Bio-Power, Discrimination, and the Formation of Modern Burakumin

Kobayakawa Akira

This story reveals the relationships created by the establishment of a military town, and the formation of Buraku in Maizuru, Kyoto prefecture. Two type Buraku existed in Maizuru. Old type have already been there at the start of the Meiji period. The new type Buraku were formed in the 1900s.

Framework for discussion

Manufacture, in fact, produces the skill of the detail labourer, by reproducing, and systematically driving to an extreme within the workshop, the naturally developed differentiation of trades which it found ready to hand in society at large. On the other hand, the conversion of fractional work into the life-calling of one man, corresponds to the tendency shown by earlier societies, to make trades hereditary; either to petrify them into castes, or whenever definite historical conditions beget in the individual a tendency to vary in a manner incompatible with the nature of castes, to ossify them into guilds. Castes and guilds arise from the action of the same natural law, that regulates the differentiation of plants and animals into species and varieties, except that, when a certain degree of development has been reached, the heredity of castes and the exclusiveness of guilds are ordained as a law of society. [Marx Karl Capital pp235]

One might say that the ancient right to take life or let live was replaced by a power to foster life or disallow it to the point of death.

In concrete terms, starting in the seventeenth century, this power over life evolved in two basic forms; these forms were not antithetical, however; they constituted rather two poles of development linked together by a whole intermediary cluster of relations. One of these poles-the first to be formed, it seems--centered on the body as a machine: its disciplining, the optimization of its capabilities, the extortion of its forces, the parallel increase of its usefulness and its docility, its integration into systems of efficient and economic controls, all this was ensured by the procedures of power that characterized the disciplines: an anatomo-politics of the human body. The second, formed somewhat later, focused on the species body, the body imbued with the mechanics of life and serving as the basis of the biological processes: propagation, births and mortality, the level of health, life expectancy and longevity, with all the conditions that can cause these to vary. Their supervision was effected through an entire series of interventions and regulatory controls: a bio politics of the population. The disciplines of the body and the regulations of the population constituted the two poles around which the organization of power over life was deployed. [ Foucault Michel, 1976, The History of Sexuality, pp.138-40 (English translation 1978)]

Labor shortage

In 1887, the project of Maizuru Chinju-fu, Japan’s fourth major naval station, was started. Construction would require 2000 day-laborers, daily. At once, a labor shortage occurred.

The population of Maizuru at that time was 9,832. An agricultural town, its farmers were also busy as silkworm breeders. At that time, this style of farming was Japan’s basic industry f. Then, kuchiire-ya or tehai-shi recruiting agencies began to employ laborers from other cities and prefectures. Despite physical laborers, the farmers of Maizuru felt a severe antipathy toward day-laborers.

Labor boom

From 1887 to 1922, Maizuru experienced a huge influx of mobile laborers. When a project finished these day-laborers returned to their hometowns, or moved on to other projects. Many laborers were single, but there were also many workers with families in tow.

Fixed-domicile residents

At the end of the naval station project, some laborers were unable to leave Maizuru, for various reasons. Some were peasants expelled from their homes because of agrarian disputes. Some railwaymen had already decided to make Maizuru the locus of their going and coming. Some residents were gamblers who needed to lie low. Some were eloped couples. Each had a reason to stay in Maizuru. Most sought employment with military related companies, and .

In the early 1900s, they began to form their own small communities. These were at four locations in Maizuru. Each consisted of 3 or 4 households. Single workers married, and soon had families. One of these communities was in a bamboo forest. Another was next to a dump for human waste. A third was before two large graveyards. The last was in a narrow valley.

These communities absorbed the helpless and the homeless. As early as 1906, some Maizuru citizens had begun to designate these communities as Burkau.

In 1936, by official record, 164 households with a combined population of 886 persons were counted as, respectively, Burkau and Burakumin. This population peaked at about 4,000. Jobs were fairly secure thanks to the fourth naval station. Big military facilities attract associated industries. Other opportunities for work included the transportation of military goods (especially in wartime) and coal.

Where did they come from?

Previous research found that residents of these communities had origins in Buraku in Tottori prefecture. According to my own research, residents came from Hyogo, Hiroshima, Tottori, Shimane, Niigata, Ishikawa, and so on. Some came from ordinary, non-Buraku districts. Police lists of rice-riot participants proved very helpful, as did naval station accident reports. Why did previous research fail to find and make use of these good resources? First, there is the bias of the mistaken belief that Buraku are a remnant of feudalism. Second, the Buraku liberation movement in Maizuru was controlled by a hegemony of activists from Tottori. They made a master narrative of Burakumin in Maizuru.

Relationships between old type and new type Burakumin

Old type Burakumin had good housing circumstances on a hill. From there, they looked down on the new type Buraku adjacent to a human-waste dump. They had farmlands, and could also be employed in naval factories. Old type and new type Burakumin were always quarreling, even to physical violence. Children fought, too. The communities never intermarried.

