1st Issue of 2008 No.146

Increasingly Difficult Living Conditions and Unceasing Incidents of Discrimination

Kenzo Tomonaga
Director, BLHRRI


The following four issues, at a minimum, should be kept in mind when considering the human rights situation of today's Buraku communities:

1) Along with the termination of the "Special Measures Law," which ran for 33 years until March 2002, a series of special measures were scrapped resulting in a hike in property rents and nursery school fees in Buraku districts. Human rights consultation and educational training services provided at Buraku community centers experienced difficulties due to reductions in or complete withdrawal of municipal government personnel.

2) Widening social gaps and poverty are becoming a serious social problems for Japan. For example, Japan's Gini coefficient is now 0.314, which ranks the country 10th among the 27 OECD member states. 15.3% of Japan's people are defined as being in poverty, which ranks Japan 5th among the same member states.

3) There is an increasing tendency towards espousing state-power and opposing human rights. This is evidenced by the forcible revision of the Education Basic Law (2006), which espouses state-power despite strong opposition from a significant proportion of the population.

4) Since May 2006, a series of scandals within the Buraku liberation movement and human rights / Dowa administration have been uncovered. The mass media reported these problems in unprecedented scale. Some news coverage unreasonably generalized the issues creating an impression that these kinds of scandals are common in the Buraku community, Buraku liberation movement and Dowa-related administrative services.

Taking these four issues into consideration, it is fair to say that the human rights situation in Buraku communities and Buraku discrimination are becoming increasingly serious. I will discuss these issues in more detail below.

Increasingly Difficult Buraku Living Conditions

Recent fact-finding surveys into Buraku living conditions conducted by several different local governments reveal that conditions in the fields of income, education and employment have become more difficult.

1) Survey by Tottori Prefecture

The Tottori Prefectural Government surveyed the living conditions of Tottori Dowa districts in July 2005. The survey revealed the following:

a. 19.7% of families in Dowa districts receive public assistance. This figure is almost three times higher than the average for all municipalities. It also represents an increase from both the 1993 figure (14.7%) and that of 2000 (16.0%).

b. In the field of employment, 55.6% of Dowa district residents are in permanent employment, which is 8.7 points lower than the prefectural average, and 2.4 points lower than the figure from 2000. 13.6% are employed on a seasonal basis, and 7.5% are employed on a daily basis, which makes a total of 21.1% in unstable employment. This is almost double the prefecture average of 11.0%, and represents a 3.8 point increase from the 2000 figure.

c. Regarding annual income for Buraku residents in employment, 45.4% earn less than 2 million yen, which is 5.6 points higher than the prefectural average of 39.8% and 4.6 points higher than the 2000 figure.

Considering these issues, Masaomi Kunitoshi, professor emeritus of Tottori University, stated, "Present-day Japan is described as a kakusa (widening gap) society. Indeed, the 2006 National Livelihood Survey revealed a clear division between rich and poor. It is apparent that only the poor can be found in Buraku."

2) Kuwana City Survey

In September 2006, Kuwana City of Mie Prefecture surveyed the conditions of its Dowa districts. The survey revealed the following:

a. 6.2% of residents are unemployed and want to work, which is more than double the 1995 and 1990 figures, which both stood at 2.9%.

b. 16.5% of residents are employed in companies with between 1 and 4 employees, which represents an increase from the figures from both the 1995 survey (6.7%) and the 1990 survey (7.3%). 8.0% are employed by companies with 1,000 employees or more, which is lower than the figures from both the 1995 survey (16.5%) and the 1990 survey (15.6%).

c. 9.9% of high school students in Dowa districts dropped out before graduating. Among the reasons sighted for non-completion, financial problems account for 12.7%, which is higher than the 11.9% figure from the 1995 survey and the 8.7% figure from the 1990 survey.

d. Regarding annual household income, 17.1% of families earn less than one million yen (12.3% in 1995), 15.6% earn between one and two million yen (13.2% in 1995), 13.3% earn between two and three million yen (13.4% in 1995), 7.9% earn between three and four million yen (12.5% in 1995), 6.6% earn between four and five million yen (12.4% in 1995), 5.8% earn between five and six million yen (8.6% in 1995), and 2.8% earn between six and seven million yen (5.2% in 1995).

