The Buraku question is one of the most controversial topics in the study of Japanese culture. Any effort at objective study is beset with the complications of political efforts by, and on behalf of, the Burakumin as a group1 and the divergent views and life choices of individual Burakumin2 as well as widespread agreement among other Japanese citizens to avoid any mention of the topic. My experience as a foreign researcher conducting fieldwork in Japan during the past ten years has shown that discussion of, or research on, issues pertaining to the Burakumin is constrained. Even in academia, those working on Burakuminrelated research are subject to the possibility of social ostracization. They can lose friends, jobs, colleagues, spouses, and even their lives in pursuit of understanding the complexity of political, social, economic, and cultural undercurrents unseen to most who so engage. Outside of academia, discussion of the Burakumin belongs to a well-stocked list of taboo subjects in Japanese society. This book is written from the perspective of my own discovery of the significance of the Buraku mondai (issue) and the political and educational policies and prejudices that have emanated in response to what the Burakumin (people of the village) have over the centuries come to signify to Japanese: contamination and pollution. These views continue to this day and, I argue, are at the foundation of Japan’s inability to incorporate “others,” whether they be longstanding resident Korean Japanese, Zainichi, or newly arrived immigrants from China, Southeast Asia, South America, or the Philippines. I invite the reader to join me as I journey through urban Japan exploring the schools and communities where education is attempted for the children of families who exist at the margins of Japanese society. This first chapter introduces the Burakumin and the context for the effort to bring education to their communities. The second chapter explains the research process and offers vignettes of conversations, observations, interactions, and/or situations that explore the process and the taboos of the research. The third chapter details the historical context for the political movements that led up to the implementation of government policies to alleviate some of the oppressive conditions in which the Burakumin lived. One of the main tools used to carry out such policies was liberation education, Dowa Kyoiku. The remainder of the book shares the voices of educators and community activists through over two hundred interviews as we explore the evolving success and failures of various human rights reform
efforts. Throughout the book I have woven commentary and analysis alongside the interviews, hoping that the result draws the reader into the space, the mindset, the immediacy and reality of a situation of which few “outsiders” seem to be aware.