A Short Story of One Family in the Buraku.

This is a summary of the Furubayashi  family story. The family consisted of Shizuo, 81; Tamiko, 77; and their only son, Taro, 53. Shizuo and Tamiko live north of Fukuyama city Hiroshima prefecture. Taro lives in a suburb of Tokyo prefecture. The graduate of a famous private university in Tokyo, he was able to get a job with a foreign-affiliated transportation firm. As a typically hard-working Japanese, he advanced to the head of a department. He took a wife - a coworker in that company - and they had two sons. Both boys are now students at a prestigious private school in Tokyo. The family looked happy and ordinary.

In Japan, the concepts of “ie” and “seken” are deeply ingrained. Japanese invite members of “ie” and “seken” (relatives, essentially) to weddings. In Taro's case, however invited family were only on the bride’s side. All of her family and friends attended. On Taro’s side, only his parents came. The marriage brought great suffering to Taro’s parents. His bride belonged to a famous family “bloodline”. They had a traditional mansion of more than 3300 square meters in the Tokai region. Her kin never refused the marriage; they merely demanded that Taro break away from his family and hometown. This was a clever strategy to save face. Frequently, when a son or a daughter wants to marry someone from the Burakumin, parents refuse it. Even if they relent, uncles and aunts put up noisy resistance. Sometimes the resistance is direct; sometimes it is euphemistic. When social pressure is strong (e.g. the BLM), discrimination appears with diffidence. Conversely, when social pressure is weak, discrimination swaggers. At that time, because the BLM was confronting discrimination directly and enthusiastically, outright rejection might invite a furor. People conspiring to quash marriages considered that they should avoid trouble rather than deal with it. A certain kind of person thinks that receiving social criticism dishonors their family. Since the Meiji Restoration, the bride’s family has occupied several important posts political in the prefectural government, so they sought a way by which they would not be criticized by society, including the BLM. They allowed the marriage, and forbade relations with Taro’s family. Taro agreed to this, wishing to escape discrimination and the Buraku community.

Taro knew well enough the problems of having Buraku origins. He had had deep discussions with his cousins, who studied Buraku issues, and became members of the Buraku problem institutes of their high schools.  From the late 60s to the 70s, many Buraku high school students organized. They formed networks to fight social discrimination. However, fighting meant self-disclosure. This was a hard step for teenagers. Too commonly, the ultimate defeat of boys and girls who did fight, was suicide. On December 12, 1970, at Miyoshi city, Hiroshima prefecture, a high school girl killed herself because her boyfriend's parents disallowed their relationship. Therefore, adolescents from Buraku often chose silence rather than conflict. Taro’s knowledge influenced his choices. To avoid employment discrimination, Taro took a job with a foreign company. He knew that his employer would never think to inspect his family register.

Taro is a source of pride for his parents. They tell everyone about their successful son and lovely grandchildren. But they never mention their daughter-in-law. With a wry smile, they might tell how they rely on telephone conversations to keep in touch with their son - because he has never been back to visit his parents - not even at 'Bon and Kure', the traditional holidays when it is compulsory for children to return home to celebrate with their parents. The one time Taro has visited his hometown, since his wedding, was for the funeral of a close relative. Decorum demanded his attendance.

Taro’s father, Shizuo, was the second son of a poor farming family, on a narrow strip of infertile soil. He could expect no inheritance. After junior high school, he found employment as a manual laborer doing track maintenance for the National Railroad, today’s JR. It was the end of the 1940s. The work was physically hard. Few young men wanted to do it. If one could put up with the brutal demands, there was good job stability because there was no competition for the work. As the economy improved, Shizuo’s union grew stronger, and his income increased. He was able to afford a high-quality education for his son. Shizuo’s wife, Tamiko, worked part-time to supplement the household expenses and education costs.

Tamiko was born in Kobe, the second daughter of a successful man that managed a retailing company. Her parents gave her opportunities to acquire education and culture. However, while Tamiko was still a schoolgirl, an air raid destroyed her parents’ business. They lost their wealth. The family had to go back to her mother’s hometown, where they live now. When Tamiko was 23 years old, she married Shizuo. He lived in the same community. Tamiko is getting old, but she is patient and wise, with a noble bearing - the ideal Japanese mother. She is skilled in Japanese drawing, calligraphy and other arts. Her housekeeping is exemplary. Visiting their home, one is greeted by shining wooden floors, dust-free tatami mats, and a clean toilet and bathroom. Her husband, now retired, works hard in their kitchen garden, and in the traditional garden in front of their house - which he built 53 years ago. Although never wealthy, they have prospered due to the natural advantage of having only one child. They were able to invest almost all of their earnings into Taro’s education. He was able to read widely, go to cram school, study the liberal arts, and get the necessary cultural assets to succeed.

Today, Taro’s parents are sick. Tamiko is bedridden with severe Meniere's syndrome. Shizuo takes care of her. In the winter of 2012, Tamiko’s condition demanded her admission to a hospital. In addition, Shizuo suspected that he might have cancer. (He didn’t.) One of Taro’s cousins sometimes visits them. He advises them to tell their son about their circumstances. But they will not.

These pathetic but proud pensioners send seasonal money and gifts to their grandsons. As Tamiko’s elder sister, Kazue, testified, they had to have received discrimination in their lives. Kazue was a well-known BLL activist. Shizuo knew how to organize, too. He was influential in his local branch of the National Railway Workers' Union. But neither Tamiko nor Shizuo had much interest in Buraku liberation.

Why did they not fight against discrimination? Why, in this whole family, has only one member (Kazue) joined the BLM? How were Tamiko and Shizuo able to endure, with smiles, the loss of their only son? The answers lie in the family's ethos. The family has a document, a memorandum. It states that the family once belonged to the samurai class, but fell into humiliation. The veracity of this claim is doubtful; and yet, the story is both interesting and - to the family - important.

Postscript: Unfortunately, Tamiko died at the age of 85 in 2017. The cause of death was lung cancer.

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