Comparing the figures with the 1995 survey, the proportion of those in lower income ranges has increased, and that of those in higher income ranges has decreased.

e. Regarding anxiety felt by parents of elementary and junior high school age children, 18.9% feel economic-related anxiety. This is a nine-fold increase from the 1995 figure of 2.1%.

According to Professor Kenji Hasegawa of Mie University, who analyzed the survey results, housing conditions were improved by initiatives in the past, but income instability has basically remained the same. Comparisons with the 1995 and 1990 surveys clearly support this opinion.

Regression also Evident in Attitudes towards the Buraku Problem

Regression can be seen not only in Buraku living conditions, but also in public attitudes toward Buraku. For example, a survey conducted by Osaka Prefecture of the attitudes of residents towards human rights issues revealed a decrease in residents' recognition of the Buraku problem. This was demonstrated by the following results:

a. To the question of how respondents consider the placing of priority on family lineage when deciding on a future spouse, 38.7% responded that they "think it natural" or "think it unreasonable but cannot do anything about it," a 6.3 point increase from the 1995 survey.

b. To the question of important issues in deciding on a potential spouse, 20.2% answered, "Whether he/she is or will be of Buraku origin," a 2.1 point increase from the 2000 survey figure of 18.1%.

c. Similarly, to the question of issues people consider to be important in considering their child's future/present spouse, 23.2% answered, "Whether he/she is or will be from a Dowa district," a 2.6 point increase from the 2000 survey figure of 20.6%.

d. The proportion of respondents associating a negative image with the term 'Dowa district,' increased from the 1995 and 2000 surveys.

e. To the question of how respondents see prospects for the resolution of employment discrimination, 63.9% answered, "It can be resolved," a 4.2 point decrease from the 2000 survey figure of 68.1%.

f. With regard to the question of "your response when hearing a discriminatory remark," 14.6% answered, "I point out a discriminatory remark was made, and initiate discussions about the problem of discrimination," which was 4.1 points lower than the 2000 survey figure of 18.7%. 22.8% answered, "I remain silent," which was 3.6 points higher than the 2000 survey figure of 19.2%.

g. With regard to the question of respondents' views of discrimination, 80.4% support the view that "it is one of the most shameful acts a person can commit," which was 6.2 points lower than the 2000 survey figure of 86.6%.

Based on these results, Ken Motoki, professor emeritus of Osaka University, analyzed the regression in Osaka residents' awareness regarding the Dowa problem while avoiding direct observations. He stated, "The survey suggests people are in general more aware of laws and facilities relating to human rights and are more concerned about human rights. However, it is also suggested that their image of, attitude towards and avoidance of the Dowa problem have worsened. This reminds us of the fear, once held by some members of the Osaka Prefectural Council for the Solution of the Dowa Problem, of a spreading belief that the Dowa problem no longer exists."

Continuing Malicious Discriminatory Incidents

Malicious discriminatory incidents continue to occur. This section discusses the illegal acquisition of family registers by administrative scriveners, the discovery of new versions of the "Buraku Lists," and discrimination incitement and propaganda on the Internet.

1) Continuing illegal acquisitions of family registers by administrative scriveners

Illegal acquisition of family registers by administrative scriveners continues to occur. For instance, in July 2003 an administrative scrivener in Kyoto City was discovered to have illegally acquired copies of family registers by abusing his professional privileges, resulting in the occurrence of discrimination in a marriage involving a Buraku woman. In December of the following year, another acquisition by an administrative scrivener was discovered in Hyogo Prefecture. In the course of investigations into these cases, 653 instances of illegal acquisitions of family registers by private detective agencies were uncovered, along with the discovery of the sharing of Buraku Lists between the agencies involved for this purpose. Furthermore, the same illegal acts by administrative scriveners for similar purposes were discovered in other cities such as Osaka, Aichi and Tokyo. More seriously, the forgery of a number of proxy letters by a private detective agency in Nagoya was uncovered. The agency used the forged proxy letters to illegally acquire many copies of family registers for profit.

In response to this problem, the Family Registry Law was partially amended in April 2007. As a result, family registers have become basically nonpublic, and acquisitions by certain professionals such as administrative scriveners and lawyers, etc. necessitates strict identification requirements and specification for reasons for acquisition. Illegal acquisitions are to be criminally sanctioned in the future.

These changes are considered to be an improvement to some extent. However, illegal acquisitions by administrative scriveners have continued to occur since the revision. It was revealed, for instance, that an administrative scrivener in Mie Prefecture illegally obtained 511 copies of family registers upon requests by private detective agencies in other prefectures during the period from May 2006 to February 2007.

