Monday, January 26, 2009

Why Norimitsu Onishi’s Report Japan’s Outcasts Still Wait for Acceptance Is Wrong, and Why It Matters: Third Installment

Let’s now turn to the current situation of the buraku people themselves. What is their plight that is being “ignored” by the national media? Let’s see if there’s anything that has escaped the scrutiny of the professional media.

Oddly, Onishi himself all but admits that there have been significant changes:
“Families and companies widely checked birthplaces to ferret out buraku among potential hires or marriage partners until a generation ago. The practice has greatly declined, (emphasis mine) though, especially among the young.”
Note, though, that it is typically the parents and matchmakers and not the potential marriage partners themselves who do the research. If the practice has declined among the young, then the real change in social attitudes is likely to have happened in the preceding generation. Two personal anecdotes that he gives us, a 39-year-old woman’s memories of the discrimination from the grandfather of her schoolmate during her high school days and a 76-year-old woman’s fear that the new people moving into the old buraku neighborhood would find out about her burakumin roots, reinforce this impression. Elsewhere in the report, Onishi offers up unseemly vulgarities from two politicians: one, a 82-year-old retiree; the other, the 68-year-old Aso himself. Can it be a coincidence, though, that he has come up with a nonagenarian (centenarian?), octogenarian, septuagenarian and a sexagenarian as prime examples of prejudice and its victims?

How much discrimination remains then? According toZenkoku Buraku Kaihou Undou Rengoukai, not much— the pro-Communist anti-discrimination movement that disbanded in 2004, claiming that discrimination for practical purposes had all but ceased. But how could they have known, given that the most recent national survey dates back to 1993? Actually, government assistance to dowa areas continue at the local government level. Shimane Prefecture, for example, conducted a survey in 2005 (with an astonishing 88.4% response from the sampled group), whose findings can be found in condensed form here in a report by the academic who has reportedly been the driving force behind the survey. Unsurprisingly, the academic finds evidence of persistent discrimination everywhere; a closer look at the numbers tells a different story. Bear with me and I’ll show you.

Now what is the most important element in defining discrimination or lack thereof? I don’t know about you, but I can’t think of anything more important than the social acceptance of intergroup marriages, and the 2005 Shimane survey shows that only 30.8% of married couples in Shimane’s dowa areas consists of couples with one spouse each from a dowa area and a non-dowa area—substantially lower than the 36.6% national average in the 1993 national survey. However, this picture changes dramatically when it is broken down demographically; this same percentage rises to 70.1%, 74.8% and 83.9% respectively for the 30-34, 25-29 and 25-and under age groups. The percentage of people experiencing discrimination with regard to marriage sheds further light on the situation, peaking for the 40-44 group at 14.07% and tapering off at the two extremes at 0.08% (15-19) and 2.34% (20-24) and 3.89% (80-85) and 1.46% (85-). It is safe to guess that the older generations experienced little discrimination because they married within the community but that the younger generations have been experiencing less and less discrimination despite the fact that they have increasingly been marrying out. As for underperforming the national average, the likely cause is the fact that the provinces, of which Shimane is decidedly one, are aging more rapidly compared to the metropoles, increasing the proportion of the aging more insular intra-area couples within the demographics.

Is there discrimination? Yes. But does it approach anything near the dimensions of the interracial problems in the West? Likely not.

What then to make of the significantly lower average wage, higher percentage of people on welfare, and lower rate of people receiving higher education in the dowa areas compared to the prefectural average? The academic claims discrimination. Really? Isn’t that is a bit like blaming the plight of the poor white in the Appalachians on discrimination? There is a real socioeconomic problem here, but the problem ahouldo have little to do with the Japanese people’s purported failure to come to terms with the past or even to talk about it.

And to think that all this information, not to mention most of what I have used in the preceding installments, is readily available on the Internet.


tony said...

Glad to hear that someone else is as exasperated by Onishi's reporting as I am.

I think his journalism is verging on the dishonest. There's truth in lot of what he writes but journalists have a duty to be fair as well as accurate. He just deliberately omits any fact that doesn't support his angle. And that angle is usually an anti-Japanese one.

Did he consider that Aso might have rejected Nonaka because of the burakumin's notorious connection to the Yakuza? (not that the LDP can talk . . )

His basis premise is wrong too. What have the burakumin got to do with Obama. They aren't an ethnic group. It's just his usual knee jerk US good, Japan bad reaction.

Jun Okumura said...

Tony, I agree with some of your points, not with others. One thing that I am convinced of is that his is not a “knee-jerk” reaction, but something that is deeply ingrained in his personality, a point that I hope to address in a post of its own, a point that has generated a measure of sympathy for him as far as I am concerned. It is no excuse for his lack of professionalism to be sure, but I am beginning to feel that I should have been more charitable, even as I was throwing the stones.

One other point: the yakuza’s association with the burakumin is analogous to their relationship with the Korean residents in Japan. The yakuza were one of the few groups of equal opportunity employers throughout much of post-WW II Japanese history (as I pointed out in my post on the post-bubble restructuring in the yakuza industry). This is a narrative that has seen one parallel after another in the successive waves of North American immigrants.

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