Folklores and the Buraku Issue

Albeit infrequent, Buraku throughout the country do have their own folklore. Certainly, folklore has a sociological significance. It presents, therefore, an important study. At the same time, it is important to question the veracity of the historicity of the folklore. This duty is more difficult, but all the more important, when stories blur the borders of folklore and historical fact.

The same things hold true for Japanese history, generally. Publishers recently have been re-editing history textbooks because they contained confusions conflations of facts and unfacts. The confusion is itself often a product of political or ideological aims. Sakamoto Ryoma, for example, was presented in textbooks as a hero of the Meiji Restoration; and now he has disappeared. Since Shiba Ryotaro’s novel, Ryoma ga Yuku, the figure of Sakamoto Ryoma has been popular. With embroideries, Shiba constructed a hero of Meiji modernization. But let’s return to the Buraku issue.

Since the Suihei-sha Movement, or even before it, there have been folk stories about damage from Buraku discrimination. In the feudal age, commoners were known to kill persons from eta communities. From the eta would come demands for a sentencing of the guilty man to death. From the courts however (so goes the story) came the verdict of not-guilty. For an eta life was one-seventh the value of a commoner’s. This is a fictional piece of folklore having no evidence. The purpose of the story’s origin is unknown; the result is that the severity of discrimination was emphasized, and even exaggerated.


I recently read LINGUISTIC STEREOTYPING AND MINORITY GROUPS IN JAPAN, by Dr. Nanette Gottlieb, professor emeritus, University of Queensland. Unfortunately, she gives the “one-seventh” story as if it were true [51]. To repeat, it is a complete falsity. As Professor Gottlieb writes, her book is the first full-length study in English work about sabetsu yougo (discriminatory language). She should have validated the evidence of this story. It were easily done because researchers have already proven it false. There are other mistakes in this book. Gottlieb writes that, “Some people of disabilities, or Koreans, or others, have also moved into ‘dowa chiku’ to take advantage of governmental subsidies available there. [53]” This is also untrue. Especially, there is no social tendency of disabled people moving into Buraku to receive government money. Koreans in Buraku are very few. They have their own communities, some of which are located near Buraku. In addition, between Burakumin and Koreans, with few exceptions, relationships are generally not good. There is no evidence of people just moving into Buraku with active purpose. Social change, urban strains, and forces of capitalism have caused some ordinary people to move into Buraku. Industry capital and military government demanded enormous labor forces for the construction of military bases and factories. Labor agents recruited temporary workers from the country. Some of these would become Burakumin. People with complex backgrounds also became Burakumin. Buraku can be said to be defined as a construct of Japan’s modern period.

Concerning the former error, Professor Gottlieb referred to Passin’s 1955 paper, which is old and fallacious. Concerning the latter error, no citation is given. These mistakes do not destroy the book’s value. However, it is regrettable that Dr. Nanette Gottlieb did not read the data critically. Identification of folk story and fact is a basic requirement for any researcher of Buraku.

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