3rd Quarterly, 2007 No.145

How We Perceive the Present-Day's Buraku Discrimination

Director, BLHRRI

On February 13 and 14, 2008, the convention regarding researches on human rights issues was held by the BLHRRI. One of the workshops in the convention was entitled "How we perceive present-day Buraku discrimination." To begin with the workshop, Kenzo Tomonaga as the coordinator raised the basic concerns on the theme. Here are the outlines of his presentation.

1. Present-Day Discrimination Based on Social Class

The following is a conventional belief regarding Buraku problem: that discrimination based on social class was practiced in pre-modern society; that it does not exist in modern times; and that if it does exist, it is no more than a legacy of the previous era and will therefore disappear with the passing of time.

Certainly, when we look at discrimination based on social class in the modern and present eras, it is significantly different to that of pre-modern times. For example, the assignment of specific duties to oppressed classes by the state or local communities has been basically abolished, and traditionally inherited jobs have drastically changed. Legal regulations on marriage, socialization and habitation were also abolished. Above all, the Constitution rejects discrimination and prescribes equality.

However, discriminatory attitudes have not been eliminated. Discrimination continues to manifest in various spheres of daily life, including marriage. Despite improvements made through various measures, the reality of discrimination can still be seen in social life, education and employment.

There are various explanations as to why Buraku discrimination has remained unresolved in modern and contemporary times. Here, I would like to discuss the main explanations:

1) Buraku people have been excluded from major production-related activities:

This theory proposes that it is because Buraku people have been excluded from major production-related activities. In other words, the civil rights, especially in terms of equal opportunity in employment, of Buraku people have been guaranteed in an incomplete manner. The theory attributes the social reasons for the existence of Buraku discrimination politically to "divide and rule" policies, and economically to the seeking of excess profit. (e.g., Zennosuke ASADA, "My Continuing Struggle against Discrimination" 1979)

2) Japanese society is multi-layered:

This theory proposes that the multi-layered nature of Japanese society does not allow Buraku discrimination to be resolved. To be specific, when Japan progressed from feudal to modern society, and then to contemporary society, previous systems and institutions were carried over without their completely rejection and elimination. This has supported the continued existence of Buraku discrimination. (e.g., Masanori NAKAMURA, "Economic Development and Democracy" 1983)

3) Principles of modernization produce discrimination:

This theory proposes that the principles of modernization themselves have newly generated Buraku discrimination. To be specific, the modernization of Japan after the Meiji Restoration was based on principles that supported academic elitism, together with concepts regarding hygiene and eugenics. These reinforced the tendency to exclude groups of people who were not perceived as having sufficient education and who lived in "unclean" conditions (including Buraku people). (e.g., Masaki HIROTA, "Discriminatory Eye" 1998)

4) Existence of the Emperor system:

This theory proposes that existence of the Emperor system requires a group to exist in the extreme opposite position, which is a role fulfilled by Buraku. To be specific, the Emperor system is based on the principle that the Emperor has a more "noble existence" than anybody else by nature. This principle necessarily required the existence of a group of people in a more "lowly existence" compared with all other people. Buraku people indeed fit this definition. (e.g., theory established by Sue SUMII and Jiichiro MATSUMOTO)

5) The gap between the rich and poor has widened under globalization:

This theory proposes that globalization has accelerated the widening of the gap between the rich and poor, reinforcing xenophobia against foreigners while creating new types of discrimination and consolidating "traditional" discrimination. To be specific, as a result of intensified competition based on the liberal market economy under globalization, the gap between the rich and poor has expanded and certain groups have maintained their social status and living conditions while marginalizing minority groups and intensifying xenophobia and discrimination against minority groups. (e.g., Kinhide MUSHAKOJI, "Kaiho Shimbun No. 1852" 1998)

6) Other theories:

Besides the above-mentioned theories, there is a theory that argues that the world will see the declining of conventional nation states as a consequence of the larger roles played by international agencies (such as the UN) and unions of states (such as the EU) at the international level and local governments and ethnic groups at the national level. (e.g., R. Stavenhagen, "Ethnic Problem and International Community" 1995)

There is another theory that argues that advocacy campaigns based on group identity on certain occasions such as elections could be attributable. (e.g., Kyugetsu KAKU, "Modern History of India" 1998)

