1st Issue of 2008 No.146

Buraku liberation in Daily Life - Part II

Masuko Morita

Newly married and living with cows

I recovered after recuperation for about a year, and went to a hairdressing school while helping with the barber work and basket weaving. While I was training as a hairdresser, suggestions of marriage came up when I was 17. The person in question was the younger brother of the horse cart shop next door, and was 23. He worked in Osaka, and he did not have to join the military because he had problems with one of his eyes, so he was home to help his brother's work. Because we were neighbors, we knew each other by sight, but I did not know him much further than that.

The neighborhood woman, who brought up the suggestion, believed that we would be suited for each other, and to speed up the marriage, told my father, “They already have an intimate relationship.” She is of non-Buraku origin, and is kind throughout, but sometimes gets carried away.

My father became furious, saying how loose I could be when he trusted me, and ordered me, “Get married properly tomorrow.” He also told me not to live nearby, because he did not want to see my face around. The igosso of Tosa does have this kind of aspect, this stubbornness or single-mindedness.

So we hurriedly moved to my husband's home in the hills, without the usual procedures of exchanging betrothal gifts. The new home was a hut, with just a screen board separating us from the cows. Our newly married life began in a three tatami mat-size room. I weaved fern baskets, and my husband pulled the horse cart with coal, or worked as a day laborer in the hills. But the amount of work in the hills was limited, and my husband's state of working about three days and going jobless after that continued. My first son was born in such difficult days.

The place we lived was a small Buraku of about twenty households, and the difficulties each household faced were more or less the same. About seven or eight families moved to the former Manchuria after we moved there. The family of my husband's brother also left for Manchuria in May in the year Japan was defeated.

By then, my father's anger, forbidding me to live close to him, was calmed, and we moved to an annexed room of the size of about four tatami mats at my grandmother's house near my father's home. My husband suggested, “Let's go to Manchuria too,” but my father was categorically against this telling us, “By the time you get there, Japan would have surrendered unconditionally,” so we did not go. My father probably foresaw the end of the war. In fact, when my brother-in-law and his family, who left in May, arrived there, Japan lost the war. The family was separated, and he himself never returned. The youngest child was raised by the Chinese, and returned only recently, as one of the so-called 'war orphans' from China.

My second son was born soon after the end of the war. Although we moved to the city, my husband did not necessarily have work every day. Inflation was rampant in the chaos after the war, and living was extremely difficult. I continued to help in the barber business and basket weaving. My husband started to go to work in dam or ski lift construction sites in Toyama and Nagano.

From unemployment measures movement to liberation movement

Public works for unemployment measures began in 1949. Only the person “responsible for the family finance” was eligible, but I applied, saying, “My husband cannot work because of tuberculosis.” Five or six women from the same neighborhood applied in the same way, but I was the only one hired, and I could start to work from March in the following year.

The problem was that since then, a public health nurse came each month for regular health check of my husband. Each time, we would find some excuse, and managed those visits, but many people went through a lot of trouble; since some couples could not apply together, they would submit for a formal divorce to apply.

I gradually understood, that people tried to find work through the unemployment measures procedures even going through such trouble, because of Buraku discrimination. Non-Buraku people might lose their regular work, and unwillingly “lower themselves” to apply for unemployment measures. They would hide their faces with towels so that they would not be seen by the public. But for us, who have been continuously excluded from stable work, unemployment measures, if you were recognized as being eligible, was something special to celebrate with the traditional rice with red beans.

Unemployment measures works consisted of work such as repairing roads, clearing the area burnt down during the war according to the urban restructuring plans, and construction of cycling stadiums. It was said that work at urban planning sites was easy, whereas construction sites of cycling domes and others were tough. To be allotted to work sites with better conditions, I had to leave home at six in the morning, and hurry the distance of six kilometers on foot to the branch of the employment office close to the Kochi Castle. Selecting the working sites was done on a first-come-first-serve basis, so unless I was there by around seven, there would only be those with severe conditions left.

On sites, such as those gathering sand from the river for construction, there were no toilets, which caused real problems for female workers. A union of unemployment measures workers was organized, to work on such issues. I also joined a union, and gradually became an activist. We demanded and were able to bring about health insurance for day laborers, but I am proud in particular, about realizing same pay for same work between men and women in Kochi regarding unemployment measures works. It was a singular achievement, not seen in other movements of the national organization of unemployment measures workers, Zen-nihon Jiyu Rokumi (Zen-nichi Jiro).

During this time, the Kochi Federation of the Buraku Liberation League was created in 1956, and in 1959, Mr. Yoshiro Fujisawa, who was the Secretary General of the Federation stood as candidate in the Kochi City Council election as a progressive, but not from a particular party. I knew for the first time, that there was a Liberation League in Kochi as well, and supported his election campaign. But actually, I voted for the Communist Party candidate, who was close to the Zen-nichi Jiro. Fortunately, Mr. Fujisawa was elected, even without my vote. In recent years, the Communist Party of Japan, out of hatred towards the Buraku Liberation League, began to see someone like me as its enemy, and even filed a suit against me. I hope they would act more calmly.

In the Zen-nichi Jiro, the male executives were not happy with the equal pay for equal work between men and women, and even in the Liberation League, there was a tendency not to take female activists seriously. Labor and liberation movement were both male- oriented, and although they were fighting against unjust discrimination, discrimination against women ran rampant within their organizations.

Mr. Fujisawa, however, was different. After becoming Member of Kochi City Council, he was manager of the Women's Measures Department in the Liberation League's Headquarters. He let the women activists do all kinds of work, so that they developed into actors in the liberation movement. I was also trained in this way, and after Mr. Fujisawa became the Vice Chair of the Headquarters, became manager of the Central Women's Measures Department from 1978 to 1979. After that the post was again succeeded by a man, and only recently was it filled by a woman. I think it is unlikely that the post will go back to being male again, but I also hope that more women activists will develop, and will strive for the cause.

