A Critique of Orientalism in Buraku Studies


Occidental Buraku scholars confirm the master narrative that tanning and leather producing are Burakumin occupations; furthermore, they describe Burakumin as an outcaste. They superficially compare the Japanese and Hindu “outcastes,” and lack any corroborating power theory. They fail to analyze restructurings, expansions, reductions, and extinctions of rural Buraku, all general occurrences. They apply Hindu caste concepts to non-Hindu others. Their category of outcaste treats the Japanese phenomenon of Buraku discrimination as a pan-Asian thing, falling thereby into essentialism and Orientalism.


Burakumin, outcaste, master narrative, orientalism.


The Buraku Issue and Modern Japan. The Career of Matsumoto Jiichiro by Ian Neary (2010: 5-9) explained the eta and hinin, the lowest status in feudal Japan, as outcaste. In Japanese, however, the term best used for explanation is properly translated as, the discriminated. Japanese, themselves, neither use, nor see the point of any reference to, the word outcaste. Usage of the term seems a habit of Occidental scholars of Buraku studies. These even go so far as to find in the outcaste the origin of contemporary Buraku.

Arguments in this paper should be noted to be wholly academic.1 Additionally, the term “Occidental scholar” means a Western scholar in an “outcaste” paradigm. Hereon, this paper describes all eta, including kawata and hinin and other feudal discriminated in one lump, as senmin, unless inherent names are necessary. The term buraku is a unit of mura, a Japanese village, in origin. It is not an outdated word, and this paper uses both Buraku and buraku differently.

The Buraku issue and Buraku studies

The Buraku issue
The Buraku issue is a social phenomenon in which about 1% of Japanese, called Burakumin, suffer discrimination by the majority. Some Japanese Buraku scholars have designated this group, “descent,” in the International Convention on All Forms of Racial Discrimination.2 The only reasons for discrimination are either birthplace (one of the “6000 Buraku” districts throughout Japan); or parentage. Discrimination is particularly evident in marriage and employment. Young Burakumin have felt driven to suicide.3 Burakumin cannot alter the facts of their birth places.

Buraku is a modern social construction, as with races and ethnic groups. However, Buraku discrimination is not the same as racial or ethnic discrimination. In all points, the Burakumin individual’s culture (language and customs) is identical to the majority’s. There are no external indications of “Buraku-ness.”  Vulgar “scientific” treatments of the Buraku issue have designated them as an “other” with inferior culture, and as “impure” or “filthy”. Physical differences have been claimed, but not proven.4 Occidental scholars have adhered to the supposed origin of Burakumin as people engaged in butchering, leather producing, and shoe makings, because these trades were “impure” or “filthy”. This constitutes a master narrative.

It may be asked how those who seek to reject Burakumin are first able to identify them. Private background checks is one way. Private investigators used to rely on informed local sources. More recently, resort is had to unscrupulous judicial scriveners, as these have access to the official family registry.5 Burakumin may then be quietly excluded from opportunities in employment, housing, and education. Private information is illegally referred to an underground-published Buraku List. Thus black market forces have made an efficient commodity of Buraku discrimination. Investigations turn up other family secrets, as well: mental illness and criminality. Officially prohibited, private background checks are widespread. They are attractive enough to rationalize legal risks and large expenses. The subject commissioning investigation knows that it is also the object of a counter-investigation. The whole sordid practice is an implicitly tolerated part of Japanese culture.

Buraku discrimination fits the framework of ethnic-cultural discrimination. When, during Meiji Japan's economic and national swelling, minority groups as other were not in general existence, the Buraku was (re)constructed. Concurrently however, Koreans and Chinese were also made the other. Previously, the Japanese had looked up to these people as cultural sources. Almost instantaneously they became targets for discrimination in late-modern Japan. The existence of Buraku and Buraku discrimination was behind this. Buraku discrimination is a governance system in Japanese society, and at the same time a basic structure governing society. Even if all Burakumin vanished, the system would produce a new minority.

Recent Buraku studies
Arguments on the Buraku issue are multifarious. In the major division, there are three theses concerning the existence of Buraku discrimination and emancipation of Burakumin. 1. Buraku discrimination exists inexorably, and today is worsening, leading to political failures, e.g. budget policies of local governments and the federal government. This thesis dates from the 1950s. It is considered that continued affirmative actions will bring about the emancipation of the Burakumin. 2. Buraku discrimination is no longer a serious thing, but has already been resolved, or is close to resolution. This thesis dates from the mid 1970s, in direct criticism of the first thesis. 3. The third argument came out of the first, from criticism of the Buraku Liberation League (BLL) proposal, namely, that more and better government programs were the answer. This “Third Way” movement argues that responsibility lies with, and resolution must come from, the actual subjects and objects of the discrimination. The discriminators and the discriminated must resolve it. The BLL rejects this approach, with a doctrine of “Absolutely Fault-Free Burakumin.” Being fault-free, Burakumin must also remain responsibility-free, is the reply of the BLL.
All three, to varying degrees, assume that Buraku discrimination is resolved in the process of modernization. On this point, they are cognates. This paper doubts the common agreement concerning Buraku origins; and, doubting this, doubts the assumption that modernization offers resolution. The prevailing theory can be described as “Early-modern Political.” The Edo government (it says) constructed, to protect the regime, a containment for the most disaffected peasants, the most oppressed senmin. Lacking historical evidence, this theory has received much criticism. There are, however, some data points to establish districts of senmin in 17th-century castle towns.

Against the Early-Modern Political theory stand the two Medieval-Era theories. 1. The medieval-era social origin theory says that Buraku proceeded apolitically, from natural social goings-on. This theory stresses ritual impurity as the cause of exclusion of people working, for example, with animal carcasses. 2. The medieval-era political origin theory says that, in early-11th-century Kyoto, the city’s carcass processors were legally designated kawaramono, a kind of senmin. This act was referred to as kiyome, having connotations of impurity. Therefore it is believed that traditional understandings of kegare (untouchable impurity) is a source of Buraku discrimination.

