Last Updated: Thursday, 24 April 2014, 11:39 GMT

World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples - Japan : Burakumin (Buraku people)

Publisher Minority Rights Group International
Publication Date 2008
Cite as Minority Rights Group International, World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples - Japan : Burakumin (Buraku people), 2008, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/49749cfec.html [accessed 25 April 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Profile

The Burakumin (from the words buraku, meaning community or hamlet and min, meaning people) are not a racial or ethnic group, but rather a social category or caste. They therefore share with other Japanese the same language, religion, customs and physical appearances.

Descendants of outcast communities (communities also known by a variety of names, including tokubetsu buraku, or special hamlet) from the feudal era which tended to be associated with impure or tainted occupations such as butchers and leather workers, the Burakumin were not limited to any particular region in Japan, but tended lived in specific hamlets or villages. However, these buraku do appear to be more concentrated in the western part of the country. They were generally located in poorly drained areas or locations not well suited for human habitation. Estimates of the number of descendants vary wildly as there are no official figures on the Burakumin population, except for a census of the General Affairs Agency in 1985 which reported that there were 1,163,372 Burakumin and 4,594 buraku communities in Japan. The Buraku Liberation League estimates for its part, extrapolating from other figures in a 1993 government survey, that there are about 3 million Burakumin.


History

The caste system became firmly established in Japan during the Edo period (1603-1867). The Burakumin were considered to be outside of the four main caste divisions of Japanese society: as social outcastes, they were ruled by a series of laws and customs which regulated their status and restricted where they might live, the type of work they could engage in, land ownership, etc. They lived in segregated settlements and were generally avoided by the rest of Japanese society.

The end of the feudal system led at the start of the Meiji era to legislation in 1871 (the 'Emancipation Edict') which abolished the caste system and granted to equal status before the law to the Burakumin. Continuing discrimination in the social and economic spheres meant that the Burakumin continued to be excluded and disadvantaged by other Japanese who did not want to be in contact or 'polluted' by them.

The growing development and urbanisation of Japan, especially in the central urban core of Honshu island, has seen the integration of many of these Buraku communities by the 1960s. In other parts of the country – especially in the west – other communities remained, characterised by poor living conditions and infrastructure, as well as overall low educational and literacy levels of their inhabitants.

The existence of these Buraku communities, still victimised in private employment and other areas, led the government to ''implement measures under the 'Law on Special Measures for Dowa Projects' in 1969, and which were maintained until 2002. These improvements only addressed one aspect of the disadvantages facing the Burakumin, the poor infrastructure and housing in their communities, only tackling later the problems of discrimination which they continued to experience in areas such as private employment and even marriage.

In the latter example, potential in-laws would check a person's background to ensure that s/he was not of Buraku background. It was only in 1976 that the Japanese government revised the Family Registration Law to prevent third parties from looking up another person's family registry with the Ministry of Justice from which it is possible to deduce a person's Buraku ancestry. Private parties were however still able to circumvent this prohibition by consulting privately produced publications, called 'Buraku List', containing similar information, or by hiring private investigators to find the relevant data. It was only in 1985 that some Japanese authorities took steps to prevent these actions which circumvented the law when the authorities in Osaka prefecture adopted an ordinance to ban private investigations into an individual's background to determine whether he or she is a Burakumin. A number of other prefectures have since adopted similar legislation, though there is still not a national law comprehensively banning such activities, nor prohibiting generally private acts of discrimination against the Burakumin and other minorities.


Current issues

Following the example of the government of Osaka Prefecture, four other prefectures had by 2006 adopted ordinances prohibiting investigations into Buraku origin. While the Japanese government has over the years adopted a number of measures to discourage such practices and other forms of discrimination by private parties against the Burakumin – such as sensitisation training in private enterprises with more than 100 employees to promote tolerance and acceptance – the failure of the Diet to adopt a human rights bill in 2005 remains one of this minority's greatest challenge. As matters currently stand in Japan, there is still no nation-wide law protecting the Burakumin against all forms of private discrimination.

Burakumin organisations have been continuing their efforts in 2005 and 2006 to have Japan adopt a human rights law or ratify ILO Convention No. 111 (1958) in order to prohibit discrimination, especially by private parties regarding employment, housing and marriage, a recommendation also repeated by the UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance in his 2006 report.

Internet technology has also created special problems in recent years for the Buraku minority, as it has resulted in an increase of derogatory and discriminatory messages against them.

Copyright notice: © Minority Rights Group International. All rights reserved.

Search Refworld

Countries