Hidden discrimination against burakumin persists

Translation of a Dec. 24, 2015 Asahi Shimbun report by Rie Kowaka (小若理恵).

Hidden discrimination against burakumin continues today: restaurant patrons leave when they see which hometown’s cooking the chef is serving

This year, the Buraku Liberation League Aichi Prefecture chapter (led by Katsuo Yoshida 吉田勝夫), which has worked to eliminate discrimination against burakumin, celebrated its 40th anniversary. Burakumin are avoided because of where they live. The national and local governments have been working to improve their living conditions. Discrimination against them has become difficult to see, but “many kinds of everyday discrimination remain,” a BLL headquarters spokesperson said.

Yoshiharu Yamamoto (age 38) runs an izakaya restaurant in Nagoya. He recalls that during an interview this June, he showed a customer a menu of the hometown cooking he’d grown up with, and immediately after reading it the customer departed. His hometown is among the burakumin communities that have faced discrimination.

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“It happened again. The discrimination is still here,” he felt. He’s worked based on the belief that “my hometown is nothing to be ashamed of,” and says he won’t change his menu. “I want people to see where I’m from and still associate with me.”

A 40-year-old man from the western part of the prefecture says that he can’t say what the marriage prospects of his two daughters will be like. One is in elementary school and the other is in middle school.

When he proposed to his wife in his 20s, he told her the truth about his origins and told her because of it they might not be able to get married. He left his household and dissociated from his family to keep them from harming his nuptial prospects; none of his relatives attended his wedding.

“The happiest thing is that I can be together with the person I wanted to marry, so I don’t regret my marriage,” he said. “But I feel I have to tell my daughters about this eventually. And yet, the reactions of my daughters’ friends and their friends’ relatives if they knew would be scary.”

After the special unity act (同和対策事業特別措置法) designated districts that must receive environmental improvements, 40% of residences were rebuilt in the ‘80s and ‘90s and replaced with duplexes. There are still alleyways too narrow for fire trucks, but the major roads have been widened.

Thus, National Confederation of Human Rights Movements in the Community director Seishi Tanba (丹波正史) (age 68) says that “although discrimination hasn’t been completely eliminated, the problem of discrimination against burakumin has largely been overcome.” His group is the successor of the Zenkokuren, the former rival of the BLL, and took over after the Zenkokuren dissolved in 2004 saying it had achieved its goals of ending anti-burakumin discrimination.

However, in this historically burakumin district, property facing the major road is 2.5 times less valuable than the property in neighboring districts. A nearby real estate company explains, “First off, no one buys here. That’s why the price is so low.”

In 2007, a webpage about the area went up that proclaimed “Welcome to B District! In Aichi Prefecture.” The creator of the website was arrested on a charge of slander. Discrimination continues on the Internet. The BLL takes action whenever it finds writing of this kind.

Yoshio Kato (加藤吉雄), a BLL branch leader (age 70), said that recently when he told an acquaintance where he’s from, the person responded, “You don’t look like someone from there, do you?” Kato lamented, “How sad is it to not be able to puff out your chest and say with pride where you’re from? I’ve thought before that I’d rather be from somewhere else.”

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