Emergence of the Iino firm

The Iino firm was a mature company from the tehai-shi. It had an exclusive contract with the naval station, to supply day laborers. They had a duty to be able to supply 1,600 local laborers within 48 hours, upon demand. Therefore, Iino needed a large pool of labor. Subcontracts of Iino prepared hanba labor camps.

Buraku and hanba

New type Buraku expanded the potential labor pool. Some hanba appeared within or beside Buraku. According to Watanabe, the hanba was/is an apparatus to lure workers to hard and dangerous jobs. In hanba, employers control every part of the laborers’ daily lives. Laborers are embedded in the industrial structure. In short, the Buraku itself functioned to recruit and control underclass laborers.

Pay for laborers

The Iino contract decided laborers’ pay, hours, work clothes, and requirements. Wages were 50 sen a day (men 20 to 45 years old), 30 sen (women 17 to 40 years old), and 15 sen (boys 14 to 16 years old). They worked 9 hours in summer, and 8.5 hours in winter. Laborers had to wear their own clothes and prepare their own tools.

Wages were lower than average Osaka wages, which ranged from 55 to 78 sen. More money was available in Maizuru, but it came with brutal amounts of overtime work. One man testified that he was able to make 90 sen a day, but this would hardly leave time for anything else. In short, Iino exploited its laborers, especially the women and boys.

According to Chu Qun HUANG (2013:230), a tenant farmer’s income was as follows. If a peasant cultivated a 1.5 ha rice paddy and a 0.4 ha garden as tenant lands, he and his family could gain 376 yen, 90 sen. His constant capital, including seeds, fertilizer, machinery, and so on, was 166 yen, 72 sen. About 273 yen went to labor. In this example, he would have negative earnings of 62 yen, 72 sen. On the other hand, working for Iino, a husband worked one extra hour a day, and made an annual income of 302 yen.

The four new Buraku communities came squarely under Iino control. As early as 1904, at the start of the Russo-Japanese War, Iino had shown that it was capable of assembling 2,600 workers.

Successful models

With hard work, and some overtime hours, a laborer could afford his own house. This seemed to be a successful model in the Buraku. Some workers took their savings and started independent businesses. Some bought horses and cars, and started transportation businesses. Several persons became themselves tehai-shi and recruited laborers for Iino.

Washington Naval Treaty and the Iino Firm.

By 1922, Iino was supplying 1,500 laborers to the naval station. Demand had decreased since the Washington Naval Treaty. Iino, however, was secure. It was in a chronic state of deficit, but in the crisis of the Japanese economy, Iino was able to halve its accumulated deficit (Iino firm,1959:365-7). Diversification helped. Iino had acquired a contract for breaking up warships, and a contract to transport coal from Fushu, China. According to testimony (Yamiuchi 10.23.2018), many Burakumin worked for Iino. Despite the decreasing population of the Maizuru area, the population of Buraku in Maizuru was stable.

Bio-power and the Iino firm

Burakumin, still now, appreciate the Iino firm; especially its founder, Iino Torakichi. They consider Mr. Iino and his company supported Burakumin’s lives. Most leaders of the four new type Buraku were members of the Japan Communist Party. The general Marxist philosophy would consider day-laborers collectively as a relative surplus population, or an industrial reserve army. These Maizuru Burakumin, however, did not see it so. Iino, as a capitalist, perfectly disciplined the Burakumin. This means that bio-power functioned. The burakumin lived under rigorous discrimination. The Iino firm improved their circumstances.

How did laborers become Burakumin?

Before World War II, Maizuru city largely neglected its Buraku. It did, however, prepare some housing projects to deal with overpopulation in Buraku. For residents, to accept a place in these projects was tantamount to becoming a Burakumin.

Capital and the Imperial Japanese Navy needed a fixed underclass. The nearby farmers looked down on physical work, in spite of the fact that farming is physical work. These farmers excluded laborers, as Eta, from the bamboo grove which they illegally occupied. Rumors expanded widely. Some said that Burakumin had come from Tottori on foot. There is no evidence for this, but the story became a scientific discourse.

The old type Burakumin discriminated against the newly arrived underclass, whom they saw as lower than low. Non-Burakumin in Maizuru also recognized the newcomers as lower than their regular old type Burakumin. Administrators and the organization of the reconciliation movement designated them Burakumin, and recorded them as such in their archives. The new type Burakumin believed themselves to be “genuine” Burakumin originated in Eta-hinin communities. They testified as much in their private histories.

The meaning of being Burakumin.

Having the status of Burakumin functioned to immobilize particular laborers in a certain occupation. Iino enjoyed a local monopoly. Yet its workforce, having somatized vulgar ethics such as diligence and saving, felt happy to be under its governance.

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