Burakumin - The Low and Unclean Class of Japan

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

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

Traditionally, they lived in specific ghettos and were prohibited from attending temples belonging to other social groups. O feudal system The caste system was also hereditary, perpetuating the social stigma of the group.

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

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

The Origin of the Burakumin

It is not known for sure how the Burakumin came to be, but historians say there are three different versions to explain their emergence:

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

E a third version says that the burakumin are people who, a long time ago, were in charge of killing, cleaning and preparing animals for consumption. After some time, they were also put in charge of preparing the dead for the funeral.

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

It was not until 1871 that the Burakumin were able to live outside the ghettos, but social discrimination remained. To this day, most workers in dirty services such as garbage dumps and factories of meat products are burakumin.

Burakumin - Japan's Dirty Low Class
Types of jobs for Burakumin

The Descendants of the Burakumin

Nowadays, it is not as 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 nowadays it's not like that anymore, so it's not sure if it's burakumin or not, although they are associated with people who work in dumps, sewage networks, refrigerators and with corpse preparation, others can do the same job.

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

Even today Japanese companies buy lists made by private detectives that indicate which families have 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 Burakumin descendants from marrying a family member.

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

Burakumin - Japan's Dirty Low Class
Kabuki theater photo.

Has Prejudice Decreased?

Fortunately, this prejudice has been decreasing in Japan, a proof of this was the decree of the Japanese government, 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 consider the Burakumin to be a dirty and inferior class, and most Burakumin descendants still work in undervalued professions, probably inherited from their ancestors.

And since that decree of 1871 was not accompanied by any financial or educational aid, many Japanese 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, businessmen or hold political office.

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

Burakumin - Japan's Dirty Low Class
Photo showing the period burakumin.

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

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

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