Weaving through the unusually narrow, alley-like one-way “streets,” shrubbery brushing along Mrs. Kana’s highly polished black sedan, mirror turned to avoid being lobbed off, I peer through the tinted windows at “the neighborhood.” The homes, packed one atop another, look as if they have barely survived destruction by fire-scorched but still standing. I admire their beauty: wooden, worn, and simply crafted; relics of a past now absent from the daily view of Japanese and foreigner alike. As I turn to our host, the Secretary General of the Osaka Prefecture Human Rights Educational Research Association, and share my feelings, she reminds me that we are in a Buraku area. I assume this means that my comments are unacceptable; these homes are a sign of poverty and the fact that they have not been torn down is attributed to the fact that no one wants to, or can afford to, rebuild what is here. How strange, I muse, gazing out the window again noting the traditional features accentuated by small pots of flowers; this area might someday be declared a historical site in remembrance of traditional Japan. And if so, will historians erase the significant fact that these are homes of the Burakumin, the supposedly contaminated caste of Japan? Our car moves on steadily until at one more turn we come face to face with the ubiquitous danchi, gray concrete apartment high-rises, standing like sentinels row upon row just outside of the school gate, our destination. I have seen many danchi over the years and know that they serve a range of clientele but these are the most desperate yet. “Tenements” might be a better word. Devoid of anything that one might want to ascribe as “Japanese” culture, they are a testament to how dreary accommodations can be in an area closed to most outsiders. As we get out of the car, our hosts reiterate the significance of place; we are now in the middle of “one of the lowest income Buraku communities in Japan.” In other words we are in the lowest of the low by Japanese standards. Later I find out that historically it is one of the major strongholds of the Buraku Liberation League; a location of oppression, an identity which has been embraced and eschewed at various points in time. Now, in 2003, the issue of identity in this community is proving a bit problematic as peoples from other

cultures and countries move in. Unable to find housing in other areas of the city due to high costs and discrimination against foreigners, a significant international population, including third-and fourth-generation Koreans, Vietnamese refugees born in Japan, and Chinese returnees whose grandparents are Japanese, have entered this traditionally isolated community. Our hosts on this day include three other members of the Human Rights Educational Research Association as well as my colleague and sponsor at Tokyo University, Professor Shimizu, currently at Osaka University. Shimizu and I had conducted research together on immigrants in Kanagawa the year before. Committed to continuing a relationship with the young people he came to know through this research, he decided to invite five of them to join us for two days of engagement with Buraku communities in the Osaka area. Four of these students are “Newcomers,” including two Cambodians, Narit and Saran, and two Vietnamese, Tin and Bo, as well as a Japanese student, Fumiko. Three of them were high school students; the other, a Cambodian woman and a Vietnamese young man, were in their first year of college and struggling. The other guest was Neil, a mutual colleague from England, a specialist on Afro-Caribbean race relations in Britain. I knew three of these students quite well from my research in Kawasaki. I had heard their stories (and those of many others) of discrimination by their teachers, schools, and society. I knew of their struggles with adaptation, language, and identity. I knew the type of laboring jobs their parents worked and the low-income housing that they occupied. They usually blamed their conditions on being “foreign,” on not knowing the language adequately, or not knowing Japanese culture well enough to “pass.” What they did not know is that five hundred miles to the southwest of Tokyo, people of Japanese descent, who have always spoken Japanese and who have never been abroad, are discriminated against in ways the Kanagawa youth had never imagined possible. It became clear from the beginning that the day’s events were not designed for me but for Neil, who had never been to Asia, not to mention Japan. To some extent I was a spectator at this performance of hospitality. Though introduced as one of the guests of honor, I knew that such fanfare would not have been brought out only for me. In all my thirty-odd years in Japan I had not seen such a display of official organization. My research, mostly face-to-face interviews, has taken place in classrooms, offices, coffee shops, restaurants, and homes where demonstrations of etiquette are quickly dispensed with as the content of the questions and poignancy of the responses take precedence. Invitations to universities or community centers for talks are relatively quiet affairs with those interested in the topic attending. It is easy to impress someone on their first trip to Japan, especially if they are male and are entering the country as a “special guest.” They receive the grand treatment. Unfortunately, many officially designated Japanologists continue operating at this surface level for decades, seeing only the half-smiling faces, hearing the polite refrains, and being enamored with the bows, the hospitality, the shoring up of one’s ego. Yes, the Japanese indeed know how to make

a foreign man feel like he walks on water, while ensuring that he does not dip into it, stirring the tranquil surface to reveal the murky undertow beneath. Our hosts knew of my prior research with immigrant groups in Osaka and Tokyo as well as in the United States and England. They were aware that I had been inside many Buraku schools and communities over the years thanks to access provided by several trusted activists and scholars. So I was intrigued to be a part of an entourage which was attempting to provide insights into areas for which both Neil and I had expertise but from different vantage points. I spoke the language, he didn’t. He got a personal translator, which meant at times, an editor, for the many conversations that filled the day. To his credit Neil was open to my critique and side comments as he basked in the moment of being center stage. I am still not sure what he saw or understood of that time but for me it was an eye opener in a way I, or others, did not expect. The day’s agenda was packed: a visit to Nakayama Junior High School for a tour and interviews, a tea break in a formal chrysanthemum garden, a visit to Higuchi Junior High School complete with an ethnic student performance, followed by two separate discussions (students and adults), then a meeting with the two Korean leaders of a local NPO called Children’s Club, and finally dinner in a Korean restaurant with the total cast of eleven, along with a few others picked up along the way.