Furthermore, another theory indicates the reinforcement of discrimination due to the emergence of a new form of racism. Under increasing interest in genetics, the new racism argues that some people have superior genes while others have inferior genes by nature. (e.g., Takao SAITOH, "Unequal Opportunities" 2000)

2. How we perceive present-day Buraku discrimination

1) To consider the perception of present-day Buraku discrimination, it is important to take at least the following four facts into consideration:

i. The termination of the Law on Special Measures at the end of March 2002.

ii. Widening social gaps in Japan.

iii. The strengthening of the tendency towards espousing state-power and opposing human rights.

iv. After May 2006, a series of scandals surrounding the Buraku liberation movement and human rights / Dowa administrations have been uncovered with unprecedented large-scale coverage by the mass- media. Much news coverage made unreasonable generalizations that amplified negative perceptions of Buraku, the Buraku liberation movement and administrative services for Dowa and human rights issues.

2) Considering the above four facts, we have to admit that Buraku discrimination has become more serious. I would like to provide further explanation on this point:

i. The results of recent studies into the conditions of the Buraku problem conducted by several local governments reveal more problems in living conditions, education and employment.

ii. There has been a setback in the general attitude towards Buraku.

iii. Malicious discriminatory incidents continue to occur, such as:

* The discovery of new Buraku List versions, including an electronic version

*Propaganda of and incitement to Buraku discrimination on the Internet (perpetrators were convicted of defamation in Aichi and Hyogo )

* The existence of Buraku avoidance in the purchase of property and reorganization of school districts

3) Regarding the opinion that increasing intermarriage aids the resolution of Buraku discrimination:

In recent years, the opinion that increasing intermarriage has aided the resolution of Buraku discrimination has been raised. This is a shortsighted view. Behind this trend, there are many cases in which engagements are cancelled and married couples face strong opposition or rejection from relatives of non-Buraku partners (through refusal to attend the wedding for example). Furthermore, some couples are prevented from associating with their relatives for many years even after they have children.

4) Regarding the opinion that population inflows and outflows in and out of Buraku demonstrate the resolution of Buraku discrimination:

After the expiration of the "Special Law," the public housing rent system changed so that rents are fixed in proportion to household income. This lead to an outflow of people with relatively stable income sources from Buraku communities. However, people with financial difficulties tended to move into Buraku to settle in public housing. Based on these phenomena, some argue that Buraku discrimination has been resolved.

We do not support the argument because there is no assurance that those people who leave Buraku will not be subjected to Buraku discrimination. Private investigative agencies conduct personal background investigations using people's family registers (obtained illegally) to identify whether or not a person originates from a Buraku area. Also, of those who have moved into Buraku, some move out again when they discover they have moved into a Buraku community. It is also feared that, with the aging of the Buraku population, Buraku communities may become increasingly concentrated with people experiencing financial difficulties, causing discriminatory attitudes towards Buraku residents from neighboring communities.

5) Today's Buraku discrimination is characterized by being against districts:

A survey conducted by Osaka prefecture into the human rights awareness and attitudes of residents of the prefecture reveal that more than 90% are aware of the Buraku problem. To a question regarding how respondents think people in general identify a person as Buraku, most answered, "If a person lives in a Buraku area," "his/her relatives live in a Buraku area," or "his/her family register is registered in a Buraku area." These answers indicate that Buraku discrimination today takes the form of discrimination against districts (affecting both current residents and those with Buraku backgrounds). That explains the continuing illegal acquisition of family registers.

3. What would conditions be like after the resolution of the Buraku problem?

1) There are two methods that could lead to the resolution of the Buraku problem. One is by the physical disappearance of Buraku districts and the elimination of teaching about the Buraku problem. The other is by the continued existence of Buraku districts but the elimination of discrimination against Buraku people even if a person openly identifies him/herself as being of Buraku origin.

2) The former method takes a similar position to the case of discrimination against the disabled with the argument that resolution of discrimination against the disabled can be achieved by getting rid of disabilities themselves. This would require fetal monitoring to detect disorders and subsequent abortions. The latter method does not aim at freeing people from disabilities, but at changing discriminatory attitudes against disabilities. It aims at removing all barriers that would restrict people with disabilities from education, employment and daily living.