Remaining origin theories include the occupation theory; the ethnic-difference theory; and the religion theory. The first says that, in an agrarian society, discrimination arose against non-farmers, particularly against hunters. The second says that the origin of Buraku was the toraijin (outsiders from neighboring countries) or descendants of subjected foreigners. The third says that eta derive from Buddhist and Shinto sects with dogmas of kegare. Each of these theories lacks proof, and can best be called speculative.

Opposing these ideas, this paper recognizes Buraku discrimination as a contradiction produced by modern society. The reason is obvious. This paper shows some contemporary Buraku as examples. One cases is from Kure, Hiroshima Prefecture (Kobayakawa, 2016:100-103). In 1902, the Yamate Buraku appeared. Since 1886, the construction of the Kure Naval Station attracted 20,000 construction workers a day, and large facilities were needed, i.e. a jail, a slaughterhouse, a crematory, a cemetery, etc. Kure concentrated these in a small valley. People began to live there, and were viewed as Burakumin. At its largest, Yamate’s population reached 1,000, and included no descendants of former kawata. Meanwhile, some old Buraku in Kure disappeared. Another case if from Tsu, Mie prefecture. There, at least two Buraku emerged after the Second World War. Failed reconstruction policies caused them. Feudal or modern, urban or rural, Buraku populations have been mobile. Some Burakumin succeeded in capitalism (Kobayakawa, 2016:24-27). This topic deserves another paper.

Buraku studies by Occidentals

Early studies
Buraku studies by occidental scholars began in the 1950s. Herbert Passin was a pioneer, and was followed by a group led by George DeVos. Both relied on a paper by Shigeaki Ninomiya. Both assumed that early-modern senmin were engaged in dirty occupations, belonging to outcaste groups. They wrongly posit a Hindu-like religious doctrine to be behind senmin, the ancestor of modern Burakumin. On this point, Passin and DeVos agree with the religion theory. Ninomiya (1935:52) rejected resorting to the comparison of caste in the Buraku issue. He skeletonized that “caste in its particular sense should not be applied to the eta in Japan”. Just after the second World War, the term outcaste was used by Douglas MacArthur in a draft of the Japanese Constitution (chapter 3, article 13). GHQ (General Headquarters of the Allied Forces), after consultation with Japanese authorities rejected the term.

Passin (1955:252-3) considered the major cause of discrimination against eta and hinin to be Buddhism. His reasoning was that Japanese Buddhism, agreeing with Hinduism, prohibited the killing of animals (sessho-kai) and meat diet, and enforced the values of kegare shared with Shintoism. DeVos (1963: XX-3) and his fellows agreed with Passin, concluding that the caste phenomenon was a trait of Far-East racism. These published Japan’s Individual Race. As with Passin, the Buraku issue was studied in the paradigm of a Pan-Asian caste system, and the origin determined to be in the sessho-kai of Japanese Buddhism (Price, 1963:6-7). These pioneers’ works adduced the analogy of the caste system in Hinduism, and determined Buraku discrimination was based on religious doctrines in particular the value of kegare in certain trades and occupations.

Buraku studies since Passin and DeVos
Ian Neary, Alistair McLauchlan, Timothy Amos, Christopher Bondy are the heirs of Passin and DeVos. Neary (1989:18), in his work, called eta and hinin the outcast by class system. He saw similarities between discrimination in Japan and concepts of kegare from Shintoism and Buddhism (Neary, 1989:2-11). In 1997, Neary (1997:61) stated that Burakumin originated in inheritable outcaste groups, i.e. former eta and hinin. McLauchlan (2004: ⅰ), who studied Buraku in Osaka, said that doctrines of Shintoism and Buddhism involved a structure of social discrimination, pointing to prohibitions on meat consumption, and leather production. He also said that Burakumin are “descendants of yesteryear’s outcastes”. Both scholars emphasized differences between Edo-period and modern discrimination. Neither, however, could free himself of outcaste models of thinking, insofar as each referred to modern Burakumin as former senmin.

Timothy Amos (2011:212-213) observes that the early-modern outcaste, and modern Burakumin, have different characteristics. He describes modern Burakumin as “the most recent avatar in a succession of temporally imagined social outcaste communities”. Moreover, “Social outcastes in the modern era were constantly defined and redefined by the states, media intellectuals, and ……”. In short, he insists that contemporary Burakumin belong to an outcaste group. In one interview for Mikio Suzuki6 Amos questioned whether he himself was an outcaste. That was nonsense. But for his his outcaste-ness understandings of modern Burakumin, he could never have imagined such a question. His use of “avatar,” also, is an incomprehensible and unfortunate metaphor. The “avatar” is a god of Hindu having no relationship with the Japanese culture.  Amos wrote, that “Japan’s largest minority group, Burakumin, are generally understood to constitute a group descended from pre-modern outcast/e (sennmin/hisabetsumin) groups, engaged primarily in tanning and leatherwork” (Amos 2011:211). Amos views himself as critical of the master narrative. He does not, however, offer original evidence or data.

Christopher Bondy is conducting a long-term study of boys and girls’ growth processes in two Buraku. He aims to determine mechanisms of silence surrounding Burakumin. He postulated that, “The social category of Burakumin is often described as a direct legacy of Tokugawa-era policies toward outcaste groups, though this was a fluid and uneven marker. The largest of these marginalized groups were known as eta and hinin” (Bondy, 2015:17). This view comes from Amos. Bondy agrees with the trinity method of Kiyoshi Inoue.7 Buraku are built on three factors: social status, such as eta; special districts; and occupations touching leather and death (Bondy, 2015:17). He says that the hinin included traveling entertainers and bounty hunters, but this is an error.8

The narrative concerning Buraku insists on a construction of power, a process of subjectification of authority and strongly-related governance against Burakumin. For such a narrative, corroboration is required. But, in these studies, it is absent.

