The Reason for Excluding Burakumin from Background Checks


The background check is a commodity which violates the personal freedoms of Burakumin: to choose one’s own occupation, spouse, etc. Especially since the passing of the Detective Services Act, the market for background checks has been expanding. There is a simple reason why. Capital seeks interest. There is a misconception that higher human capital raises the productivity of businesses. Managers see Burakumin (and the poor generally) as economic units with lower productivity and lower human capital. This might seem to advantage non-Burakumin workers. However, as economic gaps expand, the proprietors of human capital receive advantages. This solidifies control. Some targets of background checks still tolerate them. Tolerance predisposes such persons to expect others, too, to submit. The desire of business to acquire information on its human capital thus keeps its hold over job applicants. Such information can only be obtained by investigation. By the Detective Services Act, the government sought to regulate background checks, but it also legitimized them. For its own protection, the government ceded authority to businesses regarding employees vis-a-vis background checks, and even went so far as to recommend their practice. Thus capital amplifies discrimination and social gaps. As a result, the background check has become a tool of governance. It is leverage against the demands of Burakumin, such as the establishment of basic human rights, and the protection of privacy.


Background check, human capital, productivity, Burakumin

Burakumin and labor Market 

Burakumin in Japan
The largest minority group in contemporary Japan is the Burakumin. Most live in small communities called Buraku, officially reckoned to number about 4,500, with a combined population of about 1.2 million. The origin of the word buraku is a unit of mura, a Japanese village. This meaning is still current. Therefore, this paper uses buraku (village) and Buraku differently. “Buraku” is a neologism of late modern Japan. Residents of Buraku recognize themselves as Burakumin, and people in buraku never call themselves burakumin. Compared with the general public (non-Burakumin), the Burakumin have no particular culture or language. There are discourses saying that Burakumin engage in the slaughtering business, leather production and crafts, especially bamboo crafts; and that the Buraku is a secret home of Japanese public entertainment. But these are vulgar errors scientifically rationalized. Without any positive basis, they should be considered as cultural essentialism. Historically, non-Burakumin have seen Burakumin as lazy. This view is reinforced by non-Burakumin refusal to extend to Burakumin good occupations. It is also frequently said that Buraku are hotbeds of hotbeds of crime, and origins of yakuza; this is also baseless. Historic administrative documents deny it. Without investigation, some researchers maliciously accepted yakuza rumors about Burakumin, and studied them "scientifically." This is also cultural essentialism.

There is an idea that Buraku are a residue of feudalism. Many burakumin have bloodlines of eta (kawata) and hinin in the Edo period., As with race and ethnicity in the Occidental world, however, Buraku and Burakumin in Japan are constructions of the modern age. Since Meiji, social systems in Japan shifted to the style of capitalism, and aspects of all minorities did, too. Today, the constitution of Buraku is clear. Populations enter and exit. Some Buraku, and some occupational structures, have disappeared. Burakumin still receive discrimination from non-Burakumin, in neighbourhoods and in schools. The harshest forms are marriage discrimination and employment discrimination. If only these two forms of discriminations could be resolved, Buraku issues would be nearly resolved.

The Japanese Mental Structure and Buraku Discrimination
One difference separating Burakumin and non-Burakumin1is  - not occupation or culture - but the fact that non-Burakumin discriminate against Burakumin unilaterally and without reason. This only occurs because of the anti-Burakumin discourse that dominates among the general public. Burakumin are hated and excluded by fellow citizens who have never met them; who know neither who and what they are, or what and where Buraku are. Some are sympathetic. Most of the public, however, cannot imagine having any individual relationships with Burakumin (Kobayakawa, 2017: 304-5). Marriage and employment are important parts of Japanese life, so discrimination here is especially dire. That is one reason why this paper focuses on employment discrimination.

Buraku discrimination is an apparatus of exclusion by a majority of a minority. This apparatus presupposes social inclusion. The vulgar ethics of industry, thrift, filial piety, conciliation, honesty, humility, submission, etc. maintain inclusion and control over the seken. Seken means an individual’s community, with near and distant friends, coworkers, and relatives. Aoki Hideo (2014:94) in his argument on marriage discrimination, explains that the community as seken decides strata of family, one rationale for marriage discrimination. He reveals that the seken drives non-Burakumin in marriage discrimination. Additionally, Aoki criticizes the power aspect of seken, using methods of Foucault, proving that seken existed with modernization. “Even in the family based on modern love of family, there, authoritarian parental relationships exist and as long as parents have a sense of discrimination, and consciousness of Ie and sense of discrimination demonstrate effectiveness. As a result, marriage between Burakumin and non-Burakumin is evaded.” (Aoki, 2014:92). There is a connection between the Japanese mental structure and Buraku discrimination. To maintain relationships of seken and family, people produce targets for exclusion. Conversely, to maintain these relationships, and not to debauch appraisal of family in seken, they annul marriages without hesitation. They do not feel guilt as in the Western European Contract Concept. This Japanese mental structure appears in business. Here, there is no rule of law, as has already been shown (Kobayakawa, 2017:306-07). A manager who looks down on a business connection as lower than himself may make unreasonable requests, and cancel contracts without legal procedure. Victims rarely seek redress, as they share the same mental structure. The labor market also operates thus.

