoned for 31 years. A nationwide campaign has been built demanding a retrial of the Sayama Case.

    In line with our appeal for a fair trial, we have asked the authorities to investigate the facts, and disclose all evidence that the prosecution has retained. To date, the guilty verdict remains unchanged.

  7. In November 1975, the "Buraku List" scandal came to light. It involved the publications of lists identifying about 5,300 Buraku communities throughout the country. Each list listed by prefecture the names of Buraku communities, their locations, number of households and the main occupations of people living there. The lists were sold at prices ranging between 5,000 and 45,000 yen a copy.

    In the 22 years since the discovery of the "Buraku List", we have conducted our own investigations, and so far we have identified eight kinds of "Buraku List" being sold and more than 220 groups/individuals who have bought copies.

    The lists were prepared by private investigative or detective agencies, and purchased mainly by private companies for reference in recruiting employees in order to ensure that applicants were not of Buraku origin. In some cases, individuals bought the lists to find out the family background of their children's fiance and fiancee at the time of their engagement.

    While taking different approaches in solving this problem, we have achieved some results. In March 1985, the Osaka Prefectural Government enacted an ordinance prohibiting private investigative/detective agencies from locating and identifying Buraku communities and people.

    Since 1995, several prefectural governments, including Kumamoto, Kagawa, Fukuoka, and Tokushima, have also issued similar ordinances to prohibit private companies from inquiring into Buraku communities and people. Yet, at the national level, no law has been enacted to control such activities.

    One result of our approaching private companies which purchased copies of the "Buraku List," has been the setting up of industrial associations by private companies in Tokyo, Osaka and other cities for the purpose of addressing the Buraku issue and human rights issues.

    Each association has undertaken several programs, including the examination and modification of discriminatory corporate hiring procedures and human rights education and training for management and employees.

    In December 1977, our approaches to the Ministry of Labor resulted in the creation a new system called the Inner-Corporate System for Promotion of Dowa Education. The Ministry has encouraged any corporation with over 100 employees to appoint staff to promote education and training programs on the Dowa issue for their employees. (In April 1997, the system was given a new name, "The System for the Promotion of Human Rights Education for Fair Employment and Screening.")

    Through our efforts to put an end to discriminatory practices such as the "Buraku List," we have made certain advances towards the elimination of Buraku discrimination and achieved several arrangements and legal changes as mentioned earlier.

    However, it is still too early to say that the discriminatory practices which resulted in the lists have been eradicated. It has been recently discovered that information containing a part of "the Buraku List" was disseminated on the Internet. Some Internet users openly ordered copies of the lists.

    In March 1997, it was discovered that a private investigation agency in Osaka possessed a list locating Buraku areas for reference in personal investigations as requested by their clients. As it was a violation of the Osaka prefectural ordinance, the agency was inspected and given administrative guidance in improving its business ethics.

    (to be continued)