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Saturday, April 13, 2013

Cherry blossoms, reconnections and return

It was literally with a jolt this morning, our last in Japan, that we awoke. We were supposed to wake up at 6am, but instead felt our thirteenth floor room shake determinedly as Osaka was jarred by a 6.2 magnitude earthquake at 5:30-5:40am. We were reminded again of just how fragile our existence is, after climbing the Umeda Sky supposed 'garden' observatory (minus a garden) the night before. The Japanese workers we spoke to as we boarded our bus (also early) were noticeably unnerved and we reflected on the fact that whilst we were flying out many people did not have the ability to do the same thing today. Later, we realised through the Internet this quake was the biggest one since the 1997 devastating Kobe earthquake.

Our two weeks in Japan were a time of reconnection to family (Hughes) and friends (Ecchan, Sonchan, Miyauchi's etc).  It was an intense family time, with Geordie/Lydia remembering what it is to share a room, the 'transitions' to stations/airports providing stresses and time challenges and many great highlights.  It was daunting to again reflect on the ravages of war in Nagasaki in particular and also Fukuoka (and to some extent at Osaka Castle). Cherry blossom and Spring provided an impressive postscript to our autumn Easter, and we did manage a pikunikku with R/D and kids.  Feasting at the largesse of our Shimanto city church friends was a definite highlight, as well as speaking with them as a family after 13 years away.  Reunited as well, were L and Ge who appeared connected with, via a shared history, albeit not directly remembered, the friends, babysitters and families of their infant hood.  When Chie-san brought out the ichigo-daifuku, L was transported back to her Japanese roots. 

In Kyoto a walk along the philosophers walk canal was beautiful, and Ginkakuji/Daitokuji were the two Zen temples we visited, or complex of shrines/temples in the case of Daitokuji.  Our night walk along Pontocho in Gion was interrupted by a silent 200 metre row of mourners in black attending a Buddhist ritual to pay funereal respect. 
G has been asked to connect in with two ex-Nakamura young men in Tokyo in September, and two of the young women from Nakamura are intending to look into working holidays in Melbourne so our connection with this community will go on. It was great to see Ks confidence with Japanese return so naturally especially after our immersion in Nakamura, and also the kids throughout the trip. 

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Monday, April 08, 2013

Big trip to the south

Today we started the day by taking the train to Nagasaki from Osaka. That is about 800 kilometres. We had to take a few trains, one a bullet train. The journey was quite long taking about 5 hours in total. When we got out of the tram (which was very crowded) from the train station, we were quite tired, so we sat down in a small cafe called the brick cafe. After having some croissants and coffees we felt refreshed so we were able to wander through side streets toward the Oura Catholic Church. We went past the Oranda zaka or Dutch slopes, named after the foreigners who were there for a long time. We also saw China town, which is located in front of the old Chinese settlement, which was there for years and years, dissimilar to most parts of Japan, due to its Chinese influence.

After we had finished there we took another tram (oh no) to a Dutch settlement, Dejima, which used to be an island. After looking around there, we took a tram the Nagasaki atomic bomb museum.
We finally arrived at the Peace museum after climbing the many steps. The peace museum told the story of the bombing of Nagasaki, starting off with a replica of the facade of the Urakami cathedral. Lydia had not been here before (well perhaps when she was 1 yr old), but G and L both took their time looking at the photos and artefacts on display. When we got to the park, and saw the 'ground zero', it was a sombre moment.

Nakamura friends

Friday, April 05, 2013

Time in Amagasaki

Ninja village Iga, east of Osaka

G trying out the revolving door, kids dressed perfectly as ninjas, but I'm not so sure about the pink..., a 'real' ninja chopping up bamboo with a samurai sword...

This is the beginning part of the Nagasaki peace memorial museum

On the move, Nagasaki and Fukuoka

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Hong Kong: Mon, Apr 01

We arrived in Hong Kong at 9:20pm after an 8 and a half hour flight, watching some movies on the plane, including Wreck it Ralph, Skyfall, Brave and more. When we walked out of the plane we realised how big the airport was, 520 gates at least, possibly more. Luckily the bus didn't take to long to find.