It is a fundamental and well-known right of privacy that personal information can only be collected with the consent or knowledge of the person to whom the information pertains. Even under the revised law, this right is still susceptible to infringement.

2) Retrieval of the 9th and 10th Buraku Lists from a Private Detective Agency

During the period from December 2005 to January 2006, the Osaka Prefectural Association of the Buraku Liberation League retrieved three different Buraku List versions from private detective agencies in Osaka. According to an announcement by the Human Rights Bureau of the Ministry of Justice, eight different Buraku List versions have so far been discovered. The three lists retrieved by BLL Osaka in this instance included two new versions (one hand-written and the other type-written). It is therefore assumed that ten different Buraku List versions are in existence. Furthermore, the newly discovered Buraku List versions were not originals, but copies. This means that copies of the same versions are highly likely to be in the hands of other detective agencies.

A more serious problem rests with an incident in which BLL Osaka retrieved a floppy disc containing information from a Buraku List. This indicates the existence of electronic versions of Buraku Lists that are retained by private detective agencies. Considering today's computerized society, this presents a serious problem requiring drastic steps, including the creation of regulations for prohibition and administrative guidance/education.

3) Background of the Illegal Acquisitions of Family Registers and the Discovery of Buraku Lists

A survey of citizens' human rights awareness conducted by Sennan City of Osaka Prefecture between November and December 2006 indicated the following:

To the question, "Under what circumstances do you think people become sensitive to people in Dowa districts" 65.3% of respondents answered, "Upon the occasion of a marriage involving a person from a Dowa district," 22.9% of respondents answered, "When a Dowa district is located in the neighborhood," 17.1% of respondents answered, "When sending my child to a school where children from a Dowa district attend," 13.6% of respondents answered, "When employing people from Dowa districts," 10.9% of respondents answered, "When interacting with people from Dowa districts as part of my job," and 10.6% of respondents answered, "When working with people from Dowa districts at the same workplace."

These results show that people generally try to avoid contact or interaction with people from Dowa districts in circumstances involving marriage, education,

employment and in the workplace or area of residence.

Buraku people are not identifiable by their appearance, so how do people identify a person as being from a Buraku According to a survey conducted by Osaka Prefecture in 2005 into the human rights awareness of residents of Osaka Prefecture, people tend identify Buraku people as follows: 50.3% of respondents stated they consider someone to be a Buraku person "if they currently reside in a Dowa district," 38.3% stated, "If their registered domicile is located in a Dowa district," 36.6% stated, "If their birthplace is a Dowa district," 29.1% stated, "If their parents or grandparents live in a Dowa district," and 27.5% stated, "If the registered domicile of their parents or grandparents is a Dowa district."

These results suggest that people tend to identify Buraku people by ascertaining if they live in a Buraku district, if their registered domicile is a Buraku district, if their parents or grandparents live in a Buraku district (though the person in question does not), or if the registered domicile of their parents or grandparents is a Buraku district. However, it is not easy for people to identify Buraku districts themselves or to identify whether or not a person's registered domicile (or their parents or grandparents' registered domicile) is a Buraku district. This is why people employ private detective agencies that investigate these questions on their behalf, which leads agencies to illegally acquire family registers or keep Buraku Lists for reference.

4) Discriminatory Propaganda and Incitement to Discrimination on the Internet

In recent years, we have witnessed the diminishment of discriminatory graffiti and letters along with an increasing amount of discriminatory propaganda and incitement to discrimination being circulated on the Internet. An analysis of these incidents reveals the following:

a) Discriminatory postcards and death threats sent to Buraku persons and BLL members:

From May 2003 through October 2004, a total of 400 postcards were sent to a BLL office and the homes of many BLL members. The perpetrator (age 34) was arrested and charged with "intimidation" in October 2004. In July 2005, the Tokyo District Court sentenced him to two years in prison on charges of "intimidation" and "defamation," but not for his acts of Buraku discrimination. In Tachibana Town of Fukuoka Prefecture, discriminatory postcards have continued to be posted since December 2003. So far, 41 postcards containing malicious messages have been sent to the home and workplace of a Buraku person, and the junior high school of his child. The perpetrator has yet to be arrested.

b) From early May 2006, a series of scandals were discovered involving BLL members in Osaka, Nara and Kyoto. Following these incidents, information denouncing and criticizing the BLL and Buraku as a whole was widely circulated in e-mails and on the Internet. These messages bring to mind the concept of eugenics under which the Nazis persecuted Jewish and other minority people. For instance, on the message board of "2 CH BBS," a person going by the handle of "Yet another eta non-human tax thief from Nara City" wrote a highly malicious and profane message containing the following comment, "Non-human eta, practice contraception! Don't leave your rotten genes for posterity. You represent Japan's greatest crime. Die BLL!" (Dated November 10, 2006).

