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FOCUS September 2009 Volume 57

LIBERTY OSAKA: Promoting Human Rights to All

Nobutoyo Kojima

A group of concerned people in Osaka City met in August 1982 to discuss the establishment of an "Osaka Human Rights Historical Museum." They wanted a unique museum that would present a "viewpoint on human rights through the perspective of the history of oppressed people."[1]

The museum was eventually established as the Osaka Human Rights Museum and popularly known as LIBERTY OSAKA, the first museum on human rights in Japan. It was established in 1985 in Osaka City with the financial support of the governments of the Osaka Prefecture and City, labor unions, civil society organizations, and private corporations. The largest contributor was the Buraku Liberation League (BLL), the national leveler's movement established before World War II that played a leading role in the post-War movement against the discrimination of Japanese known as burakumin (buraku people).[2]

Museum Location

The original building and location of LIBERTY OSAKA are significant in the history of the anti-discrimination movement in Osaka. LIBERTY OSAKA is partly housed in one of the buildings of Sakae Primary School, the second oldest school to have been established in Osaka prefecture in late 19th century. The museum started in a school building built in 1928 with the financial support of the buraku people in the area.[3]

The school is located in an area, created as Watanabe village (Watanabe mura) in 1706 during the Edo period (1603-1868), where buraku people worked on the traditional major industries of leather tanning and drum manufacturing. The area produced drums that were used in Shitennoji, the major temple in Osaka, as well as in Osaka Castle during the 18th century. According to documents dating from around 1881, most of the 73,000 drums produced in Osaka in a year were made in Watanabe village. This area was also called Kawata village (kawa means leather, or skin) during the Edo period, and later renamed Naniwa ward (Naniwa-ku). Drum-making remains an industry in Naniwa ward at present with four manufacturers using the old drum-making techniques. The area had long been the residence of buraku people, who suffered social discrimination from the time the Watanabe village was established till the present. BLL has been very active in this area. LIBERTY OSAKA's location therefore is very historic in relation to the struggle against discrimination.

Basic Philosophy of the Museum

LI BERTY OSAKA was established to conduct studies and research on human rights including buraku issues, to collect and preserve related materials and cultural goods, and to publicly exhibit them, in order to contribute to the promotion of human rights and the development of a "humanity-rich" culture.

It adheres to four basic principles:
(1) Comprehensive museum focused on human rights

Out of the more than five thousand museums in Japan, few comprehensively cover human rights issues rooted in the history and culture of the Japanese society (such as the buraku history), and aimed at contributing to the promotion of human rights as well as the development of a "humanity- rich" culture. LIBERTY OSAKA, therefore, can be seen as a comprehensive museum on human rights. While based in Osaka, LIBERTY OSAKA sends out the message of respect for human rights across the country and the world.

(2) Museum that responds to the new human rights movement

LIBERTY OSAKA responds to the need to eliminate discrimination by heightening human rights awareness through its unique functions as a museum. Its activities (including exhibitions, meetings and other events, as well as educational programs) provide possible methods and directions for new human rights movements, such as those on human rights learning and awareness- raising.

(3) Museum that promotes the importance of human rights history and culture

In light of the advancement and diversification of the cultural needs of people, LIBERTY OSAKA has taken the new challenge of introducing intangible cultural assets such as performing arts and music that museums have not done before. This approach likewise reflects the use of songs and dances by people suffering from discrimination in expressing anger against, and yearning for liberation from, it. Exhibiting and publicizing these songs and dances are important for the promotion of human rights.

(4) Creative and participatory museum that promotes voluntary activities

LIBERTY OSAKA adopts participatory management as well as creates new ideas, awareness and values that help realize human rights and develop culture using the creativity coming from the grassroots activities of the people. LIBERTY OSAKA aims to gain greater capacity for further development through the combined strengths of the efforts of many private organizations, the cooperation of the local governments, and its status as a foundation.

Exhibits and Projects

Initially, the exhibits of LIBERTY OSAKA were structured around the buraku issue. During the 1995-2005 period, however, LIBERTY OSAKA undertook a substantial renewal of its exhibits by including various forms of discrimination and human rights issues arising from the current complex social conditions in Japan.