Chung-king mansions at 11pm (around 2 am melbourne time) after standing up on a bus for 45 minutes were less than salubrious. There were men everywhere, and it was grimy. K and L were opting to go and check into another hotel, but G was determined to get full value for the money prepaid. He was unlikely to live this down for at least this trip. Finally we found block D, off on a little side lane, where there were two elevators and signs saying which floor all the different guest houses were on.
We discovered the 'Australian Guest House', as ours was called, was nothing but a clever marketing ploy. There were lists of other similar accommodation; the Tokyo guesthouse, the Paris guesthouse, the London guesthouse etc., in fact, the Australian guesthouse, where we were to be housed, doubled as Tokyo guesthouse and was as Australian as you could get in Calcutta with a Chowkidoor lying in the foyer to scare away any 'would-be intruders'. Our accommodation had nothing to suggest it was particularly Australian in any sense. There was a distinct smell of rice, pharathas and chili. G attempted to use his knowledge of a little Bengali to break the ice and this was received with a laugh.
Our rooms were basic, with only a hard mattress, small pillow and doona for sleeping material. No one used the shower, as it was hard to figure how to without drenching the toilet etc.
We discovered the aforesaid man sleeping outside all the Australian rooms, as security. This did not put us at ease, as well as the fact that there were multiple video cameras and signs advising people 'not to steal'. (We were later to read on Wikipedia that these closed circuit TV had actually improved security of late in the CK mansions).
It was with some relief that we packed our bags in the morning and left as soon as possible.
Not until we were well out of the area of the Chung-king mansions was it that G showed everyone else the Wikipedia page on the 'mansions'. It turns out that it is an area known for harbouring petty thieves, drug dealers and users, and there had been someone murdered there about 15 years ago.
This will hopefully serve as a reminder for G to check up on accommodation thoroughly before booking. (Told you I wouldn't live this down for a while).

Leaving Chung King in the morning and catching a ferry from Kowloon to Hong Kong...

Ge and G went looking for breakfast while K and L waited on a rooftop garden above a large shopping centre, at about 9:30 Hong Kong time. This is 12:30 in Australia, so by then we were quite hungry...
They brought salad, pork buns, strange shortcrusty/sweet chicken pies, a croissant and chips. Incredibly good value. It turns out making dollars worth less is a good way to watch your budget.

The double decker bus ride up Victoria peak was quite incredible, we got up the top right at the front, giving us a great view. Some parts were quite scary as we traveled right against the cliff. When we got up the top the view was amazing we could see a long way off through the city, but it was quite foggy so there was a limit of how far we could see. Everyone took heaps of photos with various devices.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Back to Japan...

Easter Sunday we fly to Hong Kong and next day Osaka.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

The Darkness in the Forest: Themes of the Films of Miyazaki Hayao

“I was determined not to create a manga that people would read while they were eating soba noodles.”  (In reference to Nausicaa, Valley of the Wind, Miyazaki quoted in Schodt, 1996, 278)

In my first year of teaching, I had four classes of Year 8s (and one of Year 7) in an outer suburban, high migrant high school.  Having struggled most of the year, with high spirited students who generally had a low commitment to learning a language (Japanese) to which most of them had little affinity, there were finally a couple of periods in that first year, where I really grabbed the students’ attention.   Those periods were when I showed them the animated movie, My Neighbour Totoro or Tonari no Totoro (1988).  More than I could manage with my albeit earnest teaching, this movie, directed by Miyazaki Hayao was able to transport these students to Japan, telling them a simple story of childhood, to which they could relate.  At the same time, this story introduced the students to an idea of spirituality and imaginativeness, in a context of a rich natural world, to be enjoyed.  After seeing this movie, my world was also enlarged, as I gradually managed to see and admire more and more Miyazaki classics and made sure when a new one came out, that I saw it as well.

Animator and director, Miyazaki Hayao was born in 1941.  Japan was occupied by the United States four years later in 1945.  He grew up with three brothers and a mother who had a long term illness.  Miyazaki graduated in 1963 from Gakushuuin University’s Department of Politics and Economics, having been a member of a children’s literature study group (Schodtt, 1996). After graduation, Miyazaki joined Toei Animation, and started drawing Wanwan Chushingura, until the end of 1979, when he directed The Castle of Cagliostro (Miyazaki, 1984).  In this essay, I will briefly discuss Miyazaki’s upbringing and career and then will attempt to delineate four themes which emerge in his compositions.  These themes are Environmentalism, Shintoism and spirituality, Japanese cultural distinctives and lastly ‘the joy of flight’. I could have chosen a few other themes, such as feminism, but for the sake of this essay, I have reduced my scope to these four areas.

 According to Schodt (1996), Miyazaki’s drawing is reminiscent of French comics, bringing to mind French master Jean “Moebius” Giraud.  Often, Miyazaki’s anime have portrayed medieval Europe, or sometimes central Asia, reflecting his wide reading of Western literature.  The protagonist,  Nausicaä, of Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984) is so-named after the woman in Homer’s Odyssey who saved the shipwrecked Ulysses, although there are also traces in this animation of Old and New Testament themes and ancient Greek and Norse myths (Schodt, 1996). 