Buraku Discrimination and Its Way in Business
Frequently in the Japanese labor market, unreasonable and illegal sorting occurs. Some managers judge whether a job applicant is Burakumin or a member of another minority. This, in Japan, is considered common sense. Employment discrimination occurs in many countries and regions. Minorities can often be identified by name. Managers and owners can reject job applicants easily, as shown by Bertrand Marianne and Mullainathan Sendhil (2004: 991-1013). Recruiters receiving resumes were able to make snap distinctions between white and black people. The two researchers demonstrated employers have the prejudice that black productivity is dramatically lower. Blacks, thus, must seek employment harder. This discourse is cultural essentialism.  Among the Japanese, it is impossible to identify Burakumin by name; Burakumin have no typical surnames. Thus the resort to background checks. A detective agency researches the background of a job applicant or marriage prospect. Japanese law prohibits the leaking of private information, however it does not prohibit individuals from collecting private information. Investigated items (from detective agency advertisements) are ⑴ domicile of origin ⑵ family structure (police records, psychiatric problems and economic condition of near relatives) ⑶ career (educational records, job histories and former positions) ⑷ marriage records and divorce records ⑸ assets and liabilities ⑹ annual income ⑺ behaviors including sexual infidelities ⑻ reputations ⑼ associations (commitments to yakuza organizations and presence or absence of criminality) ⑽ hobbies and diversions. Information has been evidence in civil actions. Buraku-chousa (Buraku survey) does not appear among these items. It does not need to. This will be explained below. As the topic of Buraku is taboo, people seldom discuss it with detective agencies openly. Burakumin organizations such as the Buraku Liberation League (BLL) fiercely resist birthplace surveys. Some foreign persons and organizations are concerned about Buraku discrimination. The United States government is concerned2 about background checks.

As Burakumin are a modern construct, so too is the Buraku survey. Feudal lords controlled their populace without them, as everyone’s status was known to all. Occupations were hereditary, and marriages were local. After the Meiji Restoration, people gained freedom of movement. Especially in the cities, one’s birthplace was no longer obvious. Many people desired to know this about their neighbours, giving rise to “kikiawase,” meaning, making inquiries. In 1892, a businessman established a credit research firm. It grew rapidly, and inspired competitors. The main services were surveys on corporate credit and the backgrounds of relevant individuals. This industry continued until 1981. Since then, the individual background check has been the domain of the detective agency. These access family registers to see if someone is Burakumin. Access to registers3 was almost free. In 2008, it became necessary to confirm the identity of the viewer. The government prohibited the viewing of others’ family registers - with one exception. Lawyers may apply for family register certificates for litigation purposes. This is a blind spot. After the Incident of Buraku Lists, the BLL made efforts to prohibit background checks. Companies that bought the Buraku Lists pledged not to discriminate against Burakumin. However, the lists are now on free websites. The demand for detective agencies is anyway expanding.

Previous Research

In languages other than Japanese, no argument shares this paper’s awareness of the issue. Non-Japanese researchers of the Buraku issue are increasing. However, they give little more than simple historical overviews.

Does any Japanese dissertation share the problem of consciousness? Noguchi Michihiko (1998) divided senses of discrimination toward Burakumin into two: an avoiding attitude, and antagonism. This research detailed class, stratum, struggles among districts, ideology, and normal senses of discrimination toward Burakumin, and other discrimination in Japan. Noguchi analyzed private thinking well, but could not explain corporate thoughts and attitudes toward Burakumin. In 2017, Saito Naoko’s painstaking work (Saito, 2017) provided detailed analyses of marriage discrimination, including incidents of background checks, but it did not reveal employment discrimination against Buraku job applicants.

Much research on the Buraku issue exists, but no previous research has sought to explain a construct of Buraku discrimination within productive industry.

Aim of This Paper

The Buraku Liberation League (2015 vol.2700) reported that the background check in the 1970-1990s set the primary goal of exclusion from the labor force of persons not fitting "corporate style." In addition, it was widely thought that background checks should be avoided because they violated human rights and human relationships (Fukuda, 2013:1-2) in workplaces, and opposed business development (Koueki Zaidan Houjin JInken kyouiku Keihatsu Suishin Center, 2014:12).

This vulgar interpretation of human rights does not understand that human rights are limited by state power. It also fails to recognize that basic human rights are related to freedom from state power. Always, democratization within companies is presented in the context of productivity, resulting in social stability. In terms of building a stable society and stable relationships, the rejection or acceptance of background checks belong to the same paradigm. In small towns, stickers shouting "Reject Background Checks!" can be seen at house gates. This is evidence that background checks are tolerated, as otherwise the stickers would have no purpose. Background checks continue in democracy. This paper criticizes both the background check and the society which tolerates it.

