Photo/Illutration“If I disclose my buraku roots, I risk generating discrimination against the area and my family,” an attendee said at an Anti-Buraku Discrimination Action Resource Center event in Tokyo's Shibuya district on Sept. 24. (Yoko Tanaka)

  • Photo/Illustraion

Worried about the future of her newborn daughter, Tami Kamikawa searched the Internet for information about a discrimination issue that was supposed to have ended more than a century ago.

What she found was that modern technology was being used to spread bigotry, falsehoods and even personal information, such as names and addresses, to identify potential targets for discriminatory attacks.

The websites prompted Kamikawa, then in her 20s, to stop hiding her background and to join other young descendants from “buraku” communities to tackle the age-old problem

“We have confronted the buraku issue and struggled with it in our daily lives,” Kamikawa said.

The issue stems from the feudal era, when people in the lowest social class who were engaged in “uncleanly” or undesirable professions, such as working in slaughterhouses or tanneries, were segregated in special outcast areas called buraku communities.

In the late 19th century, during the Meiji Restoration, they were classified as new commoners and given equal status. However, the discrimination has persisted to this day.

In 2011, a website titled “Buraku Heritage” was set up. It has since been providing a variety of information based on the experiences and opinions of people with roots in buraku communities.

The site covers not only discrimination issues, but it also shows the human side of the people and culture in those communities.

Eight people in their 30s to 50s in Tokyo and Osaka operate the website, while many others contribute, including people from buraku communities, researchers and staff members of nonprofit organizations.

The use of the word “Heritage” in the title is meant to stress the inheritance of buraku culture and traditions for future generations.

Kamikawa, 37, who lives in Tokyo and whose parents are from buraku communities, is a key member of the website.

Her online search began after she feared that her now 9-year-old daughter would “inherit” discrimination in trying to find a job and a husband.

“If I am alone, I can survive,” Kamikawa said she thought after her daughter was born. “But what if my daughter faces discrimination? How should I explain it to her?”

After seeing the discriminatory sites, Kamikawa felt that she herself needed to spread the correct information on the issue.

“By conveying what I have faced from a first-person narrative, I hope to create an atmosphere in which it is difficult for people to discriminate against buraku people,” Kamikawa said.

The Buraku Heritage website also introduces books related to the buraku issue as well as “theme talk pages,” where members can discuss their own experiences, struggles and feelings.

Since the end of 2013, the group has held annual social activities in Tokyo and Osaka, attended by between 20 and 30 people each time.

The group hopes to share the feelings of buraku people with others of various social statuses.

The issue is often described as a taboo topic, and many Japanese are not even aware of the continuing discrimination against buraku families.

Another group, the Anti-Buraku Discrimination Action Resource Center (ABDARC), held an event at a live house in Tokyo’s Shibuya district in September last year for discussions over drinks about buraku problems. More than 100 people attended.

The ABDARC is a volunteer group consisting of plaintiffs in buraku-related lawsuits, researchers and people who want an end to discrimination.

The lawsuits, filed against publishers and others, call for a ban on republishing prewar reports called “Zenkoku Buraku Chosa” (The nationwide survey of buraku) and on posting location lists online.

The reports show where buraku communities were located around the nation, as well as the number of households there.

Such information can be used today to identify people with buraku roots.

In 2016, ABDARC opened its website (https://www.abdarc.net/english/), and now, about 20 people, including Yasushi Kawaguchi, 39, chief of a human right promotion center in Yamaguchi Prefecture, and Tami Kamikawa of the Buraku Heritage site, are involved in the operation.

They said that if correct information is not disseminated on the Internet, the realities of discrimination cannot be conveyed to younger generations.

The website provides explanations and a Q&A section on buraku issues, using short, easy-to-read sentences for young readers.

Through the Internet, ABDARC members can connect and share their experiences with others who face discrimination in Japan, such as sexual minorities and ethnic Koreans.

Others who do not face discrimination are also involved in the group’s activities.

At one ABDARC event, attendees were asked, “Are there any people here who didn’t know about the buraku issue until now?”

A few people raised their hands.

“I want people who have started to take an interest in the issue to feel welcome to join us here,” Kawaguchi said. “I want to expand our soft connection not only with people who are buraku offspring.”

In December 2016, a law to promote the elimination of discrimination against buraku communities was enacted to deal with information posted online that spread prejudice and hatred against them.

One article of the law notes that in the digital age, the situation concerning discrimination has changed. Even if the original data posted online is deleted, copies can spread, and information specifying places and individuals can be added to the copies.

Some point out that the Internet has made it easier for people to investigate whether a home for sale or a potential marriage partner is connected to buraku community.

According to a 2015 survey conducted by Sakai, Osaka Prefecture, on 1,293 respondents, 42 percent would “avoid” living in a buraku community or an elementary school district encompassing a buraku community, compared with 22 percent who said they “don’t care.”

In addition, 20 percent of the respondents would “oppose” their children’s plans to marry a person from a buraku community, while 40 percent would “not object.”

The results show the respondents would rather avoid buraku-related land than the people.

Mariko Akuzawa, a professor of a graduate school at Osaka City University who is expert on human rights issues, analyzed the survey results.

“It is difficult to trace a person’s roots due to mobility and urbanization, so living in or being connected to the areas of buraku communities have become targets of discrimination,” she said.

Akuzawa noted the increase in the answer “I don’t know” for the two questions in the survey that is conducted every five years.

“It is important to get information from real people and their lives, and not to be swayed by abstract information on the Internet,” she said.