The genres of Hayao Miyazaki usually include science fictional elements and are often interwoven with other genres, as evidenced in Nausicaä and Howl’s Moving Castle (2004), such as fantasy, comedy and romance (Cavallaro, 2006).  Cavallaro states that one of the stand-out traits of Miyazaki is the ability to ensure that his characters are thoroughly individuated and distinct.  Bertha (Kiki’s Delivery Service, 1989), Old Sophie (Howl’s Moving Castle) or Uncle Pom (Laputa, Castle in the sky, 1986) would never be confused, despite the fact that all are elderly characters with apparent affinities. 
The first most obvious theme, however, in Miyazaki’s animations has been one of treasuring the environment.


‘[When walking in Shakujii park, near Toei Studios]…I thought the trees were so beautiful.  I also realized that Japan is beautiful when there are no people around. Japan became ugly because its population grew…’
-Miyazaki interviewed by Hiroaki Ikeda, Roman Album, My Neighbour Totoro, June 3, 1988, (in Cary and Schodt, 2009, 357).
‘…for me the deep forest is connected in some way to the darkness deep in my heart.  I feel that if it is erased, then the darkness inside my heart would also disappear and my existence would grow shallow.’  (Miyazaki quoted in Cary and Schodt, 2009, 360). 
Miyazaki’s environmental concern is about much more than a sense of necessity, or to enable humans to survive.  Rather, it grows out of his other main theme, namely spirituality or relatedness to the world.  When he speaks of ‘darkness’ in his heart in the quote above, this is not darkness or evil in a classic Greco-Western sense, but rather a sense of spirituality.  For the gods/the divine are found in darkness.   A Shinto ethic considers the environment a living collection of interconnected beings worthy of respect (Odell and Le Blanc, 2009). 
The afore-mentioned Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, which symbolised Miyazaki’s break through into the animation world, is at heart an environmentally themed movie.  This film shows consequences of global pollution and groups of people who are not taking responsibility for the environment.  It opens as follows:
1000 years have passed since Earth succumbed to pollution generated by the very nations we now inhabit.  Most of the Earth is covered by the highly toxic Sea of Corruption. (Odell and Le Blanc, 2009, 57). 
The environment and the giant insects portrayed here, bring to mind Frank Herbert’s Dune (Schodtt, 1996).  The two protagonists in this movie, Nausicaä and Kushana are both aiming to rid the world of the toxicity present in the environment.  However, they have alternative approaches.  Nausicaä seeks the answer by studying, learning about the environment and being a part of it, while Kushana is aiming to obliterate the toxic waste and all that represents it (Odell and Le Blanc, 2009). 
Unsurprisingly, Japanese culture also appears in Nausicaä in understories, myths and esoteric Buddhist themes (Schodt, 278, 1996).  Originally, Nausicaä was developed by Miyazaki as a manga, or comic strip.
  Miyazaki did not initially intend or believe that this manga would be animated, but in 1983, he was offered the opportunity anddirected the film and made Nausicaä so detailed and dense that the artwork was similar to an engraving. It was a complex story of the likes that few anime or manga had previously achieved.  Miyazaki was very aware that in Nausicaä he aimed to produce a film which would not reflect a clear, logical development, but might rather ‘impart a vastness that we might not fully understand…’ (Miyazaki quoted in Cary and Schodt, 2009, 337).   The box office success of Nausicaä, in March 1984, resulted in the formation of Miyazaki’s animation company, Studio Ghibli. 
Nausicaä was set in the Muromachi era of Japan (1392-1573) and depicted a struggle between nature (gods of the dark forest) and humans, cutting down the forest for fuel.  The end of this movie was a standoff, instead of a happy ending.  There are references in Nausicaä to nuclear holocaust, alternative energy and wind power, linking to the fears of modern Japan (Schodt, 1996).   
Some of the themes Miyazaki has worked with include reminders of our interconnections to the earth and with each other, reminders that greed and materialism defeat us (Callis, 2010).  Anyone who has watched Spirited Away (2001), is drawn into a Japanese inspired world of spirits and gods.  This is a mystical rendering of a story said to be a Japanese “Alice in Wonderland”.  
My Neighbour Totoro also draws on respect for the environment leading to harmony and reward.  Grave of the Fireflies (also 1988), shows the impact of war on the environment.  There are signs of environmental decline in some of Miyazaki’s films, including Pom Poko (1994) and the recent film Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea (2008). Odell and Le Blanc (2009) note some conflicts or cross purposes, however, in Ghibli films. For example, in Laputa: Castle in the Sky, the mining village is seen as good because of its community work ethic, when the residents are actually evidently stealing from nature.  Nausicaä is an environmentalist, who uses a flying machine to get around.  In Princess Mononoke (1997), the women working at the factory are viewed as good community workers, although they are producing weapons and iron that put them in conflict with the forest and nature (Odell and Le Blanc, 2009). 

