Recently I have read the following book. A book summary is attached.
Book title: Amos, Timothy. 2001. Embodying Difference: the Making Burakumin in Modern Japan. University of Hawaii.
Ch. One: The book suggests that the word ‘burakumin’ comprised of two parts: ‘buraku, meaning hamlet; and min to mean a person or people’ (p.3).The origins of many of these communities were thought to date back to 12th century until 16th century (p.3). In the 18th century they were forced to live separately from the mainstream society (p.3). Although their outcast status was abolished in 1871, their upward mobility was still hampered. While there was a common narrative (master narrative) of the burakumin’s history on how they were discriminated by the mainstream society, yet upon close examination, some of these narratives were questionable, for example: could it be empirically verified? And to what extent was the discrimination that contemporary buraku communities now facing was the same as that experienced by historic outcaste communities? (p.4) This book argues that there was a need to reconceptualise the buraku problems for two reasons: the master narrative was built on questionable foundations and the mainstream accounts tended to overlook the role burakumin and other interested parties had played in the construction and maintenance of the master narratives (p.5). A further problem with the master narrative was that it did not adequately deal with the ideational aspect of the buraku existence (p.14). This book argues that contrary to the master narrative, ‘burakumin’ did not simply represent a fixed, clearly delineable outcaste minority group (p.22).
Ch. Two: it offers a detailed account of the mainstream narrative of buraku history, and then it highlights the specific empirical and conceptual problems with the narrative. Then it demonstrates how the master narrative was currently being mobilized on the ground: respectively in 2 areas in eastern and western Japan. Finally it argues that re-configuring ‘burakumin’ as a generic label of marginality could be one way of re-imagine the buraku history (p.35).
Ch. 3: it discusses the master narrative, before demonstrating some of the empirical and conceptual problem inherited in it. Then it examines the ideational aspect of early modern outcaste. In the conclusion, it outlines an alternate way in viewing a history of discrimination in early modern Japan, reframing it within a larger history of discursively constructed difference (p.76).
Ch. 4: it points out that the Japanese government, the general population, scholars and others over time tended to construct a relatively uniform image of a tightly bound community known as ‘barukumin’ (p.113). But the reality was that marginalized people actually had unique, fluid, and often divergent histories. Despite that, the outcaste was often characterized by strong uniformity (p.113). This chapter presents a history of the ‘buraku problem’ from the beginning of the Meiji period up to the early 1930s. It analyses the discourse of social difference that emerged in the writing of the elites, and checks it against the real changes that had happened. The research showed that the master narrative of buraku history failed to retain much descriptive value. This chapter also shows that the 20th century discourse of ‘barukumin’ followed no clearly determined linear path of development (p.117). Also, it should be noted that no straightforward link really existed in the transitional process from early modern outcaste communities to modern buraku communities (p.131).
Ch. 5 argues that far from being dormant or in decline, buraku communities under the leadership of the Buraku Liberation League (BLL) were actively engaging in liberation activism (149). In 1965, the Japanese government released its findings in a document called “The Report of the Dowa Policy Council”. This report formed the basis for subsequent government policy on the buraku problem. Cleary the Dowa Policy council saw the buraku problem had started in the premodern social status structure, and that problem persisted to the present in the form of low social position. The modern buraku problem existed among the ‘Japanese nationals’. To have distinctions among nationals were considered contrary to the fundamental principles of ‘human rights’ (pp.160-1). According to this chapter, human rights culture was clearly perceived differently at the national and community level. At the national level it was seen as a futuristic place which could only be achieved through the appropriate teachings. At the community level, for example in Naniwa, a completely different aspect was taken. It was more about educating the non-burakumin about the Naniwa community (pp.186).
Ch. 6: The Burakumin often identified their history with present-day Japan in 3 ways: through the ‘victimhood’, ‘pride’, and ‘an appeal for national belonging’. ‘Victimhood’ meant a conscious decision to mobilize past experiences in to a collective narrative that identified and condemned discriminatory acts. ‘Pride’ referred to the victim chose to exemplify the intrinsic value of the buraku community. ‘Appeal for national belonging’ implied that, while concrete difference might exist between the buraku community and the mainstream society, these distinctions had to be legally protected by the nation-state (p.197). The chapter concludes that while the need for self-articulation through historical narrative was clear, relying on mainstream history to‘re-establish’ the reality of a problem was a precarious undertaking. The decision to constantly talk about ‘a history of difference’ meant that a resolution of the buraku problem based on the idea of assimilation became not possible (p.207).
Ch. 7: It became clear the ‘burakumin’, while being the dominant way in which social difference had been articulated in 20th century Japan, was not the only way. ‘Buraku’ had largely been ignored as a term of reference by both the state and society. The state opted for the term ‘Dowa residents’ to frame this social difference. Mainstream society generally opted for silence and chose to ‘unname’ burakumin. All conflict was seen as unproductive and undesirable (p.212). The central dilemma of buraku studies was that ‘buraku’ and ‘burakumin’ were illusions – they did not exist but simultaneously they were reality – they had a clear existence (p.223).