My Father was non-Burakumin

The following is a collection of notes by a businessman, Mr. Yoji Okada, written in 2018. He was born in 1946, in Hiroshima prefecture.  The notes are his. I have summarized and translated them.

My Father was non-Burakumin; I am a Burakumin. From 1973 to 2008, I have been a manager of a small company.

I was a university student when I discovered my background. As my parents had left both their hometowns before my birth, I did not know the truth of our family history. As a youth I never thought I suffered from Buraku discrimination. I had never heard the words eta-hinin or Burakumin. I learned them in the first year of junior high school. It was lunch hour. A classmate suddenly shouted, “Eta-hinin, eta-hinin” to another, with some hostility. Actually, I was on the discriminative side. I did not know the meaning of the word. Seven or eight classmates with him were frozen silent, and I was too because I could not understand what had happened. Somehow, I remember well that incident, which was my only one Buraku experience. But I didn’t know if that classmate came from Buraku.

After school that day, I hoped that my parents would teach me the meaning of the word. As soon as I asked what eta-hinin was, my father scowled with blazing eyes. My mother winced, dropped her eyes, and left the room. Father did not answer my question. However, he quietly forbade me to use the word again. I never did. I came to understand my father’s anger and my mother’s sadness in my university period. Thinking about it now, since before the war, my father was a liberal, and a critic of the imperial system; but the Buraku issue was taboo for him.

In those days, universities throughout the country hosted students’ movements. Being still wet behind the ears, I was an aggressive member of one of these movements. This was common. I joined discussions and street demonstrations. Being anxious about my studies, my parents told me to quit the silly movement. This was unacceptable for me, and we got into a sudden altercation. I accused their apathetic attitudes toward social contradictions. For some reason, I dragged in the Buraku issues - the marriage issue and the employment issue - and I insisted that we should struggle against Buraku discrimination with them who were making their own efforts to get equality. I cannot remember why we discussed the Buraku issue. The simple answer is that the Buraku had very foul living conditions, and poor education and occupation, caused by discrimination. That was the typical case.

After the argument, my mother came to my room. She said that she, with her friends in her district, had quietly joined the confederative school refusal movement - against a discriminatory remark by the principal of her elementary school. It meant that she has been a member of the Boy-and-Girl-Pioneers of Suiheisha; in other words, she had Buraku origins. I often hear that when young Burakumin learn their origin, they feel a world-ending shock. But I already knew some respectable individuals from Buraku, engaging with the Buraku Liberation Movement (BLM). My mother’s confession did not shock me. I was glad because now I had a reason to leave home. When I saw how my mother suffered from my dispute with my father, I decided to fight discrimination harder. So my father and I drifted away.

My father married a woman from Buraku. In this respect he looked more liberal than the average Japanese; but this was an illusion. Addressing the Buraku issue was taboo to him, as for everybody else. His marriage was full of hardship, and he was able to make a quiet life by getting over hard times. But his experience wasn’t much of an example to others. He felt shocked because I dredged up memories of his marriage. And I said we should fight Buraku discrimination. He had to be very upset, with a mixture of surprise and anger.

I know his feeling now. But I cannot agree with him. I am of the “bloodline” of Burakumin still now. In addition, I guess that even if a marriage between a Burakumin and a non-Burakumin succeeded, it would not be enough to solve all of the problems with the Buraku issue.  Even if I learned to compromise with my father, my fears of Buraku discrimination would never leave. I believe that Buraku discrimination is still a huge contradiction in this country.

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