Burakumin - Japan's Low and Dirty Class

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Burakumin [部落民] is a Japanese word used to refer to a class in Japan, to a percentage of approximately 3% of Japanese who have suffered an intense prejudice for their social class or lifestyle.

During the medieval period, burakumin they were the lowest class in the social hierarchy. They worked in functions considered impure, such as executors of criminals, leather makers, butchers, street cleaners and gravediggers.

Traditionally they lived in specific ghettos and were forbidden to attend temples from other social groups. O feudal system called caste was also hereditary, which perpetuated the social stigma of the group.

The basis of discrimination against burakumin is based on the Shinto precept of purity. With the introduction of Buddhism in Japan, the notion of impurity associated with the death and consumption of certain animals, caused even more separation from the Burakumin.

Meaning of Casta - Any social group, or rigid system of social stratification, of a hereditary nature.

The Origin of the Burakumin

It is not clear how the Burakumin arose, but historians say there are three different versions to explain their appearance:

THE first says that they are descendants of the aborigines, primitive peoples of Japan, who were dominated by the peoples who arrived in the country, afterwards. THE Monday says they are Filipino and Korean immigrants.

And the third version says that the burakumin are people who, a long time ago, were charged with killing, cleaning and preparing animals for consumption. After some time, they were also charged with preparing the dead for the funeral.

In the middle of the 18th century, the reformer of shinto, Atsutane Hirata, wrote that the Burakumin were impure and inferior, and must remain separate from society and prevented from entering other times.

Only in 1871 were the Burakumin able to live outside the ghettos, but social discrimination remained. To date, a large proportion of dirty service workers such as landfills and factories of meat products are burakumin.

Burakumin - a classe baixa e suja do japão
Types of jobs for Burakumin

Descendants of the Burakumin

Nowadays, it is not so easy to recognize a Burakumin as it used to be, because, in the Tokugawa period, for example, they lived in ghettos and wore specific clothes that identified them.

But these days it is not like that anymore, so it is not certain whether or not it is burakumin, although they are associated with people working in dumps, sewers, refrigerators and with the preparation of corpses, others can do the same job.

Most descendants of the Burakumin prefer to hide their origins to avoid prejudice. Because and reveal their origin they can miss the opportunity to get a good job or even to get married. And a person already employed can even be fired if he reveals his origin.

Even today, Japanese companies buy lists made by private investigators that indicate which families are of Burakumin origin to avoid hiring people from these families, which makes it very difficult for the Burakumin to change their economic and social situation.

There are also reports that some Japanese families use these lists to prevent descendants of the Burakumin from marrying a family member.

It is important to note that some of the most important artists in the history of Japan are Burakumin. Among them, there were several artists and theater creators noh, as kabuki and kyogen.

Burakumin - a classe baixa e suja do japão
Photo of the Kabuki theater.

Has Prejudice decreased?

Fortunately, this prejudice has been diminishing in Japan, a proof of this was the Japanese government decree in 1871, which said that the Burakumin would be considered as ordinary citizens, having before the law the same rights as other social classes in Japan. 

But there are still many people who regard the Burakumin as a dirty and inferior class, and most descendants of the Burakumin still work in low-valued professions, probably inherited from their ancestors.

And since that 1871 decree was not accompanied by any financial or educational aid, many Japanese people continue with the same way of thinking, and the Burakumin remain Burakumin.

But it is worth remembering again that there are many important Japanese artists who are descendants of the Burakumin. In the current scenario, there are some who are famous writers, entrepreneurs or hold political positions.

For example, the former governor of Osaka and current mayor of the city of Osaka, Toru Hashimoto is a burakumin, the writers Manabu Miyazaki and Kenji Nakagami too, not to mention the founder and president of Uniqlo, Tadashi Yanai.

Burakumin - a classe baixa e suja do japão
Photo showing the period burakumin.

However, the vast majority of the descendants of the Burakumin unfortunately still work in low-valued professions or even enter the world of crime. About 70% of the members of Yamaguchi-gumi (the largest Yakuza faction in Japan) are believed to be of Burakumin origin. 

But some important movements have been taking place to try to change the situation of Buakumin descendants in Japan. From the beginning of the 20th century, these movements were divided into two fields: “assimilation”, which encouraged improvements in the standards of living of the buraku communities and integration with Japanese maintream society, and the “levelers”, a movement that focused on confronting and criticizing alleged perpetrators of discrimination.