The Increase in Background Checks

Since the 1970s, human rights groups have fought against background checks as an evil custom that ought to be abolished. Their continuation (goes the thinking) reinforces the structure of discrimination. Their decrease has been presumed, perhaps too optimistically.

“Background check” in Japanese is kikiawase. Decades ago, an arranged marriage or a new employee often called for a kikiawase. In those days, family register books were relatively open. A candidate for marriage would pass a tsurigaki, a document of one’s life history, to the nakoudo a marriage deal-maker. Tsurigaki were exchanged, and background checks performed. Then family registers came into play. If either party judged that the other’s family status were lower, the marriage proposal was cancelled. These days, the tsurigaki is often left out. But the background check remains.

The real situation can be ascertained in this 2016 conversation between three friends in their late 20s.

Woman A: She (common friend?) broke off her engagement.

Man B: Why?

Woman A: Maybe a background check.

Man C: What happened?

Woman A: A convict in the family.

Man C: Really?

Woman A: I don’t know. But it’s scary. Will my birth and background be investigated?

Man B: But it’s necessary, surely.

Woman A: Yes, it is. I have something on my chest, too. But it’s necessary.

Although not touching on the Buraku issue, this speaks of Japanese culture. Even among the young, a background check is both a dread and a relief. Preferring privacy, they accede to their parents’ culture. The young then become parents, and perpetuate that culture.

Refer to “The Creation of Another from Others,” from this website. A man who used to do 20 background checks a year saw his business go to zero. This does not mean that demand had decreased. Laws can be gotten around. Background checks went underground. Blank application forms, with official seals, became black market articles. The Prime Affair is instructive. Police arrested a manager of the Prime legal office, a manager and an employee of a detective agency in Yokohama, five judicial scriveners, and a clerk of the government-employment bureau of Yokohama. The court gave the Prime manager a 3-year sentence. They had sold information illegally obtained from 10,000 family register books. One background check costs between 200 and 300,000 yen.

Prohibition of background checks encouraged cheating, and detective agencies flourished. (Admittedly, these agencies also deal with missing persons cases, and shadowing cases.) According to the Metropolitan Police Department, small detective agencies increased from 2,348 in 1994 to 5,970 in 2013. This is inverse to the prohibition of legal access to family registers. The top three agencies accept over 10,000 applications. The top one’s annual business is 7 billion yen.

Background checks have become more systematic, but the focus on burakumin is more intense. The above is the tip of an iceberg.

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