3rd Quarterly, 2007 No.145

Buraku Liberation in Daily Life - Part I


The death of my real mother while giving birth to her ninth child

I had four mothers. They were my real mother, two step-mothers, and my father’s mistress, who used to be called “aunt.” You must think that it had been a very complicated family. But I did not mind it at all. Two of them were born and raised in the discriminated Buraku and two were born outside of the Buraku, but all four were good people.

My real mother got to know my father when she was 21, while he was working in the construction site of the tunnel on what is now the JR Dosan Line. My father was just 19. My grandparents did not like the fact that my father brought home an older woman, and it seems that they sometimes treated her badly. I heard of it from my father’s younger sister, after I started to go to the elementary school. My mother never complained about it, and treated his parents with respect. One day, when I was told by my mother to take a rokyoku ticket to my grandfather, I told him, “you mistreated my mother before, didn’t you?”

The Buraku, in which we used to live, consisted of about fifty households. There was a large fire, in which about 60% of the Buraku was burned, when I was three, and the house we lived in was also caught in the fire. My father built a small house on the borderline between the nearby Buraku of about three hundred households and a non-Buraku area, and started a barber shop. He was a skillful person, and he had learned the techniques by watching other people while he was working in various jobs.

However, most of his customers were people of the Buraku, whose livelihoods were unstable, and few people paid the fees in cash, therefore we continued to live in poverty. In winter, both my father and mother weaved baskets from fern they picked in the hills, and sold them to help the family finance.

Only the number of children continued to increase steadily, and my real mother died when I was 21, due to complications in the birth of her ninth child. This was in 1937, 12th year of Showa. She was 37. Both mother and child did not survive, and the doctor said, “There may have been some way to help, if I had known earlier…” Of the eight children born safely from the same mother, three, including my elder sister had died before their first birthday, and so a brother, who was three years older than I was, myself, a younger sister and two younger brothers, as well as my father were left.

Encounter and separation with my second mother

My father was just 35 when he lost his wife. He complained to his customers, “With five children, no one will come and marry me as a second wife…” An elderly man heard this, and said, “I thought you were a wise man, but you are surprisingly stupid. If you say five, who would come? Say about two.” He told him that instead of being stubbornly honest, he should be vague and say that there are about two children.

He had a formal meeting with a view to marriage with a woman from a Buraku about 12 or 13 km away, talked her into coming home with him that night. But in the two story, six tatami mat house, five children were asleep. My father tricked her, telling her that “The next door children are staying overnight,” but in the morning she saw the faces of the five children at the breakfast table. The deceit was revealed at once.

At the home of my stepmother, they were furious that my father took their daughter away by deceit, and sent about seven men that day, to bring her home. My father sent someone to apologize several times, and finally was forgiven to marry my stepmother formally. But my elder brother, who was against my father’s remarriage, was upset and left to work in Osaka.

I also left the higher elementary school, and began working at K Silk Mill, and stayed in the dormitory. My younger brother was adopted by relatives who did not have children. About a year later, my younger sister also finished 6th grade of the elementary school, started working at K, and living in the dormitory. My other younger brother was the only one left at home.

When I returned home during the holidays, my stepmother would go to her family, saying, “I leave the home to you, Masu-chan,” so that we would not have to worry about each other. I was glad of her consideration, and used most of the cloth given to us by the company in summer and winter as bonus to make kimonos for my stepmother.

But in the third year since I started to work for K, I had infiltration of the lungs, and returned home. My sister also came home saying, “If my sister is leaving her job, so would I.” On top of this, my elder brother returned from Osaka with beriberi, as did my younger brother, because a child was born to the family which adopted him. Therefore everything was back to where we were at the beginning. My stepmother said, “I cannot be a mother of five children. It is impossible,” and decided to leave my father.

After she made up her mind, she became suddenly ill, and stayed in the hospital. She had an operation, and went back to her family from the hospital. My father sent the money to cover all the expense from the stay in the hospital and the recuperation to my stepmother. He also sent the money we sent home from our pay when we were working for K, and also borrowed the rest.

At that time, my father said the following words. “If it is an encounter, even if it begins with a quarrel, you can reconcile and be friends afterwards. But if you are separating and never seeing each other again, then that is all there is, and you can’t change anything. If it is an unpleasant separation, then you will regret it for the rest of your life. That’s why I sent all the money you earned. I hope you’ll understand.”

I saw what he meant. Today, I often tell the people around me to treat separation with more care than encounters. It is because I cannot forget my father’s words that day.