The Buraku issue did not spread abroad. There were several reasons, but this paper cannot give all of them. Since the 1960s, affirmative action has been an intransigent debate. Emancipation was said depend on the democratization of semi-feudalistic political paradigms, and was a contained domestic issue. But Buraku discrimination crossed borders. Buraku scholars fought together, and lost the opportunity to put the Buraku issue to an international examination.

Occupations and industries, and a master narrative

The Buraku with a Discourse of Slaughtering and Leather Producing
The discourse that the Japanese historically abominated slaughtering and leather producing as kegare contradicts reality. Buddhism, from China, had attitudes against meat. Emiko Namihira (1985:152) showed that these were unpopular, however. Investigation of Kusado-Sengen-cho9 shows that dog meat was common food, and that the discourse of meat-avoidance is a modern one (Shigehara and Matsui, 1995:297). The place of meat in the diet came down, mainly, to basic economics. Some bushi ate meat. Some farmers kept harquebuses, for hunting game (Yabuta, 1992:182-82).

Frequently-warring Japan was a bloody place.10 Killing was the monopoly of the bushi, and was in nowise related with concepts of kegare. Kegare was not much in the people’s ethos, outside of the temples. Furthermore, the value of kegare was regional. In eastern Japan, people did not feel kegare in handling horse and cattle carcasses. But the official value of kegare is always changing. Today it is based on methods of Motoori Norinaga and Atsutane Hirata, citing established concepts at the end of Edo. The Meiji government officially endorsed it (Ooki, 2013:103-7). As means of production, horse and cattle carcasses were not targeted. Additionally, the high-cost of manure, such as dried sardine and pomace spread, appears to have discouraged Edo-era cattle rearing. Agriculture with cattle and horses was economically discontinued. (Kobayakawa, 2016: 50).

As livestock decreased, raw materials for leather production decreased, and this occupation ceased to be viable for the eata (kawata) and hinin. There is no headcount of cattle in the Edo period. However, from data of 1879, it is possible to approximate the number at the end of the Edo period. In Hiroshima prefecture, the population of the eata (kawata) and hinin was about 27,600, and the number of processed dead livestock was 1,322 a year. Assuming all dead livestock was for leather producing, this is only 0.05 of dead livestock per person, per year. The average weight of leather from one ox was 11.1kg. In the mid 1800s, the manufacturer’s price was 18.8g silver per 1kg (Ueda, 2005:71). This gives 10.5g silver per person, per year, for income. High fertility in Edo and Osaka cannot have resulted from accumulation of 0.05% dead livestock, per person, per year. Besides, leather production was not a common trade among the eta (kawata). Dead livestock per person from rural, and wealth from the leather producing was not common among senmin. It was a privilege limited to persons having kusabakabu,11 a right for treating dead livestock, and did not touch on most senmin.

Commoners also entered the leather businesses. The Wakan-no-Shiori12 by Kotosuga Tanigawa showed that kawaramono in Kyoto engaged in leather production. However, in Ise-no-kuni (Mie prefecture) common farmers produced leather. In Hiroshima, in the early modern period, commoners formed kawaya-machi a leather town. The same situation existed in Wakayama (Kobayakawa, 2016:35-38). In Tokushima Domain, bushi with a stipend of 500 koku13 in rice sought a monopoly grant for leathers (Machida, 2013:30-31). Wakayama and Shizuoka Domain at the end of Edo period assigned leather production as a vocational aid program for unemployed bushi.
It seems equally possible to enumerate instances of non-Burakumin and non-kegare related leather trade, as it is to do the opposite.

Incidentally, if leather is kegare and untouchable, how did end-users of leather goods receive them without being rendered untouchable? A power problem exists. The growth of the Danzaemon14 in Asakusa as a leather merchant arose from the increase of his own power. From Edo city, throughout Kanto area, his authority spread and his trade increased. Kegare did not hinder him. Most senmin supported themselves, firstly, by agriculture; and secondly, by the eta (kawata)-yaku, the primary duty and occupation power-impressed of eta (kawata) and hinin.

The position of agriculture
In Okayama, kawata paid agricultural taxes. In Kanto, the Danzaemon dominated. During the process of eta farmland acquisition, they formed new communities. Nobuaki Teraki (1997:57-61) writes that tea-growing was important for Osaka eta. Throughout Japan, landowning and commonage of senmin was certain (Kobayakawa, 2016:123-6). A specific example from the Memorandums of Shimoichi Village in 1791 evidenced landowning by a kawata chief and his followers. In 1791, only two kawata were poor enough to be subjects of poverty programs. Some kawata had farmlands from the previous period. The most significant landholdings were 5 koku, equal to a middle class farmer’s. Farmland of some kawata given a deportation order was 7 tan and 5 se15. Definitely, they experienced some cruelty. However, they rendered taxes as productive members of their society.

Yaku and incomes
The idea that institutionalization of senmin was directly attributable to dead livestock processing as kiyome, or to the leather production as an industry, lacks the view of the governance.

Under Bakufu and domain, armed senmin quashed peasant riots, arrested and transported criminals, extinguished fires, and carried out punishments, including death sentences. These were senmin duties and occupations. Governing powers paid for these services. Individual payment per day for eta (kawata)-yaku was the following. Cleaning a prisoner was 1 sho. For guarding the jail, the chief of kawata earned 2 sho and his followers (5 men) 1 sho each, per prisoner. For night shifts, jail guarding by 2 persons was 2.5 sho each, per night. Arresting a criminal was 1 sho per person. Execution was 2 sho. Payment from a village, for nightwatch by two kawata, was 2.5 sho each. In 1819, farmers paid 138 sho per household.

