In order to understand the context for the educational issues at the center of my work, I want to attempt an understanding of how the identity of the Burakumin has been socially constructed and politically reinforced. The sources cited and listed in the references offer a more comprehensive discussion and documentation. While there is a limited coverage of the Burakumin in the English language, a few classic sources1 have been joined by more recent work of both Japanese and foreign scholars.2 Japanese authors have produced an extensive body of work,3 including a steady flow of work from advocacy groups.4 While I never intended this book to be about the politics surrounding Burakumin, I soon realized that, as with most social issues which demand public attention and government funding, politics lurks not far beneath the surface. The story laid out in so many of this book’s interviews is fraught with the struggles and contestations among various contending parties attempting to undermine or promote one set of beliefs or another. Education is political, regardless of the nation or era, as it is the conduit used by the ruling system to inculcate young people with the values perceived by those in control as significant and/or necessary to society. To assume that education is neutral is fallacious; to suggest otherwise is in itself political as it comes with a doctrine of its own: that children are somehow decontextualized from their environments, their homes, their parents, society’s biases, and historical prejudices. Underlying much of the discussion pertaining to Dowa Education is the division between arguments put forth by the Buraku Liberation League (BLL) and other political groups: the Japan Socialist Party (JSP), Japan Communist Party (JCP), Dowa Kai, Keidanren (National Coalition of Buraku Liberation Movements), and the Liberal Democratic Party, with the BLL advocating for recompense due to centuries of discrimination to one particular group, the Burakumin, and others claiming that socioeconomic class should override all other considerations in the receipt of government assistance and intervention.5 At the beginning of the research and for several years thereafter, I heard these apparently opposing views and never thought that they had much to do with my research. Gradually, however, I realized that the issue of identity-based status versus class is indeed at the crux of the Buraku project and to a large degree the dominant unspoken discourse in Japanese society.6 I would also come to understand the ways in which responses to the Buraku mondai (Buraku issue) stood at
the heart of policies and practices toward other minorities, in particular, the education of their youth. The creation, effects, and demise of the Special Measures legislative program dominate the efforts to end centuries of discrimination toward the Burakumin.7 Providing special support and funding to a particularly defined population can potentially lead not only to a feeling of entitlement but also to enhanced distinctions between those who benefit and those who do not. Class distinctions increase as some benefiting members of such a group capitalize on their entitlement more than others. With regards to the Special Measures Legislation, if the presumed goal was to gain equity for Burakumin whereby they would be accepted and treated as Japanese without stigma, would it not be logical that some might desire to leave their group identity behind and meld with society at large, even if it meant that some would succeed and others would not? And, using the class analysis offered by the JCP, could one assume that those who might not successfully make the move along with other low-income peoples, would be left behind in the Buraku and so stigmatized due to their poverty rather than as a member of a historically outcaste group, the Burakumin? While this might seem obvious, the Buraku mondai is anything but. As repeated in hundreds of interviews and reinforced one spring day by Professor Manabu Sato: “Buraku is not a social economic problem but a cultural problem.” The Burakumin are Japanese. Their physical appearance, language, and loyalties are indistinguishable from other Japanese citizens. There is no ostensible reason why they should not be granted every legal right to enjoy the privileges of their Japanese identity. And yet there is something about Japanese society that is able to find distinctions and draw lines that the foreign observer is ill-equipped to trace.