Ainu And Burakumin: Minorities Of Japan - UH Hilo - Essay

740 words - 3 pages

Ainu and Burakumin: Minorities of Japan
Japan boasts itself as a national homogenetic country with little or no
minority groups. In saying this they disregard the existence and
discrimination towards groups like the Ainu and Burakumin. These groups
are seen to have been assimilated into Japanese culture or extinct
biologically. In the case of the Ainu they are indigenous to northern Japan
but were later colonized by Japan. Burakumin however are a socially
constructed minority based on the idea that leather-workers were tainted by
working with the skins of the dead animals. Discrimination is seen in the
form of reduced work opportunities, housing availability, and direct
The Ainu were originally a Hunter-Gatherer tribe which relied on the
natural resources of the land to support the communities need. When the
Japanese entered the area “hunting and fishing territories were settled into
agricultural land”(Siddle 2009:17) and the Ainu were discouraged from using
their native languages and customs by a ‘native education’ system. After the
war Japan society became focused on a “racialized understanding of Self”
which categorized anyone who had any non-Japanese blood, even as small
as a quarter, as different.
Ainu were discriminated in schools and the workplace including being
compared to dogs “with the words ‘Aaa-Inu’ (Ah, a dog)” (Siddle 2009:27).
Ainu tried to hide or change their status by moving from home and
intermarrying to dilute their blood. Since many turned their backs on Ainu
heritage they were suspicious of the motives of the people trying to
perpetuate the illusion that Ainu existed. From a government perspective, in
1880’s the government reported that the “Ainu people no longer existed”
(Siddle 2009:40). In the 1980’s however Ainu identity gained new strength
and wanted to renew their status.
The Burakumin community was formed as part of a status hierarchy
which placed them as outcasts. There was a “strict social distinction between
the four main classes of samurai, peasant, artisan and merchant” (Neary
2009:54) and any groups which didn’t belong were outcasted. Tanners and
leather-making communities were needed to make soldiers armors but were
avoided by most due to the belief that working with the dead made you
impure. While originally the distinction was based on occupation, in modern
times the distinction is based on y...

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