Eta and kawata trained militarily, one document praising their “beautiful decapitation” (Jinseki-gun kyoikukai,1927:279). Hidemasa Maki (1979:198-199) reports that administrators in Osaka lauded eta for their skill and courage as firemen. Executions in Edo were held openly. The Danzaemon practiced the same. At executions by burning, the Danzaemon ignited the faggots himself. Feudal sentences were lawful and prescribed. Bakufu established the authority of the Danzaemon as a governing structure through “omemie to machi-bugyou,”16 an official Audience to the Minister of Civil Engineering and Construction Office at each change of the Danzaemon (Nakao,1992:67). The forming of this yaku was after establishment of the Edo government, and had no relationship with the introduction of Buddhism.

Employing marginals to manage prisons has its risks. In 1846, hinin Eizo conspired with prisoners and burned down a jail at Denma-cho (Shigematsu, 2007:122). The government continued to trust senmin with penal responsibilities nevertheless, seemingly recognizing that “double system of protection” described by Foucault. Because “it often turned the legal violence of the executioner into shame.” And, “it is ugly to be punishable, but there is no glory in punishing.” (Foucault, 1977: 9-10) These quotations were intended to be universal, but they do seem to catch the essence of the specific case, of yaku by senmin. In 1807, the domain lord of Matsumae was removed by the misgovernment toward Russia, and the Tokugawa government controlled western Hokkaido directly. As part of the transition, eta and hinin were sent from Edo to Hokkaido, to be guards and executioners (Shigematsu, 2007:106-108) This exemplifies the importance of eta and hinin to power, as part of its “double system of protection.”

How did the master narrative form?
The Meiji government created Western-style military and police systems after disbanding the eta (kawata) –yaku. These were never recalled. Slaughtering and leather producing, as modern industries, were in the monopoly of non-Buraku capital, and the military met its needs with its own factories. As of early Meiji, 7 of 9 factories for leather-related institutes in Asakusa, Tokyo, were affiliated with non-Burakumin (Oogushi,1980:35-37). The government preserved an institute of Naoki Dan (the Danzaemon’s new name); he, however, soon failed with this strategic error. As stated previously, rural Buraku had no relationship with leather production.
Table 1
Slaughtering and leather-producing became even more detached. Table 1 shows the occupations of burakumin in Fukushima, Hiroshima City, called a meat-and-leather town. “Industries” included slaughtering and leather-producing. Table 2 shows the primary employments of all Burakumin in Onomichi City. A slaughterhouse existed, but employment was shaped along the matrix of shipbuilding, the main local industry. Where the textile industry (for example) was predominant, the local Burakumin would be mainly engaged in the textile industry. This is the pattern for Buraku around the Inland Sea (Kobayakawa, 2016:69-82). Burakumin livelihoods conform to the industry of the region.
Table 2

But now the master narrative (of slaughtering and leather-producing) binds the Buraku. How was that master narrative created and continued? The answer is, One, the power of states; Two, the power of movements; Three, epistemic power.   

In 1911, the Ministry of Agriculture and Commerce revealed that the bottleneck for an advance of the leather industries was “a monopoly by the very impure class” (Kobayakawa, 2016:166-7). At that time, leather-production, both military and civil, were the near-monopoly of two companies each. The Report of the Dowa Policy Council of 1965 said that slaughtering, leather-production, and shoemaking were “traditional industries” of Burakumin. However, according to that Report, the Buraku was an agriculture-based community. Otsuka Shoemaking Co., Ltd. inheriting the institutions of the Wakayama domain, had no relationship with Buraku. In Japan at that time, the stigma of kegare from shoemaking was strong. Promotion of the industry was a basic state policy, a plank of modernization. The backwardness and inefficiency of the shoemaking industry (and others) vexed the Meiji government, and Burakumin were often held up as scapegoats. It remains a fact, however, that major companies, owned and operated by commoners, existed from the start. Buraku meant all things bad. For Otsuka, therefore, highlighting their non-Burakuminess signaled progressive virtue. As a result, the stigma and responsibility for backwardness and low productiveness remained on the Burakumin. This is the first point of argument.

The second discussion concerns the power of movements. In 1947, the National Committee for Buraku Liberation, a predecessor of the Buraku Liberation League (BLL), named leather production as one “Buraku industry being stolen by zaibatsu,” in their Guideline for Acts and Resolutions. In 1949, Zennosuke Asda, manager of the shoemaking institute and future chairman of the BLL, fostered leather and shoe industries as Buraku industries. The background of Asada’s statement was the problem of hegemony in the BLL. At that time, hegemony rested with managers of small companies (Morooka, 1980:48). From 1967, the fostering of Buraku industries as a simple political aim of companies located in Buraku became an important theme of the BLL. The conventional opinion, “There is no industry having no relationship with common nationals”, which was a concept of the BLL was abolished, and many discourses of “excluded Buraku- industries” appeared.

The third problem is that of epistemic power. Since the government affirmative-action of 1965, arguments for the Buraku industry theory have become an aggressive theme. In 1970, the authoritative Tomohiko Harada sociologically and historically insisted upon the inseparability of Buraku and “meat and leather,” only based on investigations into several Buraku in the Kansai area (Osaka, Nara, Hyogo and Kyoto prefectures), and iterated his theory of general tendencies (Kobayakawa, 2016:26). Similarly, Tetsuo Mahara, an authority of anti-BLL, decided inseparability “scientifically”. Many scholars, including non-Japanese, referred to these in their theories. Their studies as archives became books, novels, films, school materials, and etc. Takao Tsuchia and Kazuo Okochi, both professors of Tokyo University, guaranteed scientific sovereignty of The Otsuka Shoemaking Co., Ltd. by a dedication and a prolegomenon (Otsuka, 1976:5-23). That is, to borrow Foucault’s rhetoric, the “epistemic power” reified Burakumin to a social group identified by the master narrative.

