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FOCUS June 2008 Volume 52

Present-Day Buraku Discrimination*

Kenzo Tomonaga**

* This is a shorter and edited version of the article entitled "How We Perceive Present-Day Discrimination in Japan" that appeared in the Buraku Liberation News, 3rd quarter 2007, no. 145, pages 3-6.

**Kenzo Tomonaga is the Director of the Buraku Liberation and Human Rights Research Institute.

There is a conventional belief about the Buraku problem in Japan; discrimination based on social class was practiced in pre-modern society, not in modern times. If such a problem exists in modern times, it is a mere legacy of the past and should have disappeared with the passing of time.

Pre-modern discrimination based on social class certainly does not exist anymore, as social practices have changed and the Japanese Constitution and laws prohibit discrimination.

However, discriminatory attitudes have not been eliminated. Discrimination continues to manifest itself in various spheres of daily life, including marriage. Despite improvements made through various measures, the reality of discrimination can still be seen in social life, education and employment in present-day Japan.

Presently, there is an even more serious problem of discrimination against the Buraku people in view of the following:

  1. In 2002, the ending of the 1969 special measures to help alleviate the condition of the Buraku people
  2. The current widening gap between the rich and the poor in the country
  3. The stronger tendency among the people to support state power and maintain an anti-human rights opinion
  4. The media's strong projection against the anti-discrimination movement and the Buraku people.

Persistence of Buraku discrimination

A series of scandals in 2006 surrounding the Buraku liberation movement and the administration of government programs on human rights/Dowa led to an unprecedented large-scale coverage by the mass-media of the Buraku problem. Most of the news coverages provided unreasonable generalizations that amplified the negative perceptions of the Buraku people, the Buraku liberation movement and administrative services for Dowa and human rights issues.

Recent studies by several local governments show that the Buraku people still face many problems regarding living conditions, education and employment. The general attitude of the public towards Buraku people has become more negative. There are malicious discriminatory incidents that continue to occur, such as:
- discovery of new Buraku List[1] versions, including an electronic version
- propaganda and incitement to Buraku discrimination on the Internet (several perpetrators have been convicted of defamation in  Aichi and Hyogo prefectures)
- cases of avoidance of the Buraku communities in the purchase of property and reorganization of school districts.

There is a shortsighted opinion that increasing inter- marriage between Buraku and non-Buraku people in recent years aided the resolution of Buraku discrimi- nation. What is missing in this opinion is the fact that behind this trend are many cases of engagements being cancelled and married couples facing strong opposition or rejection from relatives of non-Buraku spouses, for example through refusal to attend the wedding ceremonies. Furthermore, some couples have been prevented from associating with the relatives of non-Buraku spouses for many years even after having children.

There is also a problematic view that Buraku discrimination is being resolved with the move of non-Buraku people into public housing facilities in recent years (due to cheaper rent)[2]< while some Buraku people with relatively stable income leave these facilities. This view fails to consider the fact that there is no assurance that those people who leave the Buraku community will not be subjected to Buraku discrimination. Private investigative agencies can be hired to check the personal backgrounds of people by illegally accessing the family registers to uncover whether or not they originate from a Buraku area. Also, some of those who have moved into Buraku communities move out when they discover that they are in a Buraku community. There is also the fear that, with the aging of the Buraku population, Buraku communities may attract increasing number of people with financial difficulties, causing further discriminatory attitudes towards Buraku residents from neighboring communities.

Discrimination against designated places

A survey conducted by the Osaka prefectural government of residents of the prefecture on their human rights awareness and attitudes reveals that more than 90% are aware of the Buraku problem. To the question regarding how people in general identify a person as Buraku, most respondents answered, "If a person lives in a Buraku area," "his/her relatives live in a Buraku area," or "his/her family record is registered in a Buraku area." These answers indicate that Buraku discrimination today takes the form of discrimination against designated places or districts that affect both the current residents and those with Buraku backgrounds who have transferred elsewhere. This explains the continuing illegal acquisition of family registers to check people's personal background.

Resolving the Buraku problem

The ways to resolve the Buraku problem are generally divided into two methods.

One method is to make the Buraku districts physically disappear and does away with teachings about the Buraku problem. The other method allows the Buraku districts to continue to exist and eliminates the discrimination against Buraku people (even if they openly identify themselves as having Buraku origin).

These methods parallel those prescribed to eliminate discrimination against people with disabilities. In the first method, discrimination against people with disabilities can be resolved by getting rid of the disabilities themselves. This requires monitoring fetuses to detect disorders and subsequently aborting those found with disorders.

The second method does not aim at freeing people from disabilities, but at changing discriminatory attitudes against disabilities. It aims at removing all barriers in education, employment and daily living that restrict people with disabilities.