The current general exhibition section is based on the theme "How we face discrimination and human rights in Japan," and focuses on the discrimination and human rights issues from the start of the modern period (1868 onward) in Japan, when the structure of discrimination of the feudal ages was reorganized, until today. This section clarifies, from a human rights perspective, the social structure in Japan that created discrimination, the efforts of the discriminated people themselves against discrimination, and the discrimination and human rights situation today. Apart from the general exhibition, two special exhibitions as well as other exhibition projects are organized each year.

The general exhibition section consists of four units. Below is a brief introduction of each of these units.

Unit 1: Human Rights Today
Human rights are rights that all human beings are born with. Yet there are human rights that are violated, and people have to struggle to enjoy them. What roles do the various human rights have in our lives? Using multiple screens, this Unit shows visual materials on human rights in Japan and the world, as well as materials on the right to work (focusing on karoshi [death from overwork]), and the right to education (focusing on the phenomenon of children refusing to go to school).

Unit 2: Our Values and Discrimination
Each person has a different sense of values. These values provide an important basis in people's lives. But there are times when these values may provide a basis for discrimination. This Unit presents an opportunity for visitors to examine how values give people the strength to live, as well as how they relate to discrimination.

This Unit examines issues related to economic, social and physical statuses by looking at ten values, such as "the desire for good academic achievement" and "desire for good job."

Unit 3: The Activism of People who are Discriminated- against
People who suffer discrimination have diverse opinions and claims. This Unit shows their economic industries, the cultures they developed, their diverse views, and their movements against discrimination. The visitors can learn the meaning of these views and activities.

This Unit examines the structure of discrimination in contemporary Japan focusing on twelve issues, including issues regarding Korean residents, Ainu people and buraku people.

Unit 4: Discrimination, Human Rights and You
People suffering from discrimination are not the only ones affected by discrimination and human rights. Each person is involved in discrimination or human rights issues relating to education, work and daily life. Through narrations of different persons, this Unit shows how people can face discrimination and human rights issues. In this Unit, visitors can watch videos of victims of discrimination, or those who are involved in anti-discrimination and human rights activities, narrating their experiences.

Involvement in School Education

The activities of LIBERTY OSAKA place particular importance on working with educational institutions. LIBERTY OSAKA's specialist curators provide information, explain the exhibitions, as well as give advice and guidance on the preparation of visitation programs for students (from all school levels and universities) who visit as part of human rights education. LIBERTY OSAKA staffs also visit schools for human rights education using the learning processes derived from program implementation experiences and on topics relating to objects and materials from the museum. More and more students show interest in LIBERTY OSAKA through these educational activities. There are also volunteer guides who provide explanations to the general visitors, another educational activity that leads to a deeper understanding of the exhibition materials.


LIBERTY OSAKA's regular museum activities and its work in schools are mutually stimulating and deepen the understanding of how human rights education can be done systematically.

It has collected a significant amount of historical materials, as well as materials on buraku arts, crafts and movements.

In the twenty-four-year operation of LIBERTY OSAKA, it has received 1.22 million visitors. Many students learned about the buraku discrimination for the first time through LIBERTY OSAKA. Some even began to aspire to become teachers after the experience of viewing original objects and materials on display in LIBERTY OSAKA. They realized that they would not have come across this experience in conventional school education.

Future Direction

LIBERTY OSAKA looks forward to welcoming more visitors from other parts of Asia. To achieve this, it is launching in 2010 a continuing renewal program of the general exhibition. It plans to use multiple languages in its exhibit and activity explanations, along with the use of digital information network.

It also plans to introduce exhibitions and workshops using experiential methods that enable children to effectively learn human rights.

Nobutoyo Kojima is the Program Manager of LIBERTY OSAKA, and member of the Advisory Committee of HURIGHTS OSAKA.

For further information, please contact: LIBERTY OSAKA, 3-6-36 Naniwanishi, Naniwa- ku, Osaka City, Japan 556-0028; ph (816) 6561-589; fax (816) 6561-5995; e-mail:; human-top.htm


1."Lest We Forget: Osaka Human Rights Museum Planned for 1984," Buraku Liberation News, number 11, October 1982, page 3.

2.See "What is Buraku Problem," Buraku Liberation and Human Rights Research Institute, for the background on buraku discrimination, blhrri_e/What_is_Buraku.htm

3."Lest We Forget: Osaka Human Rights Museum Planned for 1984," op. cit.