How Are Background Checks Conducted?

Voluntary Declaration
The Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications asks that job applicants’ personal data, such as birthplace, ideology, party, religion, residence, family exchequer, family income, occupation, and so on, be neither offered nor requested. The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare recommends that job applicants should use the JIS standard unified entry form (no place of birth blank). However, there is no legal obligation. An investigation of the Japanese Trade Union Confederation (JTUC) (2017:1-2) revealed that among private enterprises, only 11.7% of junior high school graduates, 54.7% of high school graduates, and 44.8% of university graduates have used the unified application. In public enterprises (national and local governments), only junior high school graduates, 1.7%, 8.9% of high school graduates and, 22.4% of university graduates have used the unified application. In addition, about 10% of Japanese firms demanded a declaration of domain of origin from job applicants, and approximately 20% of firms demanded submission of family registers. Questioning ideology contradicts the Constitution of Japan. Still, companies do it. Worse, so do some departments of central and local governments, and publicly owned firms. The JTUC states that such violations are scarce, but not so scarce as to be overlooked. The JTUC mainly investigated businesses with workers in JTUC unions. It counted 2,887 guilty private-sector businesses and 761 public-sector. These institutes are under the surveillance of the union. The actual number of guilty firms throughout the country is probably much higher. Confirmation is in the figures for detective agencies. There, certain websites will see if job applicants are burakumin.

Research Using Networks in Traditional Communities 
Background checks can work traditional networks, i.e. neighborhood associations4. The neighborhood association is a product of WWII national mobilization. They have informed sources who know neighbors’ social standings, occupations, incomes, psychological illnesses, and so on. The neighborhood association has several committees: for physical activities, health and hygiene, tax, and other subjects. Relationships are tightly enmeshed. There are often knowledgeable persons who will share information. Another source of information is the temple document called kako-cho. Temples are quite open to researchers. This type of enquiry is called kikiawase. Where communities are strong, the kikiawase can be very productive.

With fewer births and an aging population, Japanese society faces a rarefaction of human relationships. The old community networks are less functional. Rural communities are especially patchy. Informed sources for kikiawase are harder to find. Where populations are increasing, the increase is from outsiders moving in. Newcomers cannot satisfy enquirers. Therefore, kikiawase through community networks is decreasing. One source for this paper said that kikiawase has disappeared now, but 10 years ago, he responded to 20 kikiawase annually. This shows the depletion of local societies (Kobayakawa, 2017:307−8) and explains why the background check has moved from kikiawase to detective agencies.

Detective Agencies
Private detective agents stake out and follow targets, and gather information on them. Some detectives work individually, others in teams. They are expert investigators. Thick-skinned, they know how to take complaints. They insulate their clients from criticism and retribution. Minority-rights groups, and human-rights groups, are thwarted. The role of the detective agency will be explored further, below, in the Prime Incident.

Reasons for Background Checks. The Insistence of Business.

What is the economic rationale for companies to insist on background checks? This paper surveyed business owners. Interviewees are in two categories.
Belonging to the first category are: Mr. S (Baker, 3 million yen capital, in business 60 years, 60 employees); Mr. N (Publisher of regional economic journals, 20 million yen capital, in business 45 years, 15 employees);  Mr. T (Metal processing, 45 million yen capital, in business 55 years, 45 employees); Mr. E (Uniform manufacturer, 58 million yen capital, 48 years old, 100 employees); Mr. M (Plant design, 10 million yen capital, 55 years old, 1 employee); Mr. F ( Business consultant, 70 million yen capital, in business 40 years, 40 employees).

All are acquaintances of Mr. O, a retired city hall employee (industry department). O arranged these six interviews. Two other managers declined to be interviewed. Their reasons were unclear. The six who accepted are all heads of small businesses in Hiroshima Prefecture. They all consider themselves middle-class (they are not tycoons). They are founders or sons of founders. All are university graduates. All are male. Their businesses are from 35 to 70 years old.

After an ice-breaking, the author asked a hypothetical question to Messrs N, S and T. There are only two candidates for a job. Their test scores are identical. They graduated from the same university, with the same grades. The only difference is in background. Candidate A seems to have come from an upper-middle-class family. Candidate B spoke of a hard upbringing, and of wishing to reward his parents’ efforts. Which do you choose? And why? Mr. N replied, “Without hesitation, I choose Mr. B because he has known hardship. He was strong in adversity, and has incentive.” Mr. S also chose Mr. B. “Students like B are good people. I would hire him at any cost.” And Mr. T. “If Mr. B took leadership, with his incentive, work would see significant productivity gains.” The three businessmen imagined Candidate B, coming from poverty, more valuable than Candidate A, coming from wealth. Productivity was a key word. At this point in the interviews, regarding background checks of employees, Mr. N said: “If it’s a job applicant engaged in the same trade, I call his previous employer.” Mr. T said: “I have asked a detective agency to do a background check because behavior of an employee made me suspect he might be connected to the yakuza.”

