About Buraku and Burakumin

Who are Burakumin?

The Burakumin are a population forcibly torn away, as it were, from the common community. Commoners, therefore, when they discriminate against Burakumin, discriminate against people who share the same origin. The Burakumin have been constructed as a phenomenon of the modern period - since the Meiji restoration. They do not go back to the feudal age. Burakumin are Japanese.

How many Burakumin are there in Japan?

The figures say that there is a population of 1.2 million dispersed in 4,200 Buraku. The truth is unclear because most Burakumin fear discrimination, and do not like to reveal themselves. Additionally, it is impossible to identify Burakumin apart from common Japanese. Some parts of government do not recognize this to be a serious issue.
According to my own research, there are more than 1,2 million Burakumin in approximately 6,000 Buraku.

Where are Buraku found?

This is a delicate question, with privacy concerns. Serious researchers should contact organizations, such as the Buraku Liberation League. Or contact this website administrator.

How are Burakumin discriminated against?

There are many forms of discrimination. In schools, from early modernity to the end of the Second World War, teachers segregated Burakumin children, making them sit at separate desks, apart from other children. This is typical Buraku discrimination. The use of discriminatory insults, such as eta-hinin and yotsu still goes on. These days, the worst discrimination is in the spheres of marriage and employment. Concrete cases of marriage discrimination are presented and analyzed in Kekkon-Savetsu no Shakaigaku (Naoko Saito 2019). According to one study of a rural village to which Burakumin belong, the Burakumin have no consanguinity with other residents, in spite of having lived there continually. In this village, it is common that women live next to their parents; but this custom does not exist among the Burakumin there. Observations of funeral ceremonies reveal more. Funerals are community events. Usually, relatives sit on the right side facing the altar; friends and acquaintances sit on the left. At a Burakumin funeral, only Burakumin relatives sit on the right. At non-Burakumin funerals, both left and right sides have mixed attendance. In short, for Burakumin it is still very difficult to become relatives of commoners.
In farming and fishing communities, everyone knows who and where the Burakumin are. In cities, with their shifting populations, nobody knows his next-door neighbour. Therefore, people with discriminatory tendencies will employ detective agencies to conduct background checks on people. Commoners do not normally stoop to blunt rejection of Burakumin from public events and groups, e.g. the local neighborhood association. However, rejection from private events and groups is normal.
Discrimination in employment is hard to prove. Employers reject applicants on grounds of ability, qualifications, and so on. They do not tell applicants that they have been rejected because of Buraku origin. It is clear, however, that companies do use background checks to identify and weed out Burakumin. One investigation proved that business managers consider Burakumin productivity lower than that of commoners. This is typical cultural essentialism.

Do the Burakumin have eta and hinin origins?

Eta and hinin were the lowest strata in feudal society, until 150 years ago. Some Burakumin originate from these groups; others do not. By the end of the Edo period, more than 40 kinds of senmin could be counted throughout the country, including sumo wrestlers and kabuki actors. All of these have been able to leave the senmin status. Hinin were far fewer than eta. They disappeared because hinin status was not hereditary. Only the name remains, although eta-hinin was made a phrase. By 1877, the various senmin terms were united to this one, eta-hinin. With the introduction of capitalism to modern Japan, the government abolished senmin status, as it abolished the zbushi (samurai) stratus. The bourgeoisie came to occupy most of the means of production. The formation of classes and social status dramatically changed, as did the social meanings of discriminated populations. The new nation-state nullified the most important eta roles: police and military duties to the feudal clan. European justice and military systems were introduced. Japan underwent vast change.

Did commoners become Burakumin?

Yes, they did. In cities, the phenomenon of non-Burakumin moving into Buraku was notable. In one Buraku of more than 4,000 people, some 2,800 residents did not originate there. They do not know their family roots. Their ancestors found refuge in the Buraku from negative conditions, e.g. criminal charges, failed relationships, and so on. Some Buraku appeared during the course of modernization. Some urban poor formed new Buraku, some of which post-date the Second World War. All of this is documentable. Quite simply, the discourse that Burakumin are descendants of eta and hinin is false, and is circulated through rumor, and by vulgar academics.

Since the Edo period, have Burakumin been engaged in particular industries or occupations?

No. The trades of leather producing, shoe making, slaughtering, and making bamboo crafts are often listed as “Burakumin” occupations. This is a simple discourse, based on cultural essentialism.
Bamboo crafts excepted, none of these industries existed prior to the Meiji restoration. Certainly, some Burakumin have worked in these, and other, industries. Nowhere, and at no time, have Burakumin been hegemonic. The most common occupation of Burakumin is agriculture. There is no occupation to which Burakumin only belong. Any occupation existing in the Buraku exists outside of them, too. Bamboo-craft was always a sideline of farmers in general. Bamboo crafts were sold to fishermen and cityfolk.
The Burakumin-industries discourse was useful for Capital. Fixing specific occupations to specific peoples was useful for keeping laborers at the bottom of society.

Is Buraku a racial concept?

This is a vulgar opinion, but no.
Race is a construct of the modern period. Buraku, too, is a modern construct. Burakumin, however, are not a race, ethnicity, or tribe. Economic and social contradictions among modern Japanese made Burakumin a minority group. Historical theories have treated Burakumin as a different ethnicity from other Japanese; the erroneous vulgar race-origin theory remains. Competent academics deny it, however.