Shintoism and spirituality

I didn’t intend to make her a Joan of Arc and I wanted to get rid of any religious undertone.  But in the end it became a religious picture with that scene [after Nausicaa dies and is held up by the ohmu] … I do like animism.  I can understand the idea of ascribing character to stones or wind.  But I didn’t want to laud it as a religion.  That is why Nausicaa isn’t Joan of Arc.
-Miyazaki Hayao, “Nature is both Generous and Ferocious”, Roman Album, Nausicaa Valley of the Wind, Tokuma Shoten, May 1, 1984, in Carey and Schodt, 2009.

Miyazaki’s thoughts on the character of Nausicaä above show an effort to avoid particular religious intentions, although he also can see that it is hard to avoid.  Japanese mythology and spirituality is nonetheless an important theme in Miyazaki’s films, indicated by customs and culture referred to within the animations.  For example, kami spirits in Priness Mononoke and obake spirits in Pom Poko.  There are metamorphic kitsune and tanuki (Foxes and badgers) (Odell and Le Blanc, 2009). 
The heroine in Nausicaä, despite the Homerian name, was inspired by Japanese mythology, in a tale from the Heian period (AD 794-1185), about a strange insect loving princess (Schodt, 1996).   She is a ‘princess who loved insects and …after coming of age, delighting in watching such things as caterpillars metamorphosing into butterflies…According to the stories, at a time when most girls like her would have shaved off their eyebrows and stained their teeth black, she kept her teeth white and her eyebrows black and looked terribly odd.” (Miyazaki, 1982).
In the context of this spirituality and as noted above, Miyazaki dislikes the Western dichotomy of light versus dark.  This is a simplistic discussion, believes Miyazaki.  Rather, the gods are in the darkness, usually in the forest or mountains.  Therefore, the Japanese venerate certain forests and natural objects, and consider many places to be off limits and sacred. 
A sense of what is Japanese has also driven Miyazaki, despite his frequent compositions on non-Japanese topics.   

Japanese distinctiveness (日本人論 nihonjinron)

Whilst the above term might be taken within Japan to be a very nationalistic sentiment, Miyazaki has actually through his work reclaimed this as something different.  Miyazaki relates how he gradually came to realise Japanese culture was not actually closed and isolated, but was actually related in various ways, for example to the Bhutanese and Nepalese who like fluffy, sticky rice, as well as related to other places with broadleaf, evergreen forest.  In opposition to the idea of nihonjinron, or in a new definition, his work has shown an essential human condition and diversity.
‘My culture went far beyond the idiotic Japanese who started the war, beyond Hideyoshi Toyotomi who invaded Korea, and beyond The Tale of Genji that I detested.’  (Interview, June 3, 1988 with Hiroaki Ikeda in Cary and Schodt, 2009, 358). 
Miyazaki deliberately made a very Japanese movie, in Tonari no totoro, or My Neighbour, Totoro.  This movie included a combination of locations including Sakuragaoka, Kandagawa River where he grew up and the landscape of Tokorozawa where he currently lives (Carey and Schodt, 2009, 350).  Miyazaki says that the totoro creatures in the movie are ‘goblins of the transitional phase when Japan hadn’t become entirely modernized’.  (Carey and Schodt, 2009, 355).  This movie considers modernisation but also harks back to an earlier time in Japan in its depiction of a rural hamlet.  Some have said that this movie is encouraging nostalgia, but Miyazaki was emphatic that this was not the aim.  ‘…I didn’t make this film out of personal nostalgia for that time’ (Carey and Schodt, 2009, 355).  At the same time, he was not interested in returning to the ghosts and spirits of old mythology, such as Shigeru Mizuki, a manga author known for tales of horror and ghosts.  He imagined that a cat goblin turned into a bus, making the cat-bus.  This cat-bus from My Neighbour Totoro, is, today, a well known symbol of Miyazaki’s, holding pride of place in the Ghibli Museum in Tokyo, an enormous soft toy for children to scramble over. Miyazaki in this way transformed old goblin symbols into a modern but still Japanese mythological ideas. Miyazaki made the film, aiming to encourage a spirit of playfulness, hoping that children would be encouraged to look ‘under their houses and to look in the thickets behind shrines’.  Perhaps it is also this playfulness which instigated the final theme as an ongoing part of Miyazaki’s work. 