Mr. F and Mr. E stood opposed. Mr. F once employed two Burakumin women on Mr. O’s request. The request was explicitly because they are Burakumin. The hires were in 1990, when F’s company had a serious labor shortage. The two women were about a year apart. They both quit relatively soon. One woman was disabled and could not work without some renovation of the facility. If she had had a government certificate of disablement, public money would have paid for the renovation. Her family, however, denied her handicap, and refused the necessary certificate. Mr. O and co-workers urged the family to reconsider. They did not. Mr. F asked her to stay, but she left after taking an unpermitted one-week absence. The second woman had a large gap between her declared, and actual, skills. Mr. O said that Mr. F, taking the long view, and wishing to invest in them, asked both women to stay on. Now, however, Mr. F evaluates them harshly.

Q: I think that by employing these two women, your company was responsible for training them.

F: Exactly. We planned to train them over two years. This is the general way. But we had no leeway for silliness. We have contracts to fulfill. Keeping deadlines with high quality, those are imperatives.

Q: You didn’t reject them as Burakumin. What do you think about that?

F: My grandparents discriminated against Burakumin, and said the Buraku were worthless. Human rights education made me sympathetic. I imagined their pain. We should be condemned, not they. The fault was not on them. I hoped my company could contribute. Mr. O thought likewise.

Q: So the employment of the two women was special?

F: Sure. I wanted to make a social contribution. I hoped the two young ladies would improve.

Q: Do you think you demanded too much? 

F: No. As you know, at that time, C language [the computer language] was popular. It was necessary to learn C. I didn’t even demand that they C.

Q: Well then, did you let them go because they were unproductive?

F: No, no! I asked them not to go. I expected much from them after a two-year training. I told them that. But they quit.

Q: What are your recruitment standards?

F: Most important is productivity. From career history, competence tests, and interviews, I consider whether applicants can be productive in my company.

Q: What do you think of human nature and personality?

F: Those are second or third factors for employment. Does human nature produce a product? A company is for production. Even a very eccentric person is no problem, if he works well.

Q: So you allowed them to quit based on their productivity?

F: In the end, yes. Even a good judge of character can’t guarantee a worker’s productivity.

Q: Don’t you ascertain potential productivity by tests?

F: You never know. Besides, most small companies don’t have paper tests. They hire on the interview.

Q: Isn’t that a gamble?

F: Yes, right. It is an informed gamble. So we need more information.

Q: What do you mean, more information?

F: We need individual backgrounds.

Q: Background checks?

F: It comes to that, doesn’t it?

Human Capital and Burakumin.

Mr. F continued.

F: Who contributes to my company’s productivity? This is my point of view. Accordingly, the applicant from the wealthy family has a better chance than the one from poverty. In a wealthy family, let’s say the children pay board to their parents. The parents don’t need that money. They probably just save it for the children, who use their own money for books, films, music. They develop themselves before they enter the workforce. But a job applicant from a poor background might surrender his income to his family, and have no chance for self-investment. Maybe they can develop themselves later. But that gap is hard to fill. So who would contribute more productivity? This is my point of view.    What do you think?

Q: Hmm. You didn’t answer my question about why a job applicant from the Buraku is rejected on the ground of productivity.

F: Well, basically, that was the relationship between human capital and productivity. A lot of discriminatory matters were additional phenomena.

Q: For example?

F: Dirtiness, and so on. Low academic ability. These have no grounds.

Q: What do you mean, no grounds?

F: What I just said, people from Buraku have no academic ability. I think that’s used to justify the Buraku issue. Those people have no basic scholarship or literacy. You know how it goes. In our society generally, negative stereotypes take hold easily. If a manager were prejudiced, and if he knew a job applicant was from the Buraku, he wouldn’t hire him. A guy like that wouldn’t hire a Buraku genius. I have only two cases. I can’t say it’s great, but Mr.O  and his co-workers asked me to employ two Buraku women. The result is as I said.

Q: What you mean, “no basic scholarship or literacy”? Is that the expression in this paper?
[Author showed the interviewee a paper5 by Shingo Tsumaki.]

F:  Exactly. I understand this writer’s intention. But if this sort of person shows up looking for a job, what should a manager do? You reject him, you’ll be called unfair.

Q: But nobody knows his origins.

F: That’s why I say, isn’t an identity survey a risk hedge?

Q: You spoke about a risk hedge. I’d think the investigation itself put the company at risk, if people found out.

F: Sure. That's why we need experts. Society is the gathering of gears. There’s much at risk, yes. That’s just how it is.