Caste and religion

Weber’s caste theory and Japan
The next discussion is the caste system. There are many theories as to the origin of the caste system, and appearance of the outcaste, and it is possible to make a pluralized interpretation. This paper, however, does not dwell on those; it discusses, indeed, the research of India by Max Weber. In Japan’s Individual Race, Gerald Berrman (1963: 292) explained that the Japanese did not agree with, “Weber’s comment that the phenomenon of "pariah" peoples is found all over the world. Concerning construction of the caste system, Hinduism’s “enslaving yoke of rituals hardly duplicated elsewhere in the world,” (Weber, 1921=2009:16). Additionally, Weber wrote the following:

We report, however: this well-integrated, unique social system could not have originated, or at least could not have conquered and lasted, without the pervasive and all-powerful influence of Brahman (Weber, 1921=2009:131).

And more:

Here we deal in passion with Japanese Buddhism and religion, and in general terms, in spite of the considerable interest the subject has its own right. This is because the particular properties of the “spirit” of the Japanese way of life relevant here have been produced through entirely different circumstances than religious factors (Weber, 1921=2009:271).

Max Weber, in his other works, such as Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft der verstehenden Soziologie, clarified the distinction of feudalism, religion, and social construction from India and Japan. This paper however, did not quote Weber blow-by-blow. In Japan, religious forces yielded to political powers.

In India, lower castes were not able to change status, even if reborn. In short, they knew no escape. According to Hegel (1857:154), hierarchy was decided by the Brahmins, and nobody was permitted to rise above them. In Japan, however, social status was fluid. Hayato Yamamoto (2006:401-408) writes that a whole farmers’ village could acquire goushi status17. Furthermore, the social status was based on commodities, and Katsumi Fukaya described status-trading, and showed prices (Fukaya, 2006:136-172). From only these points, any analysis Japanese status incorporating the caste system is an illusion.

Buraku and religion have no essential relationship. Jodo-shinshu (the Pure Land Sect) of Buddhism recognizes Burakumin. In Burakumin discrimination, religion is moot. Most corporate managers explain not employing Burakumin because they are less productive. This belief, that minorities are inferior, is a world phenomenon at the core of advanced societies.

Post-Colonialism and the caste system
Weber has his critics. Chie Miyazaki (2008:85) criticized Weber because, despite his having lived in the era of Britain’s domination of India, his studies missed the influence of colonialism. Gayatri Spivac (1999:220) wrote that “the government in India were the Company’s government, army the Company’s army, attempts at legal re-inscription the Company’s”. The “Company,” of course, was the East India Company. Spivac also wrote of “epistemic violence” based on asymmetrical “racialized appropriation of cast-Hinduism”. The “epistemic violence” was “establishing a version of the British system.” As a result, the British style “higher civilization” won against Hinduism (Spivac, 1999:229-30).

Karl Marx had addressed this. “Distinctions of caste and slavery contaminated with a brutalizing worship of nature,” he predicted, was going to drive small communities in India to ruin. That was the following:

All the civil wars, invasions, revolutions, conquests, famines, strangely complex, rapid, and destructive as the successive action in Hindostan may appear, did not go deeper than its surface. England has broken down the entire framework of Indian society, without any symptoms of reconstitution yet appearing. This loss of his old world, with no gain of a new one, imparts a particular kind of melancholy to the present misery of the Hindoo, and separates Hindostan, ruled by Britain, from all its ancient traditions, and from the whole of its past history.

It may thus be said that Occidental academics studying Buraku have ignored post-colonialism and classical-style arguments of colonialism. Any analysis lacking these points of view, and incorporating the caste system theory, is therefore fated to fail.

Buraku studies and Orientalism

Essentialism and Orientalism on the Buraku issue
Scholars studying the Burakau place a disproportionate emphasis on large urban Buraku, such as are found in Tokyo and Osaka. According to the Encyclopedia of the Buraku Issue and Human Rights, 68.6% of Buraku throughout the country have fewer than 49 households. Excepting Kyushu and Kinki, more than 70% of Buraku exist in non-urban districts. In the Chugoku area, Buraku with fewer than 9 households run to 38.4% of the total. Buraku so small cannot continue without significant inclusion into the common community (Kobayakawa, 2013:83-7). The inclusion-exclusion relationship involves such mechanisms as reduction, distension, evaporation, reorganization and formation, in continual function. Scholars would find diverse evidences, if they studied these phenomena. The failure to study them, and the false conglutination of the Buraku issue with the castes of Hinduism, has unfortunately led to essentialism.  

How did this “understanding” of the Buraku issue by the Hindu castes come about? If each is analogous to the other, it should be possible to speak of, “Buraku discrimination in India.” But no one speaks this way. Is discrimination in India deeper than discrimination in Japan? No. India was colonized by Britain long before Japan underwent westernization. Politically, economically, militarily, and culturally, the Britain reconstructed India, and Occidental people formed images of India. This is the Orientalism criticized by Edward Said.

Japanese know from experience that it is futile, and ridiculous, to reject methodologies learned from the West. Indeed, the problem is not of methodology. The problem is, simply, approaching the wide and varied topic of discrimination in the East with a Western worldview that is not fully informed. Sociology has made too much progress. Today, it may be hoped, no one would think of using Hindu caste terminology to explain, scientifically, any phenomenon far removed from India and Hinduism. Passin and DeVos were products of their time, it may be granted to them. But then, they must be read, today, as products of their time. Contemporary readers must come conscious of the pitfalls of cultural essentialism and Orientalism. As mentioned earlier, Ninomiya, to whom they referred, had already nullified the caste theory.

Said’s Orientalism (1973:6) was a criticism of consequences, as, “for many generations, there has been a considerable material investment”. Orientalism as a system of knowledge about the Orient is a filter formed in Occidental consciousness for understanding the Orient. Investment in India equated to a homogeneous “considerable material investment” in the East generally. Here is how Buraku studies by Occidental scholars falls into cultural essentialism and Orientalism. If the Buraku issue is to be addressed scientifically, however, the need to apply the caste-system theory must be questioned. For, when Buraku studies are looked at through the prism of an altered ßcaste system, mediated by colonialism, and when such a view becomes general among Occidental scholars, “epistemic violence,” and epistemic power against Burakumin, comes out as the result.  