3) The former method aims at resolving Buraku problem by stopping the Buraku liberation movement, dispersing Buraku districts, and imposing silence about the problem. However, a genuine solution to the Buraku problem rests with the latter method, i.e., creating a society where nobody faces discrimination due to their Buraku origin even if Buraku areas still exist and people openly identify themselves as being of Buraku origin. Indeed, this is the position taken by the Declaration of the Levelers' Association in 1922.

4) The former method raises the following issues: a) historical facts can never be erased. For example; people called eta (extreme filth) and hinin (non-human) existed during the pre-modern period; the National Levelers' Association was founded and their Declaration was created in March 1922; the Cabinet Dowa Measures Council made its report in August 1965 and the Law on Special Measures for Dowa Projects was enacted in July 1969, followed by various projects taken under the law. b) Although residential turnovers take place, Buraku districts themselves do not disappear. c) In Japan, the traditions of returning home during the New Year holiday and visiting ancestor's graves during the bon-festival are still strongly followed.

5) Lastly, it is important that the individual's decision as to his or her Buraku origin must be respected. For example, a person's commitment to his/her Buraku identity must be respected, just as a person's decision not to identify with his/her Buraku origin must also be respected.

4. Requirements for future efforts towards the solution of the Buraku problem

Based on the provisions of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD), I would like to suggest five points that are required for future efforts towards the solution of the Buraku problem.

1) Prohibition of discrimination by law:

Discrimination is a cruel and antisocial action that sometimes drives people to suicide. Marriage discrimination in particular has led to the suicide of many young Buraku people. Many people have also suffered mentally. Buraku discrimination must therefore be prohibited by law. However, discriminatory behavior and acts against Buraku are not legally prohibited in Japan. Japan must urgently ban discrimination by law with reference to ICERD and related laws of other states.

2) Effective compensation for victims of discrimination:

Discrimination causes significant damage to those subjected to discrimination. Compensation is therefore required. Court is the ultimate institution in which compensation is sought. However, resorting to court requires money, and people must wait for a long time before judgments are made. Also, those who take complaints to the court must testify as to the damage they suffered as a result of discrimination. These factors mean that many people do not go to a court, but instead bear discrimination in silence. An independent and expert human rights commission is therefore required to allow victims of discrimination to seek compensation through the means other than court proceedings. Japan does have any such institution. A law prescribing compensation for damages caused by human rights violations, and the creation of a human rights commission is urgently needed.

3) Improvement of poor living conditions through special measures:

Until recently, Buraku areas faced conditions that led to the low availability of and instability in employment. Because of this, many people found it difficult to send their children even to elementary and junior high schools. People also lived in very poor conditions. These were results of discrimination against Buraku, and were not covered under ordinary or general measures for resolution. This was the reason for the implementation of a series of special measures under the Special Law from 1969. These measures were necessary to eliminate discrimination. However, the special measures were not limitless, and the law was abolished as soon as its objectives were achieved. The special measures were therefore terminated at the end of March 2002. Subsequent improvement to the actual conditions of discrimination should be made under general measures.

4) Elimination of discriminatory ideas through education:

Discriminatory ideas will not disappear by themselves. Such ideas are transmitted from mouth to mouth in the course of our daily routine. Because of this, efforts are required to wipe out such ideas by promoting education and awareness-raising. At the international level, the World Programme for Human Rights Education was launched in January 2005. In Japan, the Law Concerning the Promotion of Human Rights Education and Awareness-Raising was enacted in December 2000. For the future, human rights education and awareness-raising must be promoted taking systematic advantage of the World Programme and the national law.

5) Harmonious living with mutual respect for identity:

Apartheid, which once existed in South Africa, was an overt form of discrimination. The assimilation policies that pre-war Japan asserted over the Korean population during its colonial rule (for example, the enforced use of Japanese language and visits to Shinto-shrines) also constituted clear discrimination. In efforts to eliminate discrimination, each group must respect other groups' identities (such as their history and culture) and live in harmony and solidarity. To this end, initiatives for community building involving Buraku districts and neighboring communities are essential for the full realization of human rights for all people.

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