Overcoming the anguish of “child raising failure”

I have also thought about leaving the liberation movement at one time. This was in January 1970, when my eldest son died at the age of 25, and the second son, who was three years younger, was arrested in a criminal case. I was shocked and was disgusted with myself, thinking, “How can I talk about human rights and liberation, when I could not raise my children properly.”

The 15th Buraku Liberation Women's Meeting was going to be held in Takamatsu in March that year, and I was preparing for the event as the Chair of the Executive Committee. I could not leave the work undone. But I thought I could not stay in a leadership position any longer. I thought I would retire from the frontline of the movement after the Meeting was safely over and go back home; I would help the widow of the eldest son, and live at home, taking the two grandchildren to and from the nursery.

The Meeting, in which about two thousand friends participated from around the country, was wonderfully lively. There were repeated reports that the liberation movement had spread widely with the legislation of the Law for Dowa Special Measures the year before and other reasons, achieving notable results. I learned how shallow my thoughts were. The courage grew, to continue the fight with my friends, even when it meant exposing my shame, so that there will be no one else, who would go through the same suffering as I did.

Five years later, I stood as candidate for the City Council as Mr. Fujisawa's successor, who completed four terms totaling sixteen years as Member of the Kochi City Council. I was reluctant, because I was not sure of myself, but Mr. Fujisawa encouraged me relentlessly, “That's why you should run. You should bear the shame, speak honestly about your experience, and appeal how important education and welfare is. That is what an election campaign is.” As was expected, I was attacked severely by my opponents, but once the ballot boxes were opened, I was elected unexpectedly with the most votes.

Since then, I was elected to the City Council four times in a row, with high vote numbers, and I was also elected in the by-election for the Kochi Prefectural Council in 1989. I was re-elected for the Prefectural Council in the general local election in 1991. But of the 41 Members of the Prefectural Council, only two were women. When I went to the Council session for the first time after being elected in the by-election, the secretariat staff tried to pierce a hole in the suit lapel with an eyeleteer to put the Councilor badge on. I hurriedly stopped them, but that was because the only kind of badges available was those that are screwed on men's suit lapels.

On the occasion of the International Year of Women in 1975, the Liberation League and other organizations called for the elimination of difference between men and women in public assistance to the Ministry of Health and Welfare. The chief of public assistance at the Ministry of Health and Welfare said, “There is a difference between men and women in the necessary calories, so it is natural that there is a difference in the assistance amount. In fact, I eat much more than my wife.” However, when we all went together to the staff canteen during lunch break, he bought the meal ticket for a bowl of noodles, while we bought tickets for a set meal. When we told the director of the department, who came to the negotiation in the afternoon, he admitted readily, “My wife eats more than I do.”

After continuing such negotiations, in the summer of 1977, we received the written promise from the director, that, “The indication that the difference between men and women is a problem is justified. The issue will be raised in the Central Welfare Council, and an amendment sought by next April.” Later, the elimination of the discrimination was gradually implemented, and it was in 1985, when it was completed.

Both we and the Ministry of Health and Welfare learned many things during this period. The difference between men and women originally came from the Poor Relief Regulation, which was the precursor to the Public Assistance Law. The Law had succeeded the Regulation's provision stipulating the daily provision of rice as “3 go (0.18l) for men, 2 go for women.” The Regulation was legislated in 1875, so we were able to eliminate the difference between men and women after 110 years. It was a historic struggle, with Ms. Takako Doi, calling for the early amendment in the Budget Committee of the House of Representatives.

In the second half of the 1970s, we were engaged in the struggle for the protection of the right to give birth.

Article 22 of the Child Welfare Law provides that if there is a pregnant woman, who cannot give birth because she cannot pay the fees, the prefectural governor or the municipal mayor must place her in a maternity facility, so that she will be able to deliver the child. But added is the clause that that is not the case, when there are no maternity facilities nearby. This provided the loophole, and the provision became empty words.

Therefore, we demanded that Kochi Prefecture and City clearly state which maternity facilities were available to such pregnant women, and made them designate the citizens' hospital, prefectural hospital and the national hospital as maternity facilities. This also is a system that is not exclusively for Buraku people. If you were a pregnant women, who applied and was recognized as having economic reasons making childbirth difficult, you would be able to use the system, regardless of whether you were of Buraku or non-Buraku origin. Since then, whenever I see an expecting mother, I ask, “Can you manage the fees?” There are quite a few people, who look relieved when they hear that such system exist. I got to know and became friends with many mothers in this way.

One day, the people living in a four-story improved housing demanded that an extension be built, as the space was getting too limited. When they applied to the City government, it received the application at first, but then it refused, saying that there were some whose rent payment was in arrears, and no extension plan could be prepared until full payment was made. “Then let's pay in full,” we called out, and managed to pay 100% to realize the extension plan. The City government then requested us to help in eliminating the arrears in water rates. We also managed to pay this in full.

It is the major principle of Buraku liberation movement, that while condemning discriminatory policies and demanding liberation policies, we pursue full payment of rents for housing that we have realized, as well as repayment of business operation funds. The movement should not be subcontracted in doing what the government administration should be doing, but members of the League should fulfill the conditions such as those for housing, that have been realized through the liberation movement as a matter of course. I believe that that itself is the liberation movement. The Buraku liberation movement in Kochi has been able to develop despite the various attacks from the opposition, I am proud to say, because we have placed an importance on this point.


(Mizogami Ei, Asahi Shinbunsha )

(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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