Quotations and Orientalism
Occidental scholars of the Buraku issue have a formula. Broadly speaking, they repeat the same story, with the same chapters: the history of the ancient class system; the history of the medieval status system; early modern history of eta and hinin; and the Edict of 187118 under Japanese modernization and the Suiheisha Movement.19 There is no original data, no new evidence, no fresh interpretation of primary research. There is altogether too much quoting of previous research, quoting of Japanese authorities, and quoting of each other’s papers. And so the sad state of their studies.

Timothy Amos (2011:6) said that “about half of Buraku communities in Tottori prefecture were formed in the Bakumatsu period’”. This was an Amos’s proof that Buraku appeared newly around the time of the Meiji Restoration. However, this came straight from an Ian Nealy product, the Political Protest and Social Control in Pre-war Japan; and Nealy got it from a 1976 book by Tetsuo Mahara that showed no such evidence.

Amos (2011:43) also wrote that “an eta life was only worth one-seventh of commoners’”. According to him, the discourse on the worth of human lives in feudal Japan was based on Indian caste-system laws on human worth. His first, “worth one-seventh” premise is not a fact, but is a baseless vulgar belief. His second Indian caste-system premise is equally devoid of fact. Yet Occidental scholars believe this and repeat this.

Ian Nealy (1989:23) referred to JB Cornell’s writing, and said that Fukuyama domain mobilized eta from three communities for suppression of rice riots in 1717, 1753, 1770 and 1786. However, the evidence makes clear that Sanpachi, a chief of eta, and his fellows turned out to suppress rice riots in 1786 (with excellent combat capability). Nealy was mistaken. The extensive Bondy quotation had a reading error. Quotations in academic papers may be impossible to avoid, but all reference sources do not come avouched correct. There are even ideological problems in some archives. It is not necessary, in this paper, to explain the researcher’s responsibilities. Buraku studies from the Occident are made out of catenations of quotations from Passin and Devose. Such methods reveal the character of Orientalism as, “after all a system for citing works and authors” (Said, 1977:23).

The formality of positive identity for Burakumin

Having diverse existences, Burakumin developed self-knowledge as Burakumin, as an integrated whole. In the development of self-knowledge, they beat a path of deep meanings. Even if residents of modern Buraku have misunderstood their ancestors to have been eta and hinin, this has often been the first step toward self-knowledge. Among Burakumin, some deny own Burakumin-ness. They desire to escape being Burakumin, and to escape recognition of others. From a historical angle, this phenomenon does not conflict in disassociation between early modern eta, and modern Burakumin. Even with continuity of lineage, modern Burakumin are historically distant from early modern senmin in social meanings.

Max Weber called the Jewish people pariah. Afterward, in the Western world, “pariah” carried negativity, e.g. pariah capitalism. Hannah Arendt (1943:276), in response to Weber, gave the Jewish situation in Europe as follows. “Pariah people” are “the freedom which emancipation has ensured, and how treacherous the promise of equality which assimilation has held out,” therefore, it “is not surprising that out of their personal experience Jewish poets, writers, and artists should have been able to evolve the concept of the pariah as a human type”. In addition, Arendt analyzed the “Jew as pariah” divided into four categories. Probably, in the background of Arendt’s analysis, there was a strategic countermeasure against anti-Semitism. Such an argument showed the positive identity of Arendt as a pariah. Moreover, it showed, through “symbolic inversion” (Babcock, 1978:14-15), a formality for sublating from the term of pariah, which was not popular and had negative meaning, to a term expressing Jewish self-esteem. This formality created enough awareness that the term pariah included concepts of positive identity and the right to Jewish self-determination.

Occidental scholars that applied the caste system theory to Burakumin in Japan did as Weber. Many Burakumin could, at least superficially, be in similar situations to people in India. Burakumin however, never use the term of outcaste with reference to positive identity and the right to self-determination. Why? The answer is because they completed the formality of self-esteem as Burakumin. The process was the follow. In feudalism, the senmin throughout the country had about 40 different names. Through modernization, word shifts from eta and hinin to Buraku occurred through shin-heimin (new citizens), saimin-buraku (the miserable), tokushu-buraku (community having different pedigrees from commoners) tokushu-buraku (the special) and mi-kaihou-buraku (the unliberated). In the process from tokushu-buraku to Buraku, Suiheisha movement emerged. Not representing all Buraku in Japan, the Suiheisha movement, as a result, created another current, such as the reconciliation movement (under government control), and arguments about the Buraku issue got more heated. At this time, in Buraku, the “symbolic reverse” has happened. The unhappiness with discrimination in old days shifted to a pride as survivors of terrible discriminations.

Heated discussion in the Meiji government bounced back to Burakumin. Since the Edict in 1871, the Japanese state has demanded disciplines that modernized nationls including Burakumin should develop. This phenomenon also woke up Burakumin to burakumin-ness.

Further, academism developed arguments about recognition of the Buraku issue. Of most importance, the negative term “Buraku” was given some positivity among Burakumin. Thereby, the discourse about Buraku and Burakumin internalized, and expressions of consciousness such as “I am eta” appeared. An existence was revealed only by use of the term Buraku, i.e. they defined themselves “Burakumin humans.” The term of Burakumin became the core of self-esteem.


This paper concludes that, 1. Application of the Hindu caste system (theory) in the research of Buraku and Burakumin runs interference for cultural essentialism. It reproduces Buraku discrimination.; 2. This occurs unintentionally and unconsciously among Occidentals afflicted with Orientalism; 3. If Occidentals are able to understand intelligential formalities, including “symbolic reverse,” Burakumin will become more understandable.     