Mr. F contradicted himself sometimes, but his main problem was the contention of human capital. He considered that, having less human capital, Burakumin had less productivity. Therefore, employment of Burakumin risks productivity. That in turn pushes up costs. In addition, risk avoidance becomes a cost burden. The company also wants to avoid accidental risk. This rationalizes the outsourcing of background checks on job applicants. To avoid risk, companies contract with detective agencies. That is F’s context. F’s keyword, as with the former three owners, is productivity. However, value judgements are different. To F’s point of view, managers do not reject Burakumin because of uncleanness. They reject them because lower human capital equals lower productivity. Therefore even supremely productive Burakumin, before this could be known, would be discriminated against, as possessing less human capital.

Mr. E supported Mr. F in more concrete terms. “My company has employed high-school graduates. Some come to interviews very hand-held. We have hired high-school graduates who can’t say their names. After one or two years, when they’ve just learned the ropes, absences accrue. They always have excuses. Soon they leave. That’s the typical case. Some try hard, but most of them are from poor homes and problem families. I’m always ready to cooperate, but also I always hope to employ higher-educated workers. That’s true. My company has a factory in China because I have to be realistic.” Mr. E opted for Candidate A over Candidate B.

There is an 80-household Buraku near Mr. E’s factory. E’s father, founder of his company, employed someone from there. “They’re neighbours. If they worked harder, no problem. But I always worry they’re lazing about.” Mr. E proceeded to categorize Burakumin laziness. Messrs S, N and T, who chose Candidate B, went against Messrs F and E, on the human capital measure. The Author shared F and E’s opinion with S, N, and T. In re-interviews, S, N, and T answered as follows.

N: Hmm. [F's argument] is logical. If I were hiring in reality, I guess I’d consider their backgrounds.

Q: I didn’t say that A and B were high performers; only that they had the same ability. If both were low performers, what would you do?

N: I think F is right. I agree.

Q: You chose Candidate A. Then you would do a background check?

N: I might hire neither.

N did not say again if he would do a background check. “I might hire neither,” ducked the problem. Here is the communication with Mr. S.

Q: This is the final question. The government has passed the Disability Discrimination Act. The sexual minority issue has also become a topic. Race, ethnicity, and the Buraku issue are all deeply rooted. If any of these asked to work for you, what would you do?

S: I never consider it because most employees are part-timers or workers on the side. If I employed regular staff, I don’t know. If I knew their background and birth circumstances, yes.

Q: Knowing those, what?

S: I, er, it would depend on the applicant.

Q: After employing him, say you got to know the background of a laborer. What would you do?

S: If he had no trouble, I would have no choice. He would stay. Background or birth can’t be a reason for unemployment, right?

Q: Let me rephrase. Would you prefer to avoid Buraku?

S: Well, in terms of real intention, yes.

T agreed with F, and changed his hypothetical hire from Candidate B to Candidate A. His appeal was to factory discipline.

Q: Let me ask again. Would you run a background check?

T: No. I never check backgrounds of applicants except as I said. If my company evolved, I might reconsider this policy. But, I would do it to look for yakuza connections. I’m always concerned about seeds of trouble.

Q: Seeds of trouble?

T: Yes. Buraku, yakuza - they’re similar, aren’t they?

E: (interviewed again) “I’d be glad have Candidate A or B. But I don’t see either today… Remember I told you about high-school boys who came with their teacher and couldn’t tell me their name?

Q: Yes.

E: I think that’s common in Buraku.

Q: Why?

E: Because there’s a Buraku near me.

Q: Can you tell if they are Burakumin even if they’re from outside your community?

E: Yes. We have ways.

Q: Communal? Individual?

E: I can’t say more.

Mr. J chose neither A nor B. He, he said, made no consideration of Burakumin or other minorities. “My businesses grow organically, through human relationships and ideas for new projects. My managers know the people before taking them into business. They, and I, know production needs and think accordingly. Projects are perfectly separate. We don’t need a large staff. I have only two relatives working for me. People criticize nepotism, but I think it’s better than employing fuzzy thinkers. Clients like nepotistic hires. You can trust them. The perfect employee, I imagine, would be a woman raised insulated from the world.”

Excluding Mr. J, in the first group, the standard for employment was productivity. All (except J) eventually settled on Candidate A. The former three managers changed their minds citing productivity. Mr. F, in his long interview, never admitted to using background checks. Mr. E indicated that possibility. Mr. T said he had never checked an applicant’s background, but had checked an employee’s. Mr. S had never used a detective agency, but would do it if needed. Mr. S said that if he used background checks he would be disadvantaged because his firm is small. In competition with large companies, small and medium firms are disadvantaged. Also, “I envy companies that have a choice of employees.” These sentiments solidified in the second interviews. They never admitted to excluding Burakumin, but implied that they wished to do so.

