An Important Memorandum : Functions of Buraku and Burakumin

In the aftermath of contradictions caused by the Meiji restoration, Buraku appeared all throughout the Japanese archipelago. The formation process of the Burakumin was different from those of the Ainu, the Okinawan, the Korean and the Chinese as minority groups whom Japan had subjected. Buraku and the Burakumin social system was introduced without any military operations, slavery, or colonialization. Small numbers of nationals became Burakumin as if torn away from the dominant communities. It could be said Burakumin were assimilated through means “approved without force.” Even today, Buraku have an influx and efflux of population reminiscent of breath. The reproduction of Buraku and Burakumin is still ongoing.

Designating where Buraku were located, and even who were Burakumin, was left to the judgment of state power. Numbers fluctuated wildly, not to say arbitrarily, in especially local government reports, according to government whim.

As the details of Japanese imperialism become clearer, Burakumin, as second-class nationals in the home country, were counted as ‘genuine’ Japanese in the colonies, and were treated as the ‘other’ in Japanese communities abroad. In addition, they lacked stable positions politically and socially. Burakumin received as much discrimination as any other minority, without having at least the benefit of a clear identity.

Economically, Burakumin were the reserve army of industry, and ideologically, an icon to be exploited in the domination of colonials on the Korean peninsula and in Taiwan. Colonial governors motivated soldiers with this gem of positive thinking: “Even Burakumin can produce many results.” In the colonial role, the Buraku had an ideological function for lifting spirits for war. Domestically, they were used in a similar function vis-a-vis minority ethnicities: Okinawans, and the Ainu of Hokkaido. The Buraku were also an apparatus to increase domination and constraint by the emperor and his state.

State power expected Burakumin to demonstrate certain Japanese ethics, i.e. diligence, thrift, honesty and abstinence. They were not, however, granted dignity from sharing the same nationality. Frequently, Burakumin were treated as invisible. Burakumin were targets of discrimination when this was needed by the ordinary people; invisible when not needed. Discrimination could be a lifelong problem for Burakumin, but simple ephemeral matters for their non-Burakumin neighbours. Very often, even the most leftwing movements are ignorant of Buraku struggles, and dissociate from Buraku Liberation Movements.

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