Two more sisters by my third mother

The period, in which my father was working at various construction sites, was when the labor movement in Japan was developing rapidly, and its waves had reached Kochi as well. Also, two years before I was born, the National Levelers’ Association had been established, and people, who had participated in the founding congress in Kyoto, were beginning to work in the Buraku liberation movement in Kochi. My father was influenced by the energy of the labor and liberation movement, and was acquainted with many people leading those movements. One of them was Mr. Ichiro Ujihara, who had been Mayor of Kochi for many years after the War.

Mr. Ujihara was concerned about my father, who was having difficulties after his wife had left him, and introduced him to a woman in his neighborhood. She was of non-Buraku origin, whose husband had died, and was making a living for herself and her stepfather with washing and starching kimonos and futon mats. My father told her clearly that he was of Buraku origin, but her father, who was Christian, gave permission to the marriage, saying, “Everyone is equal before God.”

My father and my third mother had two girls. This mother was also a gentle person, and was on good terms with us, stepchildren. The two stepsisters were also close to us. Today, I live next door to one of them. She looks after my grandchildren, as I am often away from home to work.

However, I heard that when, in her final years, my stepmother was in hospital due to cancer, she had complained to a neighbor, who was also staying at the hospital, that “I am grateful that Masuko-san comes to see me almost every day, but because of that, the nurses and the doctors think I am from the Dowa area.”

My stepsister, who heard this from the neighbor was furious about her real mother’s discriminatory way of thinking, and told me about it. I calmed my emotions, and told her, “Mother is seriously ill, so don’t be angry at her.” But I was sad, because I believed we had trusted each other for almost forty years, even though we were not related by blood, and my tears flowed when I went to work in the Buraku Liberation League office. The two senior colleagues, who were at the office, said, “If that is the case, don’t go to see her.” I protested vehemently, saying, “You should have persuaded me ‘you should put up with it as she is old and doesn’t have much longer to live.’ You want to make me angry again?”

She died about two months later, and I did not stop going to see her till the end. My mother may have died still holding discriminatory ideas to herself. But I believe that the trust between myself and my stepsister, who did not forgive her discrimination, even though she was her real mother, had become stronger by the incident.

The fourth mother, with whom we hesitantly became close

When my stepsisters were 6 and 5 years old, my brother came home upset, saying, “Father has a mistress.” Our third mother was a good person, but she was too gentle for our father, and he was probably not satisfied. I was 26 at that time, and I carried my 3 year old younger brother on my back to visit her. I told her about my stepmother and younger sisters, and asked her to leave my father. She said, “Your brother hit me to force me into separating from your father, so I thought I won’t give in and do as he said. But after hearing you, I understand how things are. I will leave your father.” And she disappeared a few days later.

My father, however, could not give her up. He found her living with her relatives in Kyushu and brought her back to Kochi. Then he drank, and complained to me as he cried, “You have to understand the difficulty of having someone you love with your whole life outside of your home.” It was the first time I saw my father cry. It seemed that he really loved her, and I could not protest any further.

Yet my stepmother was his formal wife, so I could not call this woman “Mother.” So I decided to call her “Aunt.” My aunt was a little younger than I was, and had a son who was already in the police force. Her son could not forgive his mother and had renounced the ties with her. My aunt, who then had no one else to rely on, and my father became much closer after that, and they really loved each other. It was she, who was with my father when he died about ten years later.

I thought of my aunt as my fourth mother, so the property left by my late father was divided into four, and shared by my stepmother, my aunt, and my two younger brothers. We remained in touch until she died twenty-one years later, and when she was in the ICU in the hospital in her final days, I promised I would come and look after her for three or four days after I came back from my business trip to Tokyo; unfortunately she died before I returned.

I should say, I was blessed with “four mothers.” It is because I came to know the subtleties of the human nature, which I would not have known had I only one mother.

My father’s unique child rearing

I have already mentioned a good deal about my father, so you can imagine what sort of person he was. Yes. He was progressive, and was sensitive to the new movements in the society, yet on the other hand, he was old-fashioned and stubborn. It probably showed in the fact that he had a mistress whom he doted on even though he had a third wife.

When I was in the 5th or 6th grade in the elementary school, he often said, “If you were a boy, I would send you to a higher school. But if a girl studied, it would just make her ineligible for marriage.” It was a time, when men in general felt that way. Even my father, who had been involved in labor unions and the National Leveler’s movement from early on, was no exception in that sense. But it would be an error to label him simply as an old-fashioned man.

I heard that my father’s name “Kameyoshi Murakami” was in the Kochi Kenjinmei Jiten (Who’s Who of Kochi Prefecture) published by the Kochi Citizens’ Library in 1971, and I opened the book to find his personal history written as follows.