Background Checks Not Only a Problem in Japan

The second group was interviewed January and February, 2018. Initially, this paper was going to investigate the employment of Burakumin. However, no company agreed to that premise. This study then prepared a questionnaire based on the interviews with the first six businessmen. Examiners visited 47 businesses and got answers from 13 owners.

Three questions were asked. First: Your company must employ one new person. Two applicants remain. By chance, they have the same academic backgrounds and test scores. Mr. A was born into wealth and lived in great comfort. Mr. B was poor, and supported his family. Which is better for you? Four answers were possible. (1) Neither A nor B. (2) Candidate A. (3) Candidate B. (4) Employ both, even if impossible.

The second question. “Why did you choose A or B?” Answers offered: (1) individual ability and productivity; (2) the applicant’s personality; (3) applicant’s origin; (4) Other. Space for a free answer was left.

The third question: “A business may find an applicant’s family roots from a background check. What do you think?” (1) Absolutely unforgivable; (2) Wrong, but in reality it can’t be helped; (3) Of course it is necessary; (4) Don’t know.

Owners’ educations were: 1 graduate of junior high school in the pre-war era; 7 university graduates; 3 high-school graduates; and 2 from different careers. The junior high school graduate, two university graduates, and the man from a different career, said they would take Mr. B. The others preferred Mr. A. Seven men were in favour of background checks; three were not; the others didn’t know. Concerning employment priorities, 5 said productivity; another 5 said productivity and personality; 1 said personality and background. Two chose nothing. In total (1st and 2nd groups) 74 owners and managers were approached. The ratio of respondents was 34.5%. Of these, about 68% accepted background checks. This data may be statistically insignificant due to the small number of respondents. However, it may be noted that in Fukuyama city, Hiroshima prefecture, where these companies exist, the ratio of citizens’ acceptance of background checks was about 10 points higher than the national 58.7%. The data therefore carries special weight.

It became clear that business owners/managers strongly favoured background checks to judge productivity. They reasoned that productivity is closely related to human capital, which in turn is related to people’s birth circumstances, i.e. Buraku or not. Prejudiced persons, having determined an applicant as Burakumin, would exclude him. Most small businesses do not use paper tests6, so cannot use these measures to judge applicants’ capabilities. Even Burakumin (or other minorities) of exceptional academic ability are, in practice, rejected. (Koreans and Okinawans are also judged to have less human capital.) Therefore Burakumin and other minorities are disadvantaged in employment, relative to the majority middle class. Many business owners were too shy to comment. It may be that they are simply unconcerned with the Burakumin issue. A great many companies do employ foreigners, however this is more an issue of slave/coerced labour, not employment discrimination.

As a rule, a minority will have a harder time in the labour market. In the Bertrand-Mullainathan experiment, (Bertrand, Mullainathan, 2004:997) White-sounding names had the clear advantage over Black-sounding names. The former received 9.65% callbacks, with the latter receiving 6.45%; the p value was 3.20. Where HR personnel were women, Black-sounding names got a 6.55% callback, and white females got a 10.46% callback. The p value here was 3.91. Bertrand and Mullainathan said, “When faced with observably similar African-American and White applicants, do they favor the White one? Some argue yes, citing either employer prejudice or employer perception that race signals lower productivity (Bertrand, Mullainathan, 2004:991) .” Productivity is the keyword for judging an applicant’s potential, and Buraku discrimination fits the same pattern.

Microeconomist Sano Shinpei, based on a signaling and screening model, described how a company is motivated to have information on its workers. In his model, signaling means the volunteering of information from worker to company. Screening means the seeking by the business of worker information. Small businesses in particular have less information before hiring. For these, then, the signalling-screening motive is stronger. Diverse cultural factors also come into play. School education is easily signalled and screened for, e.g. by campus recruiting and exams. The culture of the home is not so easily signalled or screened. The background check is an enticing tool, even if contrary to an employer’s personal ethics. It may be allowed as a necessary evil, necessary to ensure the health of the company.

As seen above, background checks are done in secret; therefore data is unclear. Reasons for acceptance/rejection are undisclosed; applicants cannot know. Yet, certain information does surface, from criminal incidents and government statistics. Since 1981, credit-reporting agencies quit the background check market, leaving it to detective agencies. In 2006, the Japanese government passed the Act on Regulation of Private Detective Services in response to unclear fees and provision of services. The act regulated background checks, in agreement with Buraku liberation movements, social democratic parties and citizen movements. The act, however, was neoliberal. It prohibited leaks to third parties, true. By not prohibiting background checks outright, it made access to them easier. Deregulation is a recent political trend. But in reality, the state spurred the arbitrary appetite of capital while strengthening regulation. The definition and legalization of the private detective industry is common in industrialized countries.

Unexpected Number of Background Checks Against Burakumin.