The joy of flight

Miyazaki: “I personally find airplanes cool and I love flying scenes.”  (Cary and Schodt, 2009, 341)
Flying is the final theme which I will briefly explore by reference to Miyazaki Hayao’s films.  This flying obsession perhaps started as a child. Miyazaki’s father worked at Miyazaki Airplane and Hayao began to develop a love for flying machines (Odell and Le Blanc, 2009).  He drew what he saw but also imagined new forms of aviation.  As a result, flying machines are found in Conan, the Boy in Future (1978), The Castle of Cagliostro and in Laputa: Castle in the Sky.  Also, Howl’s Moving Castle, Kiki’s Delivery Service, Totoro, The Cat Returns (2002), Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, Tales from Earthsea (2006) and Spirited Away.  To take one example, in Majo no takyubin, or Kiki’s delivery servi, Kiki, the 13 year old protagonist, has a special skill, the ability to fly through the air.  
The four areas briefly introduced from Miyazaki’s oeuvre of work are of course, interwoven and undoubtedly interpreted variously.  Miyazaki himself has noted that it was not until his thirty’s that he developed an environmental appreciation and awareness and presumably his emphases and ideas have developed and changed as well.  He has a sense that concern for the environment is only appropriate springing from a transcendence of the earth.  His interests in children’s literature and wide reading of Western classics have informed his portrayal of Japanese and other subjects, and enabled a fine portrayal of the human condition, which has been appreciated around the world.  At the same time, his sense of the child’s perspective and playfulness expressed in flying machines have metaphorically enabled his detailed animations to not only take off but soar.

                        Callis, Cari, ‘Nothing that happens is ever forgotten’, in Josef Steiff and Tristan Tamplin, (2010) Anime and Philosophy: Wide eyed wonder, Chicago, Carus Publishing Company.
Cavallaro, Dani, (2006) The Anime Art of Hayao Miyazaki, Jefferson, North Carolina, McFarland and Company Inc., Publishers.
Hairston, Marc, ‘The Reluctant Messiah: Miyazaki Hayao’s Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind Manga’, 173-184, in Toni Johnson-Woods (ed), (2010) Manga: An Anthology of Global and Cultural Perspectives, New York, The Continuum International Publishing Group Inc.

Heinricy, Shana, (2010), ‘Take a Ride in the Catbus’, in Josef Steiff and Tristan Tamplin, Anime and Philosophy: Wide eyed wonder, p 1-11, Chicago, Carus Publishing Company.
                        Miyazaki, Hayao (March 30, 1984), Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind Guide Book, Tokyo, Tokuma Shoten, in Beth Cary and Frederik L. Shodt (transl), (2009), Starting Point, Hayao Miyazaki: 1979-1996, San Fransisco, Studio Ghibli Inc.
                        Miyazaki, Hayao, (September, 25th, 1982), Animage Comics; Wide Edition Nausicaä Valley of the Wind, Vol. 1, Tokyo, Tokuma Shoten, in Beth Cary and Frederik L. Shodt (transl), (2009), Starting Point, Hayao Miyazaki: 1979-1996, San Fransisco, Studio Ghibli Inc.
            Schodt, Frederik L., (1996) Dreamland Japan: Writings on Modern Manga, Berkeley, Stone Bridge Press.

Shaw, Daniel M.P., (2005), ‘The Way forward? – Shinto and a 21st Century Japanese Ecological Attitude’, Dissertation submitted in part completion of the MA in Values and the Environment, Lancaster University.

Friday, January 04, 2013

The myth of homogeneity in Japan and the invisibility of the‘部落民[1]burakumin’.


Figure 1: From the Japan Times, by Chris Mackenzie,  Jan 20th, 2009 (Priestly, 2009).
Since the time of the Meiji emperor and modernisation in the late nineteenth century, Japan has experienced rapid change.  Socially, the move from feudal to industrial society, including great change for the samurai class, resulted in changes for the peasants of Japan too.  Some considered that Japan became a classless society by the twentieth century with an homogenous and thoroughly ‘Japanese’ middle class (Mouer and Sugimoto, 1986). 

Certainly, for an outsider, the social breakdown of Japan can be perceived to be largely middle class and people from one place to another not dissimilar.  However, by considering the group of people known as 部落 buraku post-war, and later the more non-descript 同和地区 dowa chiku, it is possible to demonstrate that such homogeneity is not actually the situation for all Japanese people.  Scratch a little further under the surface and you can see that the Japanese are actually as varied and diverse in background as just about any national group in the twenty first century.  

It is no surprise that even the reforms of the Meiji late nineteenth century era did not result in equal human rights for all citizens of Japan.  The indigenous Ainu, and the minorities of Chinese, Korean or Brazilian background peoples are other socially discriminated groups in Japanese recent history. In this essay, though, I will illustrate the diversity of Japanese society by reference to the (originally low caste) group known as the burakumin.  This essay will consider the origins of the buraku, a range of views about this group, including an experienced ‘invisibility’, the variety of names used, current levels of discrimination, and finally a potential resolution to the problems experienced.

