Understanding buraku inequality: Improvements and challenges

Bondy, Christopher GND

Groups on the margins of society tend to find themselves in a tenuous position, often the first to bear the brunt of economic downturns and the last to reap the benefits of economic booms. This article explores inequalities faced by the burakumin, Japan’s largest minority group and long on the margins of society, as seen in education, occupation, and living situations. The paper pays particular attention to buraku social movement organizations, governmental actions, and local experiences, both in an historical and contemporary context. It examines how, at the macro-level, social movement organizations have challenged discrimination broadly, encouraging governmental action to reduce inequality facing the burakumin. While these macro-level approaches are important, it is also essential to consider this diversity of perspectives “on the ground.” Thus, based upon ethnographic study, the paper considers how two organizations in particular approach buraku issues at the local level in two different communities. The diversity of social movement perspectives is apparent within communities, but is easy to miss when viewed from the outside. Seeing these approaches at the community level, however, we still find inequality, in particular in the form of social and geographic isolation. Overall, this study shows how understanding the heterogeneity of the buraku experience and various challenges to their living situations enables an even deeper understanding of their lives as well as their approach to challenging inequality.