Japanese have analyzed phenomena in Japan by applying Occidental concepts. However, it is impossible thus to analyze Buraku discrimination. There is no easy catch-all term for expressing eta as eta, and Buraku as Burkau. If the ambiguous use of “outcaste” for senmin in Japan is permitted, any phenomenon can be called any word, and be given any interpretation. In the end, a reference to the Burakumin is a kind of “diaspora” (Noguchi, 2009:186-203) senselessly gains rationality. we come to The Hindu caste system not only assigns outcaste groups, but all castes, from Brahmins on down. No scholar studies Japan’s “upper castes,” however, or explains buraku with reference to jati and varna.

The Hindu caste system, finally, not only assigns outcaste groups, but all castes, from the privileged Brahmins on down. Yet, no scholar studies Japan’s “upper castes,” or explains buraku with reference to jati and varna.

Buraku and buraku are the same word, using the same characters and the same pronunciation. The invention of that term is modern, buraku indicating Buraku since 1912. Japanese are able to understand the meaning from the context. This is a part of the construction of the Buraku issue that is impossible to translate in concept.

This paper questioned occidental Buraku studies, and, beyond this, criticized Buraku studies in Japan. Additionally, this paper indicated the potential of Buraku-issue research, a phenomenon indigenous to Japan.


1. It was not, before the 1950s, popular to describe the Buraku issue by the caste system theory. Lafcadio Hearn (1858-1904) wrote an essay on Buraku, and Paul Claudel, (1868-1955) the Ambassador of France, wrote a letter about the Suiheisha movement in 1923. Neither man needed to invent the caste theory. In the same year, The Nation, in the USA, used the terms of Eta Class, Special Class, the Special Community, the Untouchable. The London Times in 1927 expressed the eta class as the outcast class. In short, expressions of senmin were diverse, however, they did not recognize eta and hinin as equivalent to the outcastes in India.

2. The Japanese government recognizes a term of “descent” not having any concept of Burakumin. It has concepts of race, ethnicity, and tribe, and has a biological and cultural character different from the Japanese including Burakumin.   

3. Suicide motivated by Buraku discrimination is hard to see. Rejected for marriage, despondent of their future, young Burakumin have committed suicide. The author knows of 20 such cases since WWII. The actual figure is said to be as much as 10 times higher. Western academics accumulate research data on minorities. Japanese academics have been negligent.

4. The foulest case which this author has heard is that women in Buraku have a different arrangement of genitalia.

5. The family register system had register books and withdrawal-record books. It is impossible to erase any record. Recently, it is possible to change domicile of origin, sexuality, and name; however, the government preserves the original records. Only the individual in question is permitted to see his own records. Lawyers have special access however, and this access can be exploited.

6. Suzuki-family documents in Saitama prefecture recorded roles of eta in the region, struggles between villages of commoners, and land acquisitions.

7. A historian. He began to study the Buraku issue in the 1950s, and was deeply involved in the BLL movement.

8. Bounty hunters did not exist in feudal Japan. It is a reading error by Satoshi Uesugi.

9. A medieval city existed around the estuary of the Ashida River, in the present-day Fukuyama City, Hiroshima. As a distribution centre and a temple city for some 300 years, from the Kamakura Period, Kusado-Sengen-Cho had great potential for commerce.

10. Oda Nobunaga attacked the Hieizan Enryakuji Temple, the slogan of which was for safeguarding a peaceful nation. He killed several thousand women and children. Such were the noble samurai of the Sengoku era.

11. The right to process dead livestock belonged to a community of eta (kawata). The community shared the right amongst families of ancient extraction. Rates of distribution differed.

12. The oldest dictionary organized in order of the Japanese syllabary. From 1777 to 1877, it was sporadically published in 93 volumes, containing ancient terms, classical expressions, and slang words. Kotosuga Tanigawa, a chief editor, lived nearby.

13. Koku is a unit for measuring volume, equal to 180 liters. One koku is supposed to be the annual rice consumption for an adult.

14. The Danzaemon in Asakusa was held by the same family for 13 generations. When outside, they belted on swords, and used a kago palanquin, as did bushi. If lacking an heir, they adopted a child from relatives throughout the country, as the Tokugawa family did.

15. One tan is 10 se and 922 square meters.

16. In Fukuyama, the chief of the eta, Sanpachi, was admitted to the castle, into the presence of the lord of the domain.

17. The goushi was a rural bushi stratum. They belted on swords, and had surnames. Stepping up to bushi from farmer could result from achievement, or could be bought with money.

18. The edict did not proclaim emancipation from discrimination, and according to recent general views, a proposed more suitable name is, "Edict of Abolition of Status Names." However, some Occidental academics use the name, “The Emancipation Edict.” This paper rejects both.

19. The formal name was Zenkoku-Suiheisha (The National Federation of Suiheisha). It was organized in Kyoto, in 1922.  Abolition of discrimination, promotion of human dignity, and empowerment of Burakumin were purposes of that organization.


