The Buraku Liberation and Human Rights Research Institute (BLHRRI) organized a two-day International Workshop on Current Buraku Issues on 31 July ? 1 August 2008 in Osaka city to"compare the historical experiences of Buraku people with similar experiences of other social minority groups in other cultures" that will"undoubtedly bring about important recognition of key issues surrounding the life of Buraku and other minority populations."
The presentations were divided into four panels. The panel on “Social Mechanisms that Produce Minorities” dwelt on the Buraku discrimination, the caste discrimination in India, and the racial discrimination in the United States. Midori Kurokawa of Shizuoka University explained that the Buraku discrimination evolved as the Japanese society modernized, despite its legal prohibition as early as 1871. The persistence of Buraku discrimination, she asserted, was due to the drawing of an “innate line” between people who discriminate and the discriminated. The Buraku people assumed such “innate characteristics,” while people who were free of such characteristics were safe from discrimination “for the rest of their lives.” The Indian caste discrimination, according to Motilal Mahamallik of the Indian Institute of Dalit Studies, was based on people’s “affiliation to a certain community.” They were discriminated against certain types of access and opportunities in the society. He said that the Indian affirmative action or reservation policy has helped address discrimination and exclusion of Dalits in different spheres. John Davis Jr. of Michigan State University reported that the United States situation offered paradoxes. While the inclusion of an African-American, a woman and a Latino as nominees for the Democratic Party candidate for President was historical, it hid realities of continuing discrimination based on race and gender in American society. He, therefore, asserted that the suggestion of a post-racial or post-gender America was premature.
In the panel on “Changing Identities of Minorities,” Christopher Bondy of De Pauw University (U.S.) presented a case study of a small town where Buraku youth were helped in openly identifying themselves as Buraku. He said that his study showed how the Buraku youth learn toshare their identity openly within the confines of their “protective cocoon” - the home, school and the community. He also said that outside this area the Buraku students had to struggle to openly share their Buraku identity. Without trust being established, these youth hesitated to reveal their identity as Buraku. A study of Yugo Tomonaga, Ryo Yano and Maya Mori dealt with several case studies on Buraku communities and the Aborigines in Australia. They asserted that the Buraku existence had diverse characteristics, and its relationship with the non-Buraku community contributed to the diversity and uniqueness within the Buraku community.
The panel on “The Role of the Minority Middle Class” discussed the case of the anti-discrimination movement in Korea by the paekjong, a group similarly discriminated as the Buraku, in the 1920s. Kim Joong-Seop of Gyeongsang National University (South Korea) reported that the successful campaign of the paekjong against discrimination was due in part to the role played by the middle class and the intellectuals in the paekjong community. The educated middle class intellectuals from the paekjong community led the movement’s efforts to abolish discriminatory customs, regain their communitarian fellowship, and lift their social status. Lee Kayoung presented the role of the middle class in a local community anti-discrimination group. He narrated the initial aloofness of the Buraku middle class to the group and the problems of the poorer Buraku members in Hinode community. But this gradually changed when the group began to take up middle class concerns such as tax and business alongside the poorer people’s concerns on education, employment and housing. The middle class in Hinode community began to take active part in the group. But with the government special measures alleviating the condition of the Buraku communities and creating new middle class, the middle class began leaving the community to have private homes instead of the public housing facilities. The community was left with the poorer members that somehow led to a stagnated anti-discrimination movement.
The last panel on other important issues related to Buraku discrimination discussed the problem facing women, and multi-culturalism in Japanese society. Nehema Misola of Western Visayas College of Science and Technology (Philippines) presented the case of a Buraku woman who was struggling to realize social equality for Buraku women. She reported that the woman was confronted with the traditional roles assigned to women at home and at work. But the woman continued to increase her capacity to pursue social equality for women by studying human rights. Risa Kumamoto of Kinki University presented the situation of women in the Buraku liberation movement. She pointed out that the discussion of women concerns within the movement does not relate to the “universal” problem of discrimination but to the peculiar problem of women. They are debated only within the Women’s Division of the movement. Because of this, she observed that the gender structure in the Buraku community could also be reinforced by Buraku discrimination. Buraku women are being “othered” by the Buraku movement, which is a male-centric structure, by confining them to the role of “mother” and to supporting roles in the movement. In this context, she observed that fighting for a more women-centered system within the movement’s structure could be considered a betrayal of the cause of the movement. Joseph Hankins, PhD candidate in Chicago University, studied the change in the way the Buraku issue was presented in the English literature and the funding support for Buraku studies. He noted the shift from the previous presentation of the Buraku issue as a “stand-alone issue to an issue that fits squarely in with other minority populations in Japan,” namely discussing the Buraku issue as part of the “otherness” concept in Japanese society. He also studied the record of the Japan Foundation regarding financial support for the study of the Buraku issue. He noted that in its thirty-six years of operation, only one grant on a graduate research on the Buraku issue had been given. A few previous research grants might have considered the Buraku issue as a component of the subjects of research (such as the concept of pollution in medieval Japan, multicultural education, and city planning). These grants were all given during the last five years. He observed that the Japan Foundation probably saw the discussion of the Buraku issue within the framework of multiculturalism as the proper way of “presenting” Japan. Finally, he studied a Buraku activist organization and also noted a shift from focusing on Buraku issue alone to using multiculturalism to relate to other minority groups in Japan and to using human rights as a basis for common action with other minority groups. All these contributed to the effort of debunking the view about the homogeneity of Japan.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org; www.blhrri.org.