“He was barber by profession, but found his ambition in the proletariat movement since early on, and joined the Shakai Minshu (Socialist People’s) Party in the 4th year of Showa ((1929). In the following year, he joined the Kinro Doshi Kai (Worker Comrades Party), established by Ichiro Ujihara, who was dismissed from the Shakai Minshu Party. In the 9th year of Showa, He joined the Federation of Labour (Sodomei), and was active throughout his life as director in various disputes, leading and supporting election campaigns.”

Mr. Ujihara in this paragraph was the person mentioned above, who introduced my third mother to my father. He was Mayor of Kochi for many years after the war, and raised the credibility of the progressive policy. He was fortunate in his successors, and Kochi City still maintains its progressive municipal policy to this day. Until then, I did not talk very often about my father, but knowing the historical recognition such as the one I found in the Jiten, as his daughter, I was glad and touched.

My father did not send me to a girls’ school, so it seems that he did not think that women did not need to know anything. He used to make me do all sorts of work since the time I was in the elementary school. It was also my job to collect the barber fees on credit from the workers in the nearby ore mines of N Cement on their pay day.

The stone cutting and pulling the cart carrying the ore in the mines were the best job in the Buraku in those days, so when I was young, I used to say that I would cut stones or pull the cart when I grew up. Of course, these were men’s jobs, but I thought I could do them as well.

My father was repeatedly asked by an acquaintance, who was in the business of extracting sand and gravel, to prepare documents for permit for gunpowder use. It was also my job to bring the finished documents to the police station. I liked to study, and I was also the class president, so my father may have thought I could be trusted to carry documents. But I believe it was more likely because my father wanted me to develop the strength to be able to go as a matter of course to the police, which normally was a place to be feared and avoided.

When their children do not listen to them, most parents would frighten them, saying, “I will call the policeman.” Perhaps because my father had experienced police oppression when he took part in the labor movement, he never scolded in that manner. He used to hum the May Day tune of the Internationale, and we memorized the lyrics without trying. Because he was like that, he must have sent his daughter to the police on his errand, to teach me that the police need not be feared, or must not be feared.

Working at the silk mill and suffering lung disease

My home was located in the entrance of a Buraku, with a three hundred households and a population of one thousand. In those days, you would hardly see anyone walking by in a suit. When I was in the higher grade of the elementary school, a youth, who was about ten years older than I was, became a staff of the employment office. He was the first public servant from the Buraku, and until then, there had been no office worker there. This first public servant once came distressed to my father for advice. He told us, he introduced a Buraku youth five or six years younger than he was for an offer from N Life Insurance, to which the employer responded, “How dare you tell us to hire a Buraku kid.”

When my father looked into the circumstances of the incident, he found out that the person responsible for the family registration at the local government office had informed the employer of the candidate’s origins, and a large protest meeting to question the responsibility of the village mayor was held. N Life Insurance, surprised at the developments, proposed a compromise, “We will hire him as proposed, so please retract the demand for the mayor’s resignation. But if the workplace were to be in Kochi, it might be difficult for him as well, so we would have him work in Osaka.”

The discriminated person himself was worried that he might find it difficult to stay in his workplace, if he was hired with people knowing he was of Buraku origin, but he joined the company after being encouraged by my father, who told him “You must try hard for those who are younger than you.” He did try hard, and worked for the company until his retirement age. I believe that having watched my father fighting discrimination through such incidents, gave a great influence on the steps I took later in life.

Just before my real mother died, in the beginning of the third term in the 6th grade, the house burned down again. This time, it was my fault. I had brought the children in the neighborhood together at my home to teach them, and I put the lights from the ceiling into the closet, because it was getting in the way. I didn’t know that we had a contract with the power company to provide electricity from six in the evening. Later that evening, while I had taken my sister and brother with me to collect the barber fees, the contract time for power transmission came, heating the light bulb, causing a fire.

Having been told, “Your place is on fire,” we hurried home to find people loudly watching the fire. I cried out, “Don’t just watch. Put the fire out!” Later, the people in the neighborhood praised me, “You were not stunned, but you told us to put out the fire, and not just watch. And that made us realize what we had to do. You were quite brave.”

My father took the responsibility, saying it was his carelessness with his cigarettes, and the fact that it was my fault that caused the fire was suppressed. Therefore, it was with mixed feelings that I heard the praise.

(interviewed by Ei Mizogami)

(from Buraku e no Hokori o Mune ni, edited by Buraku Liberation and Human Rights Research Institute, Kaiho Shuppansha, February 1992)

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