According to the Japanese-language dictionaries, buraku means a village or hamlet located in the countryside, and settlement. It is sometimes an administrative district in agricultural and fishery regions. With these meanings, buraku never connotes discrimination. However, the Japanese dictionaries shows another usage of this word. Buraku also means communities receiving discrimination because of social standings.
The former meanings are rare in daily conversation these days. The mass media, especially broadcasters, avoid using the word in order to dodge the criticism that they said a discriminative word. In their style guides for writers and announcers, buraku is one of the words that should be avoided. Books show other words to use. The term buraku has, itself, become a stigma.
The modernization of Japan produced huge transfers of burak population, as it had of peasants generally, because of the failures of the government economic policy. Buraku in urban areas distended extremely, and the poverty of burakumin became direr. The burakumin situation was miserable. There was inveterate unemployment, ignorance and unculture, and unhygienic conditions. These circumstances made the Japanese government and local administrators unwillingly institute some welfare policies, which were very small in size. Soon, a very important historical incident occurred: the Komesoudou. This was a series of riots, throughout the country, in 1918. Citizens demanded a reduction in the price of rice, and the discharge of stocked rice by wholesalers and retailers. The government was forced to take the so-called Reconciliation Policy. The Komesoudou riots had included large numbers of burakumin.
Facing demands for welfare policy, the government had to designate the target districts in which they should invest. They defined those districts and people as distinct from the general public with different adjective descriptions. The governments named their districts hinmin-buraku, shin-buraku, shinhennyu-buraku, saimin-buraku, tokushu-buraku etc. (Also shin-heimin, which did not use the word buraku.) It is difficult to translate these into English. Buraku means community or tribe. Hinmin means poor and miserable people. Saimin is a person who picks up a scanty livelihood. Tokushu means a particular kind. Shin means a person who has newly become a human being.
These expressions began in 1885, in An Annual Report of Health and Medical Bureau, that was published by the Japanese government, and continued until 1945. The appellation of buraku was mainly the job of the central and local governments. Consequently, the central and local bureaucrats invented more than 20 words similar to these. From these, tokushu- buraku became official language in 1938. These words soon became stigmas, which included very strong a discriminative consciousness of the general public against burakumin. All of the adjective descriptions accentuated burakumin differences with the general public, and expressed discrimination. Presently, the word buraku itself came to have a discriminative connotation.
After 1945, because the word was too discriminative to be spoken, for construction of the Japanese democracy, tokushu-buraku disappeared as official language. Alternatively, scholars who study the buraku problem increased, and they intended to give two new appellations, which were mikaihou-buraku, and hisabetu-buraku. The former meant un-liberated buraku and the later was buraku that are discriminated against by other Japanese. Because none of the Japanese were ever liberated perfectly, mikaihou-buraku did not have scientific rationality. Therefore, scholars and the BLL chose hisabetu-buraku. However, the government regally created a new word that defined buraku in 1965. It was so called the dowa-chiku. Originally, dowa was a word based on the ideology of the Emperor system, meaning that all Japanese are fellow countrymen, and should reconcile. Chiku means district or region. So, frequently, the dowa-chiku of the government included buraku and districts of the general public. Dowa-kankeisha, that means persons who affiliate with dowa, is an official, fiat term to express buraku and burakumin. Not only members of the BLL, but most burakumin also, avoided the aggressive use of dowa – except when they argue and fight with the government for buraku communities.
Sometimes the discriminative word tokushu-buraku has been used. “Tokushu-burakumin throughout the country: Unite!” This phrase is the first line of “The Declaration of the Suiheisha”. The Suiheisha was the first organization of burakumin, established, by themselves, in 1922. They paradoxically spoke out this discriminative word to foment their cohorts’ resentment against the Japanese government, the general public, and their society.
Today, the very word buraku has a discriminative connotation. However, burakumin usually use this word, for two reasons. First; without the term buraku, they could have no suitable word that expresses themselves well. Minorities in Japan, such as the Japanese Korean, the Ainu, the Uchnanchu (Okinawan), etc, have appellations developed by themselves historically. However, burkaumin had no self-made appellation. Second, the self-consciousness of being burakumin makes them glow with pride.
The term buraku was an invention of bureaucrats. Buraku and burakumin are productions of the Japanese modernization. People consider that most burakumin have their ancestors in the Edo period, such as eta and hinin. Certainly, such burakumin exist in part. However, buraku was constructed and reconstructed in the process of the Japanese modernization economically, politically, and culturally, and should be considered from a structural point of view.