The origin of the buraku:  Eta’, the ‘unclean’ 
So where did this social grouping, later known as dowa mondai or burakumin, emerge from?  Who are this group and how many live in Japan?  This issue emerged from a very particular understanding of purity and impurity from times past.  (汚れ[2]) Kegare is a reference to impurity, which is caused by coming in touch with ‘death’ or ‘impure’ arts, such as leather work and eating animals.  According to Jansen (2000), the hereditary eta were the largest historic subcaste group.  They were popularly associated with death and defilement.  Occupations included slaughtering, tanning and fashioning leather, executions and disposals of corpses.  Buddhism had a role in this understanding of purity, with this notion of kegare, as pollution, or impurity.  People who had been touched by kegare were to be avoided.  This attested to the ‘un-touchability’ of certain groups within Japanese society from historic times (Amos, 2011).  Prior to the Meiji Restoration, this people group were known as eta, literally, “filthy mass”.  As time went on, they were called other names.

The Meiji restoration instigated a formally structured pattern of separate identity, including the separation of farmers and samurai, and registration of the population at the Buddhist institutions (Jansen, 2000, 122).  On August 28th, 1871, the Council of State put out an ‘Emancipation Edict’, “The titles of Eta and 非人 Hinin shall be abolished; and henceforth the people belonging to these classes shall be treated in the same manner both in occupation and social standing as the common people (平民heimin)”  (Emily Reber, 1998; Ito, 2005).   However, at the time, there were up to 21 incidents of riots, and Ito has outlined a massacre of burakumin (though they would not have been known by this name at the time) in Okayama Prefecture in 1873, two years following the proclamation (2005)[i].  

Thereafter, despite the ‘Emancipation Edict’, discrimination continued in the realms of marriage, housing, social behaviour and occupation.  An invisibility, or avoidance and corresponding taboo within Japanese society, was projected on the buraku, whilst their settlements tended to cluster at the outskirts of villages and towns. 

Post world war II, the only use of the term eta, was for anonymous decrying or persecution of the buraku groups.  Officially, the term for areas where the buraku could be found was again to change to be often called abstractly, ‘同和地区dowa chiku’ (discriminated area), or sometimes still buraku or burakuminDowa mondai, meaning ‘discrimination problem’, dispelled the old names and could be said to devalue the problem to be invisible. Dowa chiku is an idea rooted in the idea of national integration, ‘unnaming’ those seen as socially different (Amos, 2011).  

In 1965, a Deliberative Council Report acknowledged considerable discrimination, including poverty, prejudice and neglect of civil, social and economic human rights (McLaughlan, 2003). Following this in the 1970s and 1980s, conditions in buraku areas improved as a result of ‘Special Measures Legislation’, which included extensive funding. 

Current views on the buraku
Post war, the dowa mondai label served to make this problem less visible in society, and gradually the buraku[ii] or burakumin terms have been used less and less within Japan, becoming taboo in a similar way to the more slanderous eta.  Therefore, when a May 17, 1996 official report from the government on the status of buraku mondai, called for a 部落開放基本労 buraku kaihou kihon rou, or Fundamental Law for Buraku Liberation, the Japanese Communist Party and two thirds of the Liberal Democratic Party stated their opposition to this law.  Their considered reasons were the following:
‘1. There is no more discrimination
2. If a law concerning buraku discrimination is passed, discrimination will always remain.’  Others said at the time: ‘This type of law which specially entitles burakumin to reap certain government benefits antagonizes the citizens in general’ (Reber, 1998).
This contradictory statement is testament to the reasons for the continuing invisibility of this problem in Japanese society.

Changing titles: same discrimination
Should you mention the name burakumin today in Japan, it is quite possible that the person you meet will have little to tell you about them.  It may be that it is perceived as an embarrassing or even offensive topic (Emily Reber, 1998), in the mode of the responses to the suggested liberative law above.  Because buraku are physically indistinguishable from other Japanese citizens, and many people consider that the majority of discrimination has been removed, it is not uncommon to believe this problem would disappear completely if only people would stop talking about it.

寝た子はそのまま。Neta ko wa sono mama ‘Don’t wake a sleeping baby’
The above proverb sums up this way of thinking.  To not wake a baby, as in the above familiar Japanese saying, is to ignore and do nothing about buraku mondai and in this way to avoid any problem (Reber, 1998).  Unfortunately, this has not reduced discrimination.  Instead, a high level of misunderstanding regarding the history and identity of buraku has resulted.