Amos TD (2011) Embodying Difference: The Making of Burakumin in Modern Japan. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.
Arendt H (1944) The Jew as Pariah: A Hidden Tradition. In: The Jewish Writings. New York: Schoken Books. pp.275–297.
Asada Z (1949) Buraku-sangyo shinkou-no-igi. Buraku-monndai kenkyu 1: pp.8–11.
Babcock B (1978) The reversible world: symbolic inversion in art and society. Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 5(2/3): 191–194.
Berrman GD (1966) Structure and Function of Caste System. In: Japan's invisible race: Caste in culture and personality. Berkley: University of California press, pp.277–307.
Bondy C (2015) Voice, Silence, and Self: Negotiations of Buraku Identity in Contemporary Japan. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Buraku-ni-Ikiru Buraku-to-Deau Henshu Iinkai (2010) Buraku-ni-Ikiru, Buraku-to-Deau. Tokyo no Burakumondai Nyumon. Tokyo: Kaiho-shoten.
De Vos G and Wagatsuma H (1966) Japan's invisible race: Caste in culture and personality. Berkley: University of California Press.
Foucault M (2014) Surveiller et punir. Naissance de la prison. Editions Gallimard.
Fukaya K (2006) Edo-jidai no Mibun-ganbou. Miagari to Jouge nashi. Tokyo: Yoshikawa-kobunkan.
Hegel GWF (1902) Lectures on the Philosophy of History. London: George Bell & Sons.
Hiroshima-ken (2015) Hiroshima-ken Toukei-sho (Meiji 14nen-Meiji 32nenn). Available at: www.pref.hiroshima.lg.jp/soshiki/21/toukeinenkan2.html#s29 (accessed 20 November 2016).
Jinseki-cho-kyouikukai, 1927, Jinseki-gun-shi, Tokyo: Meicho Shuppan.
Kobayakawa A (2009) The invention of an apparatus on the conception of national consciousness: for the new paradigm of the Buraku Problem Studies. Social Theory and Dynamics 2: 76–93. 
Kobayakawa A (2013) The creation of another from the others. An analysis of a small Buraku and a precarious society. Social Theory and Dynamics 6: pp. 73–92
Kobayakawa A (2015) Discrimination, Life and Common Eticks: Independence of Certain Politically Unorganized Family from The Buraku. Social Theory and Dynamics: 8 pp. 20-38
Kobayakawa A (2016) A Note of Critical Study against Discourse of “Buraku Industry.” Hiroshima.
Machida T (2013) The circulation and control of hides from cows and horses in the part of early modern period Tokushima feudal clan. The Bulletin of Buraku Problem. Kyoto: Buraku-mondai Kenkyusho, pp.2–48.
Mahara T (1976) Nihon Shihonshugi to Buraku Mondai. Kyoto: Braku mondai kenkyu-sho
Maki H (1979) Kinsei Osaka niokeru hisabetsu-buraku no rekishi. Dowa Mondai Kenkyu 3. Oosaka: Osaka municipal university, pp.53–106.
Marx K (1853) The British rule in India. The New-York Daily Tribune. 10 June. Available at: https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1853/06/25.htm (accessed 20 January 2017)
McLauchan A (2003) Prejudice and discrimination in japan--the buraku issue. Vol. 20. New York: The Edwin Mellen Press.
Nakao K (1992) Edo Shakai to Danzaemon. Osaka: Kaihou-shuppansha.
Namihira E (1985) Kegare. Kanda Tokyo: Tokyo-do-shuppan.
Neary I (1989) Political Protest and Social Control in Pre-war Japan: The Origins of Buraku Liberation. Manchester: Manchester University Press.
Neary I (1997) Burakumin in contemporary Japan. In: Weiner M (ed) Japan’s Minorities. The Illusion of Homogeneity. London and New York: Routledge, pp.59–83.
Neary I (2010) The Buraku issue and modern Japan: The career of Matsumoto Jiichiro. London and New York: Routledge.
Neary I (2016) Buraku Mondai to Kindai Nihon. Matsumoto Jiichiro no Shougai. Tokyo: Akashi-shoten.
Ninomiya S (1933) An Inquiry Concerning the Origin, Development, and Present Situation of the “Eta” in Relation to the History of Social Classes in Japan. Transactions of the Asiatic Society of Japan 10(2).
Noguchi M (2009) Hihanteki Dyapupora-ron to Mainoriti. Toky: Akashi-shoten.
Noumu-sho Nomu-kyoku (1911) Noumu Isan. Honpou Hikaku ni kansuru Chousa. Tokyo: Noumu-sho Nomu-kyoku.
Ono T (1998) Edo no Keibatu Fuzoku-shi. Toky: Tenbou-sha.
Ooki T (2013) Shoku-e no Seiritu. Nihon KOdai ni okeru “Kegare” Kannen no Hensen. Matsuyama Ehime: Soufusha-shuppan.
Passin H (1955) Untouchability in the Far East. Monumenta Nipponica 11(3): 247–267.
Price J (1966) A history of the outcaste: Untouchability in Japan. Japan's Invisible Race 6–32.
Said EW (1977) Orientalism. London: Penguin Books.
Shiga M (2013) Sekyurarizumu to “kastomondai” no henyo. Tamiru・nadu-shu no baai. Ryukoku University Working Paper. Kyoto: Ryukoku University, pp. 397–427.
Shigehara N and Matsui A (1995) Hiroshima: Kusado-sengen-iseki shutudo no chuuei kenkotu.
Kusado-Sengen-Iseki Hakkutseu Chousa-Houkokusho. Hiroshima-ken kyouiku iinnkai, pp. 289–297
Shigematsu K (2007) Nihon Keibatu-shi Nenpyou. Tokyo: Kashiwa-shobou.
Spivak G C (1999) A Critique of Postcolonial Reason. London: Harvard University Press.
Teraki N (1997) Shiryou shoukai “Kizu-mura monjo.” Settsu yaakunin-mura no Kizu-mura heno iten ni tuite. Buraku Kaiho Kenkyu.118: 55–62.
Ueda T (2005) Hikaku no ryutsuu. Fukuoka-han no hikaku Oosaka kaisou wo chushintoshite. Buraku Kaiho Kenkyu. 164: 59–75. 
Weber M (1921) The Religion of India: The Sociology of Hinduism and Buddhism. New York: Free Press. 
Yabuta Y (1992) Kokuso to Hyakusho-Ikki no Kenkyu. Tokyo: Azekura-shobo.
Yamamoto J (2006) Noumin kara goushi he mibun no henka to jinkou・kazoku no henka. Tokugawa-Nihon no Raifu Koosu. Rekishi-Jinkou-Gaku tono Taiwa. Kyoto: Mineruva shobo, pp.393–420.

Page Top