It was a pleasure to encounter Stephen Mansfield’s review of my recent book, “Working Skin,” in the May 3 edition of The Japan Times. Buraku issues continue to be of broad public import in contemporary Japan and deserving of more discussion.
I wanted to clarify several points vital to this continued discussion. The word “dowa” used by the reviewer was an administrative term under a system of laws that ended in 2002. It referred to only those buraku people and neighborhoods that registered with the government. “Burakumin” or “Buraku people,” the term used by the buraku political movement since 1922, is more inclusive.
I would also emphasize the point that buraku identity has blurred significantly in recent decades. It is not a given that someone who might be interpreted as a buraku person is, as the reviewer suggested, necessarily descended from the lowest rung of an Edo Period caste system. The stigma has spread beyond an easily traced heritage, and it takes effort and evidence to make the argument that someone is buraku. For example, it is not that buraku people work in stigmatized industries, but that working in certain industries can be grounds for being judged buraku.
Finally, as a way of managing social difference, multiculturalism may indeed prove instrumental in dismantling the myth of Japan’s homogeneity. However, far from arguing that multiculturalism solves buraku issues, my book contends that multiculturalism places a new set of burdens on buraku people and their political organizations. As we consider how to address buraku issues, my research suggests that we look for answers not in more extensive inclusion into a multicultural polity, but in a radical transformation of that polity.
The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.