The act had serious weaknesses with no deterrent effect. The so-called Prime Scandal reveals the situation. This was a criminal case and social outrage caused by the owner of the Prime Law Office, and five judicial scriveners. Abusing their authority, they got information on approximately forty thousand individuals from some thirty thousand family registers, and supplied these to approximately 1,500 detective agencies and their clients. Registers were accessed on false grounds. Police arrested them on suspicion of counterfeiting stamped documents, in violation of the Resident Registration Law, the Family Registration Law, and others. The six original parties netted approximately 2.2 billion yen between three and five years, on a gross of from 8 to 10 billion. They testified that anywhere from 50 to 90 percent of contracts were to find whether targets were Burakumin. They themselves were surprised at these figures (Kataoka, 2013:14). Ultimately, 28 persons were convicted. They paid combined fines of 15 million yen. Only two received prison. One got a 3-year sentence, and one got a two-hand-a-half-year sentence. The Prime Scandal is symbolic. Similar scandals occurred in Kyoto, Aichi, Mie, Hyogo, Osaka and Kagawa prefectures. And this is the tip of the iceberg. It may be fairly said that the Act on Regulation of Private Detective Services was ineffectual. In 1994, 2,348 detective agencies, including several credit reporting agencies, existed. By 2004, that number had risen to 6,188 (Nemoto, 2005:1). Revenues were estimated by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications to be 400 billion in 2014. According to interviews, the price of checks varied. One agency charged a 40,000 base cost, plus 80,000 yen a day. The mean is probably from 200,000 to 300,000 yen. Matsumoto Koji (2017:157-6) reported bills as high as 2 million yen.

Primary sources are elusive. Detectives generally deny having ever investigated possible Burakumin. Thankfully, a few are forthcoming. “In usual queries, we get various information. The sort of information you are asking about? It exists, and we supply it. We must give clients the whole truth. We tell them the whole truth.” Others claimed it is impossible to determine Burakumin. The word impossible is important in background checks. Kitaguchi Suehito (1999:10-5) revealed that clients need not resort to the term “Burakumin,” because the word “impossible” carries the meaning. In the background check industry, coded communications are commonplace. One respondent who denied ever performing background checks said, “There are those who will do anything for money.” This study attempted to contact “those” people, but got a dangerous feeling.

The detective agency existed before regulatory legislation. It classically depended on a network of communities from various businesses: legal professionals, police, phone companies, electric companies, etc. The model depended on the division of labour. Everyone contributed something. This is very different from the centralized kikiawase. Detectives boasted that, given one datum - address, or name, or date of birth - they could reconstruct an entire genealogy7.

Background Checks by the Government

The Japanese government is not above background checks. They perform them if excused by “concern for national security.” Genshi-ryoku Kisei Iinkai closed seven meetings of the Working Group for Systems to Determine the Trustworthiness of Persons at Nuclear Facilities from 2014 to 2016 based on the IAEA's Nuclear Security Fund of 2011(Genshi-ryoku Kisei Iinkai, 2016b:12-6). According to a summary, after the accident at the Tokyo Electric Power’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, discussions developed within the context of how to prevent crises at nuclear power plants caused by personnel. Recommendation: check their backgrounds. They offered the slogan, “Checks prove persons trustworthy” (Genshi-ryoku Kisei-chou, 2016b). For safety’s sake, commissioners of the AEC decided that the nuclear industry should be authorized to investigate the trustworthiness of personnel at nuclear facilities. Reports said that the industry may outsource investigation of the trustworthiness of persons (Genshi-ryoku Kisei Iinkai ,2016a:4-5).

Counter opinions were offered (Genshi-ryoku Kisei Iinkai, 2016a:4). One said that outsourcing of identity surveys could easily be imagined to promote prejudice against Ainu, the disabled, Ryukyus, sexual minorities, and Burakumin, contrary to the Personal Information Protection Act (Genshi-ryoku Kisei-chou, 2016 a: 4). Nobody in the Genshi-ryoku Kisei Iinkai or other governmental organizations took heed. “Check trustworthiness,” was taken to mean conducting background checks on job applicants and workers (The Secretariat of the Nuclear Regulation Authority, 2016b). Safety equals productivity. The background check is part of the safety apparatus that has a centrifugal force for fusions of new productive factors to the global market (Foucault, 2004a=2007:54-5).