The first method aims to resolve the Buraku problem by stopping the Buraku liberation movement, dispersing Buraku districts, and imposing silence about the problem. However, the genuine solution to the Buraku problem rests with the second method, i.e., creating a society where nobody faces discrimination due to their Buraku origin even if Buraku areas still exist and people openly identify themselves as having Buraku origin. Indeed, this is the position taken by the Declaration of the Levelers' Association in 1922.[3]

The first method conflicts with a number of factors:

  1. Historical facts can never be erased, such as people who were called eta (extreme filth) and hinin (non-human) existed during the pre-modern period, the National Levelers' Association was founded and their Declaration was adopted in March 1922, the Cabinet Dowa Measures Council made its report in August 1965 and the Law on Special Measures for Dowa Projects was enacted in July 1969, followed by various projects taken under the law.
  2. Although residents in a community change, the Buraku districts themselves do not disappear.
  3. The Japanese traditions of returning home during the New Year holiday and visiting ancestors' graves during the bon festival are still strongly followed. Thus people's own communities have to continue existing.

The individual's decision on this issue must be respected. Therefore, a person's commitment to his/her Buraku identity must be respected, just as a person's decision not to identify with his/her Buraku origin must also be respected.

Requirements for future eff o rts towards the solution of the Buraku problem:

Based on the provisions of the International Covenant on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial
Discrimination (ICERD), there are five requirements for the future efforts to resolve the Buraku problem.

  1. Prohibition of discrimination by law
    Discrimination is a cruel and antisocial action that can drive people to commit suicide. Marriage discrimination in particular has led to the suicide of many young Buraku people. Many people have also suffered mentally. Buraku discrimination must therefore be prohibited by law, as there is currently no law prohibiting discriminatory behavior and acts against the Buraku, Japan must urgently ban discrimination by law with reference to ICERD and related laws of other states.
  2. Effective compensation for victims of discrimination
    Discrimination causes significant damage to those subjected to it. Compensation to the victims of discrimination is therefore required. While the court is the ultimate institution that can award such compensation, resorting to any court process requires money and a long period of waiting for the judgment. Also, those who file complaints in court suffer again as they testify on the damage they suffered as a result of discrimination. These factors mean that many people would not go to court to seek redress, and instead bear the discrimination in silence. An independent and expert human rights commission is therefore required to allow victims of discrimination to seek compensation through means other than court proceedings. Japan does not have such an institution. A law prescribing compensation for damages caused by human rights violations and creating a human rights commission is urgently needed.
  3. Improvement of the poor living conditions through special measures
    Buraku areas traditionally suffered from very poor conditions that affected their capacity to get employment - very few jobs were offered and were not regular jobs. Due to poverty, many people found it difficult to give their children the basic education (primary and junior secondary education) they needed. This was the result of discrimination against the Buraku people that was not resolved under the then ordinary or general measures of the government. This situation was the reason for the implementation of a series of special measures under the special measures law of 1969. These special measures were necessary to eliminate discrimination. However, the special measures were not limitless, and the law lapsed as soon as its objectives were achieved. The special measures for the Buraku areas ended in March 2002. Subsequent improvement of the actual conditions of discrimination should be made under the general measures of the government.
  4. Elimination of discriminatory ideas through education
    Discriminatory ideas do not disappear by themselves. Such ideas are transmitted from person to person as part of people's daily routine. Because of this, efforts are required to wipe out such ideas through education and awareness-raising. These efforts should take advantage of the United Nations World Programme for Human Rights Education (launched in January 2005) at the international level, and the 2000 Japanese Law Concerning the Promotion of Human Rights Education and Awareness-Raising. Human rights education and awareness-raising must be promoted in Japan.
  5. Harmonious living with mutual respect for identity
    Apartheid, which once existed in South Africa, was an overt form of discrimination. The assimilation policies that pre-war Japan imposed on the Korean population during its colonial rule (for example, the enforced use of Japanese language and visits to Shinto shrines) also constituted clear discrimination. In efforts to eliminate discrimination, each group must respect other groups' identities (such as their history and culture) and live in harmony and solidarity. To this end, initiatives for community building involving Buraku districts and neighboring communities are essential for the full realization of the human rights of all people.

For further information, please contact: The Buraku Liberation and Human Rights Research Institute, 1-6- 12, Kuboyoshi, Naniwa-Ku, Osaka City, Japan; ph (816) 6568 0905; fax (816) 6568 0714; e-mail: udhr@blhrri.org; www.blhrri.org.

Endnotes

1. The Buraku Lists refer to lists of Buraku communities and their residents, which were used by private companies in checking the personal background of job applicants.
The purpose of the lists was to help the private companies avoid hiring Buraku people.

2. The expiration of the Dowa Special Measures Law in 2002 led to the adoption of public housing regulations that only those with low income can occupy public apartments. The new system requires rent for the apartment to be determined according to household income.

3. This is the Suiheisha Declarationof 1922, visit http://blhrri.org/blhrri_e/blhrri/ebooks001.htm for the full text of the declaration.


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