Seken and Buraku Discrimination

What is Seken?
The term seken literally means in English society and the world. These interpretations are however, not always true. Take this test text. Japanese breathe society, and breathe the world. Expressed thus, the words are not seken, but shakai or sekai. Shakai is an invented word of late modernity. Generally, shakai, as society is an aggregation of individuals having dignity. Abe Kinya (1995:13) made the same assertion. The dignity of individuals is a presupposition of modern society. Frequently, individuals conflict in their dignity. What adjudicates and authorizes the conclusion is the law. For the society, the deviant is brought to justice as a criminal. From the term for Japanese society (Nihon-shakai), people can imagine the whole country. Or, they can imagine geinou sekai (entertainment world) as entertainment spread across the globe. Namely, the society for the Japanese became defuse accordingly dynamics of the Japanese. The Japanese never say nihon seken or geinou seken.

Meanwhile, seken is an aggregation of people’s experiences, such as with relatives, coworkers, co-hobbyists, neighbors, and so on. Seken is rarely beyond personal experience. Seken itself has no purpose to exist, however, it non-verbally educates and reeducates people as holders of vulgar morals, such as diligence, pliability, and harmonization. It can therefore be said that seken is a space of ordinary people, considered by themselves. Seken does not, however, dictate directly ordinary customs and manners. For example, a 65-year-old man lay on on his deathbed. The man's youngest son clung to him, crying. The crowd of about 70 people from the seken offered sympathetic comments. Some said, “Don’t cry for your father.” Others, "Cry more for your father.” The son continued to cry. Children present learned the meaning of crying as a vulgar moral when bidding farewell to a loved one. People endow seken with fictitious personhood. Sometimes they add the title of respect, sama, which is similar to Dear or Sir. It is impossible to describe the origin of seken. However, for an individual, his seken starts at birth. Seken does not have any statutory laws, but commandments based on a keen sense of value. Seken frequently forces neighbors who are not shrine parishioners to patronage a Shinto shrine, and give a donation. To obey is to retain place in the seken. No one may break the commandments. That individual who does break the commandments shall be treated as a deviant, and disciplined.

Seken does not have any determinate norms to define deviance. Even a rational disagreement could be deviance. Even sympathy with a deviant may be deviance. In society, the welfare system has rationality. Seken, however, judges welfare recipients as lazy. The Japanese welfare system is for nationals who, with their income and assets, are unable to maintain "the minimum standards of wholesome and cultured living" guaranteed by the Constitution. Consequently, seken challenges the contract between the government and the individual. In 2014, Mizushima Akihiro a professor of Jochi university wrote that when the welfare clerk discourages the would-be recipient, he appeals to seken-tei, respectability. Mizushima said that this was the tip of the iceberg. (

Seken seems to be a feudal inheritance, reconstructed as a disciplinary apparatus for late modernity. Nakamura Yoshiharu (1971:204) wrote that mura-hachibu (ostracism) occurred more often than before the Meiji Restoration, which was the collapse of feudalism. Certainly, by mura-hachibu, seken could not exclude a family from agriculture or public education. Mura-hachibu however, could push an individual out of his company. The idea of the public interest was latent for use or abuse. Seken disturbed the establishment of universal modern social rules.

Seken has another meaning. When a person gets angry from knowing boom of something not good enough, he/she said, “What bad is seken”.

Seken and Burakumin
The relationship of seken and Burakumin also began in modernity. The 1905 novel “HAKAI”(The Broken Commandment)by popular novelist Shimazaki Thoson dealt with a young Burakumin protagonist. This novel examins seken and Buraku issues. Segawa Ushimatsu is a teacher from Buraku. He fears disclosure. His father has forbidden him to tell his background to anyone. A non-Burakumin councilman, Takayanagi Risaburou, married to a Buraku woman, also fears disclosure. Ushimatsu knows the wife's identity. Risaburo asks him to tell nobody. Rumor spreads throughout his school that Segawa Ushimatsu is Burakumin. This troubles him greatly. Finally he discloses himself, and leaves Japan for Texas, USA. What Takayanagi had feared, he receives: stigma from contact with a deviant. The penalty: mura-hachibu. Life imitates art. In 2011, the head of Kasai city's educational committee (in Hyogo prefecture) sent a letter to his followers, ordering them to break off relations with four persons. The cause was a difference of opinion about a cell tower. The four persons of a dissident opinion were labeled deviants. Meanwhile, seken designates Burakumin as deviant. To be Burakumin is deviant. Having be in touch with the deviant is deviant.

This is the power of seken. Its power is ungranted. Yet common people behave as if seken has power of law. But it is an ethical, not a legal, power. In late modern Japan, the government treated the poor as criminals. Vagrants were subject to arrest.

Most Burakumin were not vagrants. However, the ideas that a Buraku is a decivilized space, and that Burakumin are maverick outsiders and deviants, cover all Burakumin. Poor, idle and rude: this is the image that inhabits people's minds, vexing Burakumin. For the non-Burakumin, to exclude Burakumin, i.e. to discriminate against Burakumin as others, is to keep distance from deviants. It also means to maintain Seken-tei. The Buraku was a place that would be off-limits.

From the above, it is clear why people would use a background check to protect seken. To them, it is only rational to keep peace in their lives communities. Additionally, discriminating against Buraku is a principal of constructing contemporary Japan.

Abe Kinya, 1995, “Seken” toha Nanika, Koudansha, Tokyo
Nakamura Yoshiharu, 1957, Nihon no Sonraku Kyodoutai, Nihon-hyouronsha ,Tokyo

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