The background check, presumably, excludes persons judged to be less productive. But companies do not fail due to persons’ origins. The main causes of small-business bankruptcy are poor sales, irresponsible management, chain bankruptcy, and retrospective strain (Chuu-shou Kigyou-cho, 2016:599).  Shiraishi Kayoko (2003:22) showed that bankruptcy comes from failures of credit management, management strategy, marketing strategy, and financial strategy. Background checks cannot repair managerial incompetence.
Lower production time comes from better labor productivity. "Hence, the conditions of production, i.e., his mode of production, and the labour-process itself, must be revolutionized. By increase in the productiveness of labour, we mean, generally, an alteration in the labour-process, of such a kind as to shorten the labour-time socially necessary for the production of a commodity, and to endow a given quantity of labour with the power of producing a greater quantity of usevalue"(Marx, 1867=1887:217). It is generally thought that the Japanese labour force is excellent. However, Japanese productivity in 2016 ranked 21st among 35 OECD members (Nihon Roudou-seisansei Honbu, 2017:3). Since 1970, its highest ranking has been 15th. It improves, on average, at an annual rate of only 0.6% (Nihon Roudou-seisansei Honbu, 2017:29-31). This suggests that the Japanese economy is not strongly tied to the individual human capital said to be responsible for productivity. Therefore, even if companies sifted laborers according to the presence or absence of human capital, they would be disappointed. If a company invented a revolutionary manufacturing system, other companies would have to follow. This is “The law of the determination of value by labour-time, a law which brings under its sway the individual capitalist who applies the new method of production, by compelling him to sell his goods under their social value, this same law, acting as a coercive law of competition, forces his competitors to adopt the new method. (Marx, 1867=1887:220)” Thus capitalist advantages soon come to naught.

The Hataraki-kata Kaikaku Jikkou Keikaku determined by the Hataraki-kata Jitugen Kaigi of the government is a small paper of 28 pages. It uses the term productivity 18 times, and labour productivity 6 times. This would suggest that Japanese economic advancement is stuck at the point of innovation. Other levers might be pulled: compatibility with labor participation; child rearing; nursing care; training for new employment; side-work; and concurrent work.( Hataraki-kata Jitugen Kaigi, 2017:1-2) The government is fixated on the idea that Japan must “raise the quality of human capital and growth potential” to “realize a virtuous circle of economic growth and distribution”(Naikaku-fu, 2017:1). By this inverted logic, background checks are rationalized.

This policy, according to the intention of capital, prepares a more severe working environment for labourers. The government and capital say that a worker who accumulates human capital differentiates himself from other workers. Suppose the human capital of a worker rises, and his productivity doubles. He should be promoted and protected with better conditions. Has he won the competition of differentiation? Will he earn the same income with reduced hours? This is inconclusive. Furthermore, what occurs is a decline of labor value. Karl Marx (18671887:220) revealed that “the value of commodities is in inverse ratio to the productiveness of labor. And so, too, is the value of labor-power, because it depends on the values of commodities. Relative surplus value is, on the contrary, directly proportional to that productiveness. It rises with rising and falls with falling productiveness.” Forward is poverty and social disparity. Background checks rationalize it.


No businessman interviewed by this paper claimed to exclude Burakumin absolutely. Many evaded the point. The same has been seen in other surveys. Very often, silence covers discrimination. To obscure the inconvenient thing comes from the mental structure of Japan. Mindful of this, the following is concluded. The background check is capital’s economic action with the essentialism that all Burakumin have lower human capital and productivity.

The background check, and the value of productivity, have always existed in capitalism. In this paper, however, business owners’ thoughts on these topics proved reversible. The idea that Buraku discrimination decreases productivity easily reversed to the idea that the exclusion of Burakumin increases productivity. The government-approved background check allows discriminatory capitalists to eliminate job applicants from the labour market with the belief that Burakumin are less educated and less productive. David Harvey (2007:65-6) describes the situation thus: “Individual success or failure are interpreted in terms of entrepreneurial virtues or personal failings (such as not investing significantly enough in one’s own human capital through education) rather than being attributed to any systemic property (such as class exclusions usually attributed to capitalism)." While relying on the Japanese mental structure, the background check fits this paradigm.


1. The Report of the Dowa Measures Council, the base of government affirmative action, insisted from first to last that Buraku and all Japanese share the same culture.

2. The US government (2015:19) announced that “Although not subjected to governmental discrimination, Buraku (the descendants of feudal-era outcasts) were frequently victims of entrenched societal discrimination. Buraku advocacy groups continued to report that despite socioeconomic improvements achieved by many Buraku, widespread discrimination persisted in employment, marriage, housing, and property assessment. While the Buraku label was no longer officially used to identify individuals, the family registry system could be used to identify them and facilitate discriminatory practices. Buraku advocates expressed concern that employers who require family registry information from job applicants for background checks, including many government agencies, may use this information to identify and discriminate against Buraku applicants.”

3. For the government, the family register system, which tracks all nationals, is an important tool of control. It is the base of the tax system, the education system, etc. Before WWII it was the basis of the conscription system.

4. In 1947, G.H.Q. dissolved the neighborhood association, the most basic wartime organization. Revived in 1952, it plays an important function in the system of national governance.

5. That paper examined the life history of youth from Buraku, and their difficulties receiving educations and getting jobs. It was not essentialism. However, according to F, this type of paper has the opposite effect of its intention.

6. In my survey, companies rarely if ever use paper tests. Hiring is decided by interview and resume. Connections are also important.

7. If what they say is true, they can access formal Joseki-bo, with a withdrawal record of 150 years, and kako-cho, a register with information possessed by temples.


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