Similar to the Australian experience where expectations that immigrants should ‘assimilate’ into society are common, in Japan, buraku have been expected to ‘integrate’, or forgo their own identity and become a part of greater Japanese society.  The assumption is that the buraku experience is not ‘inferior’ or ‘not good enough’, especially if their ancestry is made known.  Actually, a place where people are unable to announce their ancestry without concern for negative reactions or issues as a result, is a place where discrimination is apparent (Reber, 1998).  Integration in this context is at the cost of individual and buraku identity.  It would seem that there is a need for a reclamation of the buraku name and identity.

21st Century buraku discrimination
Discrimination continues into the twenty first century.   Buraku discrimination includes human rights violations such as slanderous graffiti, marriage discrimination and employment discrimination (Burakukaiho 2004 and Teraki and Noguchi, 2001, cited in Takuya Ito, 2005).  In 2001, McLaughlan conducted research in a buraku in Osaka, interviewing 21 residents who had experienced prejudice and discrimination.  Nineteen out of the interviewees thought that the problems of prejudice would not be solved in the following one hundred years (2003). 

In May 2003, when Uramoto Yoshifumi, researcher and activist at the Buraku Liberation League (BLL), received numerous packages in the mail marked ‘pay on delivery’, followed by dozens of handwritten postcards in Japanese, some containing threats such as: ‘For an eta, Uramoto is pretty arrogant. I’ll kill him’ (Amos, 2011).   Eventually, the protagonist of these letters and packages was caught and tried. 

The 2008 Academy Award winning, Japanese film, “Okuribito” or “Departures” (Rojiro Takita) did not explicitly name burakumin, but it is the story of an out of work young man, who, in a country town, overcomes his fear of death and works in a job which would once have been only done by buraku people.  His work as an assistant in a funeral home is considered shameful to family and friends.
 Figure 2: 
Another fascinating example of the prevalence and/or sensitivity to this discrimination emerged recently upon Google Earth’s culturally unconsidered publishing of a map in relation to buraku neighbourhoods.  Google Earth caused a furore in Japan, by posting maps to its historical online section in 2008 (see Figure 2 for an example from Osaka), sourced from the University of California, and a collector, David Rumsey.  There was a considerable backlash to Google Earth, due to the subsequent revelations of burakumin areas in Osaka and Tokyo (Huffington Post, 2-5-2009).  By identifying some areas as burakumin using the offensive term eta, Google was potentially contributing to discrimination, because people who live in a particular area of Osaka could be identified by their address as burakumin. This would potentially lead to workplace and marital discrimination, and other social ostracism.  In the end Google removed the maps.  A neighbourhood near Asakusa, for example, was identified in these maps as an ‘Eta’ village. Figure 2: A David Rumsey map, overlaid over a Google Map of Osaka (Woodblock, 1806), accessed online, 24th July, 2012.

Different views about the ‘Dowa’ or ‘Buraku’ problem?
Solutions to this level of discrimination are controversial.  The two major liberation groups have been consistently in conflict with each other.  Whilst the BKD or 部落開放同盟 buraku kohei domei, have had aggressive strategies of publicity and confrontation, the Zenkairen (All Japan Federation of Buraku Liberation) has since the 1970s preferred to avoid conflict and take a softer approach.  Whilst the BKD has frequently said that the Zenkairen does not believe in a problem, this is not actually the case.  Reber talks of the need for the two groups to be more conciliatory and to work together for the cause of the buraku.  In effect, in some cases, the government has only recognised buraku under the BKD banner and therefore other buraku people have missed out on equal participation in new initiatives.  Perhaps there is a middle road and the two groups can learn from each other.

Some would prefer the problem to disappear, but the owning of a heritage, history and identity is a braver path to the future.  How then, is it possible to reclaim the heritage of the visible buraku?

Reclaiming a buraku heritage  Figure 3
It is the taiko drums of Japan (Figure 1 and 3) that suggest this path to the future.  Recently, Japan’s taiko drums have come to symbolise more than a rallying call to the Japanese to be patriotic.  They have come, in themselves, in some parts of Japan, to represent this (sometimes) proud minority, the burakumin.  This is, of course, because the making of the taiko drums is a leather work, which is a work undertaken by the burakumin peoples.  Japan’s famous taiko drums, made with leather, were originally, of course, made by the lower caste group, the burakumin, or eta, those who had to deal with animal skins and dead animal parts.    Today, the Naniwa buraku community in Osaka celebrates its history by an avenue lined with showcases of leather production and taiko drums, as well as seats shaped like taiko.  The road leads to the Osaka Human Rights Museum, where the human rights struggle, which the buraku community has participated in, is celebrated (Ian Priestly, 2009).  Also, positively, the physical environment of many buraku areas, including apartments and schools have been improved considerably, benefitting from special funds from the government. 

