For those who don’t know — and you would be forgiven considering the lack of coverage the issue receives — a buraku is the term used to describe an area where some, but not all, of the residents have ancestral ties to the people placed at the bottom of feudal society in the Edo Period. These people were assigned tasks considered “tainted” according to Buddhist and Shinto beliefs, such as butchery and leather work, where the killing of and use of animal corpses was involved. Today, official statistics put the number of burakumin at around 1.2 million, with unofficial estimates as high as 3 million.
Despite the numbers, the issue is something of a taboo in Japan: Mention the word “burakumin” in conversation and the response you often get is a polite silence. This approach seems to extend to the mainstream media, with television and newspapers barely covering the issues regarding this minority group.