Another message read, "My past association with Buraku people revealed their unique characteristics. Their skin color, curly hair, shifty eyes, jaw structure, teeth alignment, etc. Their inferior genes are transmitted most probably due to incest. They have the faces of cow killers. Do not allow the inferior genes of eta and Koreans to survive for future generations. Otherwise, Japan will be spoiled." (Dated November 5).

Conclusion: What is necessary for the resolution of the Buraku problem

As is well known, the national government conducted its last survey into national Buraku conditions in 1993. 15 years have passed since that survey, during which the environment surrounding Buraku has drastically changed. Now, for the future resolution of the Buraku problem, it is most important that the national government take responsibility for revealing the present conditions of Buraku discrimination. Based on this understanding, the following five objectives must be achieved:

1) Prohibition of Discrimination by Law

Discrimination is malicious anti-social act that can drive people to suicide. In fact, many Buraku youths have killed themselves due to marriage discrimination. Many have not committed suicide but have undergone great suffering. Therefore, all acts of Buraku discrimination must be legally prohibited. Unfortunately, such discrimination is not prohibited under Japanese law. Japan must ban discrimination by law in reference to the provisions of CERD and similar laws in other countries at the earliest possible opportunity.

2) Effective Remedies for Victims of Discrimination

Discrimination causes substantial damage to its victims. Effective remedies are therefore essential. Legal proceedings provide a final resort for acquiring remedies. Seeking court justice requires money and it takes much time for the court to produce a judgment. Also, those who bring cases to court are required to produce concrete evidence of their suffering. Because of these factors, people usually keep silent even when they suffer from discrimination. An independent and specialized national human rights institute must therefore be created to provide remedies by means other than court proceedings. There is currently no such institute in Japan. There is an urgent need for the introduction of a remedial law for human rights violations and the creation of a human rights institute.

3) Improvement of Poor Conditions

In the past, jobs were not available in Buraku, or only scarcely available and of an unstable nature. Many Buraku people therefore did not have an opportunity to attend school. People were also obliged to live in very poor housing conditions. These were the results of Buraku discrimination, and are difficult to solve through ordinary measures. For this reason, a series of special measures were implemented in 1969 under the Special Measure Law. These measures were necessary to combat discrimination. However, the special measures were not permanent. The law was scrapped once its objectives were achieved.

Thus, at the end of March 2002, the special measures under the Special Measures Law were terminated. It is now important to improve the conditions of Buraku through ordinary measures. In doing this, it is essential to adopt some of the special measures programs into the ordinary measures and to ensure that ordinary measures do not pass over Buraku.

4) Eliminating Discriminatory Ideas through Education and Training

Discriminatory ideas cannot be eliminated simply by ignoring them. Such ideas are transmitted orally in many different settings of our daily lives. Because

of this, discriminatory ideas must be eliminated through proactive education and training efforts. At the international level the World Programme for Human Rights Education began in January 2005, while at the national level the Law for the Promotion of Human Rights Education and Awareness-raising was promulgated and implemented in December 2000. Systematic initiatives that take advantage of the World Programme or the national law are required for human rights education and awareness-raising. It is important to ensure that Dowa Education and education on the Buraku problem play an important role under such initiatives.

5) Recognition of Uniqueness and Coexistence

Apartheid, which once existed in South Africa, was a form of overt discrimination. The assimilation policy adopted by pre-war Japan in colonizing Korea constituted an opposite form of discrimination. To eliminate discrimination, the uniqueness of each community, such as its history and culture, must be respected, and people from different communities must live together in harmony and solidarity. For the resolution of the Buraku problem, the historical contributions that Buraku have made to the development of Japan's industry and culture must be disclosed, and the dissemination of Buraku culture should be encouraged through community and school festivals to promote community development programs which aim at respect for the human rights of all people in any given neighborhood. It should also be noted that the Family Registry system, which has hampered the resolution of the Buraku problem.

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