While it is true that a discussion of the Burakumin is stigmatized throughout Japan, for those Burakumin who live in eastern Japan (the Kanto area), their existence is almost completely denied. Having conducted research in Osaka (Kansai) for three years prior to expanding my work on marginalized youth to the Tokyo area, I was clearly aware of the existence of Burakumin in Kanto but I was also alerted to the fact that finding people who would talk openly about their existence would be difficult. Part of the reason for this silence is due to the destruction of many intact Buraku communities during the war, causing dislocation and mass migration from the countryside. Alongside this geographic rupture came the political decision on the part of the JCP (Japanese Communist Party), who held power in the Kanto area after the war, to refuse to allow certain areas with high concentration of Burakumin to be designated as official Buraku or “Dowa.” The JCP believed that absence of community demarcations would allow for greater fluidity and ease of assimilation into the larger society. While in theory this appears valid, numerous are the stories of Kanto Burakumin who live in fear of their identity being disclosed. The performance of passing in a society where one’s identity has to be investigated to ensure “purity,” since there is no visible or linguistic difference to indicate otherwise, takes its toll, even on those who are not Burakumin but have association with the community. One prosperous Okinawan resident in the Kanto region whom I met is living in fear of disclosure as Burakumin, even by his housemaid. The desirability to pass in a society in which meeting the group norm is paramount cannot be faulted and is clearly one of the main reasons for the movement of Burakumin, particularly those who have gained economically from government compensation, out of the mura (village) and into greater Tokyo. However, not having a group identity or solidarity with people with whom they can openly be themselves can create a consciousness of unease and discomfort with those one suspects might judge them negatively. Kanto Burakumin are
also disadvantaged in that they did not benefit from the forty years of financial, educational, and social support provided by the Special Measures Legislation since it could only be applied to designated Buraku communities. It is estimated that there are approximately 1,000 such areas throughout the country. But another significant factor that separates Kanto from Kansai is the lack of systematic education in Kanto schools about the historical conditions that have placed the Burakumin in a vulnerable and disadvantageous position. Dowa Kyoiku, which has been incorporated with the educational curriculum in the Kansai/Osaka region for decades, is either given short shrift in the Tokyo area or holds a negative image in the minds of those exposed to it. Professor Kanegae’s research comparing educational attitudes of Buraku women across generations as well as location (Kanto vs. Kansai) demonstrates the significance of Dowa Education on life options and perceptions of self.1 Most of the women raised in Osaka during the 1960s and 1970s belonged to “The Children’s Liberation Association” and were able to attend high school owing to scholarships. These opportunities were not available in the Kanto area, though there were BLL branches. In speaking with one member of the current BLL Tokyo branch, I am told that the number of identifiable Burakumin has decreased significantly, perhaps an unstated goal of the JCP all along. But the question still remains: have the Burakumin of Kanto simply joined the lower classes of Japanese society alongside newly arrived immigrants or is there discrimination even among these people in which the Burakumin still remain the outcastes? My interview with Mrs. Higa below aids in our understanding of such matters.