The buraku liberation league has supported attempts to reclaim the name, buraku, although its cause was not helped early this century when one of its main leaders was linked to ヤクザ yakuza gangster[3] corruption (Johnston, 2006).  Still, the buraku name is certainly more visible in Osaka.

The Future
Whilst the Meiji restoration made moves to deal with the discrimination problem, outlawing in name a general class of people, other names emerged and the discrimination problem evolved and changed over time.  Strongly held views on kegare, or impurity have remained strong in the 21st century and taboos about the buraku people have continued to reverberate into discrimination.  The goal of the Buraku Liberation League in particular, has been to restore a sense of pride amongst the burakumin, that their history is actually of importance and that staying silent (and shameful) about it is not the only response.  It is to be hoped that the buraku people and groups can develop a sense of unity in this reclamation of visibility in Japanese society, transcending history.  A sense of pride for the buraku people is shown by the avenue of taiko drum, a belief in human rights and a shared consciousness with other oppressed minorities around the world.  Rather than simply disappearing, perhaps the buraku will come to represent Japan’s new future.


      Amos, Timothy D., (2011), Embodying difference: The making of Burakumin in Modern Japan, Honolulu, University of Hawaii Press.

      De Vos, George, William O Wetherall and Kaye Stearman, (1983), Japan’s Minorities: Burakumin, Koreans, Ainu and Okinawans, 3rd Edition, London, Minorities Rights Group.

      Goto, Masaru, Portraits of Japan’s Outcaste People,, accessed, 31st July, 2012, includes downloadable pdf file.

      Huffington Post, (2nd May, 2009), ‘Old Japanese maps on google’, accessed online 24th July, 2012.
      Ito, Takuya, (October 31st, 2005), ‘Cooperativeness and Buraku Discrimination.’     Electronic Journal of Contemporary Japanese Studies, Discussion Paper 5,

      Jansen, Marius, (2000), The Making of Modern Japan, London, Harvard University Press.

      Johnston, Eric, (2006), ‘Activist’s arrest lays bare yakuza’s ties with burakumin’, Japan Times online,, accessed 17th August, 2012.

      McLaughlan, Alastair, (January 31, 2003) ‘Solving Anti-Burakujumin Prejudice in the 21st Century: suggestions from 21 Buraku Residents’, Electronic Journal of Contemporary Japanese studies, Discussion Paper 1,

Mouer, Ross, and Yoshio Sugimoto, (1986) Images of Japanese Society: A Study on the Structure of Social Reality. London and New York, Kegan Paul International.

      Priestley, Ian (January 20, 2009), ‘Breaking the silence on burakumin’, Japan Times Online, accessed 13th July, 2012.

      Reber, Emily A.S., (1998), ‘Buraku mondai in Japan: Historical and Modern Perspectives and Directions for the Future: From the perspective of an American Researcher’, Dowa Mondai Kenkyuu: 20 (45-62), Osaka, Osaka City University.

      Rumsey, David, ‘Japanese Historical Maps’, (2002), accessed 31st July, 2012, University of California.



[1] On first introduction of a Japanese word, for the purposes of this essay, I have included Japanese Kanji, as this is a useful reference point for those who have Japanese/and to some extent Chinese proficiency. Because many of these words are taboo as I have mentioned, it is not possible to input the phonetic reading into a Japanese keyboard and automatically produce the Kanji, rather you need to input the kanji one at a time.
[2] There are two possible kanji for the same reading.
[3] However, many slanderous links have been made to yakuza over the years, and a quick scan of internet sources pulls these up, which are very often unverified.  Eg., accessed, 18th August, 2012.

[i] They made the captured Burakumin prostrate themselves and write letters of apology. They persistently chased the Burakumin who tried to escape to a nearby mountain. When they found the Burakumin on the mountain, they killed them with bamboo spears and pushed a woman, who was carrying a baby on her back, off the mountain. Eighteen people were killed, and thirteen people were injured, 263 houses were burnt down, and 51 houses were destroyed in the riot. From a social psychological perspective, such a crowd is called an 'aggressive mob' (Abe 1977: 128-151). When the farmers started rioting, they sent letters to other farmers who did not participate in the riot. This was a forceful demand for 'cooperativeness'. Under these circumstances, can the discriminators still assert that is the Burakumin who are 'dreadful', that 'the Burakumin attack in a group', or that 'the Burakumin are unpredictable people'? In fact, the dreadful people are not the Burakumin themselves but the people who project their shadow onto the Burakumin. (Ito, 2005)
[ii] Buraku was an administrative term for a ‘neighbourhood’,  which came to be a reference to areas of low-caste groups post-war.