Kyoto Buraku Liberation League Interview
Interview with Kyoto Buraku Liberation League (BLL)'s Shigeki Yasuda
June 2, 2009
JapanVisitor.com met with Shigeki Yasuda, the Deputy Secretary General of the Kyoto chapter of the Buraku Liberation League. Kyoto City is home to eleven recognized Dowa areas. Dowa are the neighborhoods in which the Burakumin - the historical outcastes of Japan whose ancestors performed unclean work were forced to live. The aforementioned work often was with human corpses or animal skins, which are considered unclean in Buddhism. Moreover, the Burakumin - who are racially and linguistically identical to other Japanese - were restricted to living in certain areas of the city and throughout Japan. They continue to suffer higher rates of poverty than other Japanese. Thanks to the efforts of the BLL movement, which began in the 1920's in Kyoto, from the late 1960's until 2002, residents of officially recognized Buraku areas received affirmative action benefits from both the national and local governments.
What is the difference between the terms Dowa and Buraku? Is one perceived as racist?
No. Dowa is merely an administrative term. It comes from Do Ichi Wa, and has been abbreviated. The more common term used in daily life is Buraku (area) or Burakumin (people from the buraku area). I would refer to someone from the community as a Burakumin.
Historically, the name has changed over time. In the Edo Period, we were known as Eta. In the Meiji Period it evolved to shin heimin. Other terms include tokushi buraku, mi kaiho buraku, hisabetsu buraku. All refer to the residents of the poor, discriminated communities.
What is the population of Burakumin in Japan?
It depends on how you count. I don't have the exact figures with me, but the government only counts residents of recognized Buraku areas. In other words, those who received government benefits. However, we would add to that count residents of many other areas who, while not in official Buraku areas, have historically suffered the same types of discrimination.
The 1965 Dowa Taisaku Shingi Kai (toshin) Dowa Policy Panel lead to the passing of affirmative action style measures and laws by the national government four years later. In 1969, the Dowa Taisaku Jigyo Tokubetsu Sochi Ho Special Measures for Dowa Ordinance was passed. This resulted in spending on housing, education, and welfare for the Dowa communities in an attempt at raising their standard of living.
However, some communities rejected these funds we don't need it and thus have never been officially counted.
Within Kyoto itself, there are 11 recognized areas. However, we consider 18 areas to be Buraku communities.
(Note: According to the Buraku Liberation League, there are 4,442 Buraku areas recognized by the Japanese government, with the largest number being in Fukuoka Prefecture. However, the BLL asserts that some 6,000 areas actually exist. Including the population of all of the above areas, the total number of Burakumin is three million, which is 2.38% of the population of Japan.)
Please outline the issues facing Burakumin today in regards to marriage, employment, education, and housing.
Education is the biggest issue for us. While the government programs were in effect from 1969 to 2002 - the gap narrowed tremendously between Buraku children and non-Buraku children in Kyoto.
Prior to then, Buraku educational achievement was low. This was and is due primarily to low income levels. Lack of financial means translated directly into fewer educational opportunities.
Thanks to remedial classes, evening classes, and scholarship money, things improved.
For example, there is now only a 3% difference in the number of Buraku students versus non-Buraku who enter high school, though 10% fewer enter university.
Problems do remain however. For example, graduation rates still lag. Also, job placement remains problematic. The BLL is pushing for practical education that will teach the skills necessary for the job market of today.
What about housing discrimination? If you were to leave the Buraku and live in a non-Buraku area?
If you move out of the Buraku, people will ask where you came from. Even in Tokyo, people will ask.
The problem is marriage. When you want to get married, you need to submit your official register (koseki tohon).
(Note: The origins of the Japanese koseki registration system date to the 6th century. The form itself includes the name of parents; the first two children; date of birth, marriage, death; where applicable previous register; and registered residence. In short, it functions as birth certificate, death certificate, marriage license, and census all in one.)
In the Meiji Era, it was clearly noted in the register that you were from one of those areas. From the Showa era, this was discontinued. However, based on the address it was and is possible to learn of the holder's roots. Twenty-five years ago in the Chimei Sokan incident - several entrepreneurs made a list of those areas and the people from them and sold it to companies and others who wanted this information.
Do companies still discriminate against Burakumin in terms of hiring?
No. It is illegal but the real reason they don't is that there is no need. Because of lack of educational opportunity and lack of skills, almost all Buraku will never even be considered for work at a large company. Companies don't therefore need to actively discriminate.
Twenty-five years ago, in the Chimei Sokan incident, many companies paid for information on the location of the communities and the names of those who lived there. The reason was to prevent Buraku and hard-core university student activists from entering their company.
A big issue is marriage. To register with an intermediary (nakodo) or a marriage consulting firm, you must submit your register. Thus, they know.
The larger problem is that there are no anti-discrimination laws on the books in Japan. If a business violates a law related to the register or privacy, it will be punished but there is nothing preventing it from discriminating.
Thus, the person or company causing the discrimination faces no penalty whereas those who face the brunt of the discrimination and suffer its effects have no legal recourse to resist this.
So most Burakumin marry other Buraku?
In the past, yes, that was common. However, Buraku marrying non-Buraku is increasing. There is still however a lot of opposition to this.
What will happen if many or most young Burakumin marry out? Will their identity change?
Discrimination has long and deep roots in Japan. I don't think it is going away. I hope it will, but it persists.
We want to be seen as individuals not as He is from this area, therefore he's a criminal.
It is not we that have to change; it is society's attitudes and preconceived ideas about us that must change.
Do Japanese courts and judges discriminate?
No, I don't think so. The judges are not aware of a defendant's background.
If it were to come to light, we would demonstrate.
Can you introduce the history of the Buraku Liberation League?
In 1922, the first BLL conference was held in Okazaki, in Kyoto.
The "Suiheisha Declaration" that emerged from this meeting - those ideals are the roots of the BLL movement.
At the time, discrimination was horrific. Thus, the BLL was formed to combat societal oppression and in order to improve the lives equality in education, employment, living conditions, and marriage of those in the Buraku communities. To guarantee the rights of those same people, to eliminate discrimination.
After World War II, the Buraku Kaiho Iinkai (Buraku Liberation Committee) was formed.
Then, in 1951, there was the All Romance Incident. This took place when a Kyoto municipal employee wrote a short story that appeared in the magazine All Romance. The writer, who was not from the Buraku community, portrayed the lives of the Buraku and Koreans in Kyoto in a very negative light.
This lead directly to the movement that resulted in the benefits and laws being passed in 1969 and to the gains we have enjoyed.
What is the future role or goal of the BLL?
In 2002, the special affirmative action polices and benefits were changed from being targeted specifically for Buraku residents to being for those who, for economic reasons, need it - for non-Buraku as well, in other words.
Do you support that?
Yes. However, there remains much work to do. The country needs to guarantee educational opportunity. The difference between those with the means to send their children to good schools and those who cannot is growing. Moreover, opportunity in employment is key.
We have all have prejudices but everyone deserves to be judged and treated on his or her own merits.