Story of the burakumin

Story of the burakumin

It is easy to assume that Japan is a homogeneous society; and to some extent, that is true. However, it is a slippery slope to subscribe to this idea, because it tends to forget that there are millions of individuals who belong to other minority groups within the country: the Ainu, the resident Koreans, or us foreigners.

However, today, we would like to bring the attention to the case of the Burakumin - the largest minority group that once was at the bottom of the social order during feudal Japan. Due to their history of being at the bottom, modern Burakumin continues to be victims of stigmatization and discrimination in contemporary Japanese society. What was the story of the Burakumin? How did they become marked as different? How is it like living with a stigmatized identity?

In today's episode, we will explore these questions further with Christopher Bondy, sociologist and Senior Associate Professor at the International Christian University.

Dr. Bondy has spent years researching the burakumin. In his latest book, he explored how children in buraku communities grow up with their stigmatized identities, and how the discourse about burakumin is created and maintained in Japanese society.

Some of the topics we discuss are:

  1. How did Dr. Bondy begin his research about burakumin? (2:27)
  2. The question of the "Japanese identity". (4:42)
  3. The origin of the buraku people. (6:50)
    1. How did the term come about?
    2. How did the buraku people become an outcast group within the feudal social order?
    3. The social marking of the buraku people.
  4. Discussing the buraku identity using Yoshio Sugimoto's system of characterization. How do the burakumin differ from the normal Japaneses (if there is any difference at all)? (13:11)
  5. Introducing Dr. Bondy's research about two contemporary buraku communities. What was the finding? (16:09)
    1. How is life different for a burakumin and a normal Japanese?
    2. The special education that the buraku students received and what did the students think of it.
    3. Two different approaches that the two communities use to assimilate into the Japanese society.
  6. The role of the Japanese government in tackling the issue of discrimination against burakumin. (35:15)

Bento Bureau Podcast is a podcast about Japan from an international perspective, focusing on various topics about Japanese society through our interviews with experts, authors, activists, or just normal individuals who have stories to share about Japan.

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