Images of Edo: reinterpreting “Japanese history” and the “buraku” through community-based narratives toggle abstract

Cangià, Flavia GND

In contemporary Japan, people labeled as “burakumin” (‘hamlet people’) are commonly described as the descendants of Tokugawa-era outcasts of Japan, who were engaged in special occupations (e.g., leather industry, meat packing, street entertainment, drum making) and compelled to live in separate areas. Despite the heterogeneity of these populations, determination of “buraku origin” (buraku shusshin) has remained fixed over time and is based on one’s birth, former or current residence in a buraku, and engagement in the buraku industries. This paper illustrates representations of the buraku through local and community-based initiatives and narratives. It explores the short story “Yomigaetta Kurobe” (‘Resurrected Kurobe’) by Kawamoto Yoshikazu and the role and activities of the Archives Kinegawa Museum of Education and Leather Industry, located in Kinegawa in Sumida Ward (Tokyo) with a special focus on children’s participation. By reinterpreting the “Edo tradition,” activists, educators, children, and other individuals in the community transform the “otherness” and blur the boundaries to normalize yet take pride in the “specialness” of the buraku. They do so by drawing on commonplace factors including hard work and the everyday usefulness of objects, as well as special qualities such as skills and craftsmanship.