a New Paradigm for Education

Burakugaku (Buraku Study): a New Paradigm for Education

Burakugaku (Buraku Study): a New Paradigm for Education



Yoshikazu Kawamoto




Rikkyo University


Tokyo, JAPAN



Hidetada Shimizu


Associate Professor


Department of Educational Psychology and Foundations


Northern Illinois University


DeKalb, IL 60115


EMAIL: shimizu@niu.edu



Burakugaku is not a special function of education, but it is the dimension of depth in all of its functions.[1]



In this paper, we shall describe the recent development of an interdisciplinary field in Japan, burakugaku (burakumin study) as an attempt to more accurately inform about, and thus reduce discriminations against, burakumin, Japan’s largest minority group. Many scholars from around the world have already studied the history of burakumin’s attempts to achieve educational equity. We show ways in which this field has broader implications for multi-cultural educational studies by moving the academic discourse beyond a discrimination/human rights dichotomy. The field also would contribute to educational policy by providing research that critically analyzes currently implemented policies, such as the Japanese Ministry of Education‘s, jinken kyoiku (Human Rights education). Specifically, we shall review and analyze the two dominant paradigms for burakumin education in the past, the “deficit” and “contribution” models, then we shall propose a cosmic-ontological model as the third alternative.


Historical and Theoretical Frameworks


Following the landmark 1969 legislation which made the improvement of burakumin’s social, economic, educational, and civil rights statuses an "urgent task of every Japanese citizen," the Japanese government has implemented the nation wide "assimilation policy" (Shimahara, 1984; Hawkins, 1983). The policy had decisively positive effects on the lives of burakumin: while them majority of them used to be on welfare, they now maintain standards of living and education nearing the national averages. The success of assimilation policy (Hirasawa, 1989; Shimahara, 1979) led the national government to refocus its attention and rearrange its resources on and from burakumin to other "old" (e.g. Koreans) and "emerging" minority groups (e.g. immigrants from the Middle East) (Tsuneyoshi, 2001 ). Consequently, the Assimilation Education Policy (dowa kyoiku) will be integrated into part of Human Rights Education Policy (jinken kyoiku) (Mori, 1995).


While the noble goals of Human Education Policies are more global and inclusive than those of Assimilation Policy, we argue that these goals also present a critical limitation: framing burakumin (and other minority groups) solely as objects of discrimination, it overlooks the roles burakumin played throughout Japanese history to lay foundations for some of the most fundamental functions of mainstream (non-buraku) Japanese society. Specifically, both English and Japanese literature on burakumin to date focused on problems of being burakumin. The most notable example in the English speaking world is the work of George DeVos. Framing burakumin as an "outcast" (DeVos & Wagatsuma, 1966; DeVos, 1971), he had looked at the effects of fixed status and occupational roles ascribed to burakumin (i.e., of "untouchables" who come in contact with the "defiled") have on their psychological and behavioral adjustments (DeVos & Wagatsuma, 1966; DeVos & Suarez-Orozco, 1990) and patterns of social cohesion and alienation (DeVos, 1992). Most of the remaining English language literature has also focused on the impact of discrimination against this "invisible" (since they are physically indistinguishable with the rest of Japanese) group (e.g. Hayashida, 1975; Mihashi & Goodman, 1987; Scherdin, 1994; Murphy-Shigematsu, 1999).


Until a decade ago, the majority of the Japanese burakumin literature also dealt with the issues of discrimination against burakumin (e.g., Harada, 1984; Kashiwahara, 1988; Tsuji, 1992; Matsui, 1983), or general (Naramoto, 1975; Buraku Liberation Research Institute, 1976) and historical (e.g., Harada, 1975) introduction to the group. In recent years, however, a number of scholars of burakumin descent have shifted their attention away from the problem of being burakumin to the positive contributions they have made to the construction of mainstream Japanese society (Watanabe, 1996, 1998; Noguchi, 2000; Fujisawa, 2001). Kawamoto (Kawamoto, 2001) in particular advanced this new perspective the main goal of a new academic field: burakugaku, or burakumin studies.


A central focus of burakugaku is bunmei, or "cultural systems," which refers to any tools (physical) or social (institutional) and cultural (symbolic) organizations that are designed to maintain functional interdependence between humans and nature. Indigenous modes of production (e.g. hunting and gathering at sea, mountains, and fields) allowed the integration of these and other elements of daily subsistence in symbolic forms (e.g. arts and religious rituals), thus uniting essential constituents needed to form bunmei. Kawamoto (2001) has argued that senmin, burakumin’s predecessors in the premodern times laid the foundation for the development of some highly recognized examples of Japanese cultural achievements such as no and kabuki play, medicine, and the criminal justice system.


Paradoxically, however, creating these cultural systems required burakumin to come in contact with kegare, or defilement -- that which desecrates or profanes the life-producing and -sustaining properties of nature (e.g. deaths, natural disasters, process of decay) and various by-products of this process (e.g. animal and human corpses, or excrement such as feces, menstrual blood, etc.) -- the activity despised by the majority Japanese and the occupational role ascribed to burakumin. As a result, burakumin were dissociated from their previous positive aspects of bunmei and symbolically (and physically) ghettoized within Japan by virtue of their association with defilement. .





This paper is based on the preliminary findings for a forthcoming book entitled, Burakumin: the Hidden Builder of Old and New Japan, co-authored by Yoshikazu Kawamoto, an ethnologist of the burakumin descent, Hidetada Shimizu, a Japanese-born cultural psychologist, and Gerald LeTendre, an American-born sociologist of education. By design, the study takes a multi-author, multi-disciplinary, and multi-methods approach. Kawamoto draws his evidence from historical texts and socio-cultural analysis of local folktales, folklores, and associated artifacts throughout Japan. Shimizu has conducted ethnographic interviews with members of the Buraku Liberation League in three prefectures during the summer of 2000, 2001, and 2003. LeTendre (not an author of this paper) critically analyses the evolution of Buraku Liberation Movement in light of both Japanese and English literature on this subject.



New Perspectives


One domain of burakugaku is to examine the role of burakumin’s cultural traditions, particularly their occupational roles (yaku) for creating and maintaining some of the basic functions of the large cultural and religious systems of Japanese society. While much is discussed concerning the "untouchability" of burakumin status, for the jobs they engaged were considered polluting, little is documented with one exception in the recent burakumin literature about the roles senmin played to purify and sanctify the defiled materials so as to "recycle" them into pure, useful, living, and even sacred substances. Below are three such examples.


For example, the report complied by danzaemon, the governor of all senmin in the nation, to Shogun during the years 1715 to 1736 summarizes the following as the basic duties (yakume) of senmin: processing of leathers and enforcing of laws and punishment of criminals (Nakao, 1994). Despite the taboo assigned to these labors, animal corpses produced many useful and valued items. Dried meat and organs were used as fertilizers as well as adhesives called nikawa which were then used for painting. Some organs, such as the gall bladder, were used for prescribing medicine. The leather was often used to produce various musical instruments. The cat skin was used to produce shamisen, a traditional string instrument; the cow skin was used to make taiko, a drum. In many, instances, these instruments were often used for religious purification purposes such as for a purification rite in a Shinto shrine. In addition, senmin was assigned the role of a shrine’s janitor, of cleaning and purifying it for various religious ceremonies.


Other occupational functions performed by senmin were several "criminal justice" roles: "mountain guard" (yamaban), looking for thieves and animals that tampered with crops; "water guard" (mizuban), ensuring that every farmer had a fair share of water in his rice field; "fire guard" (hinoban); regular police work of arresting and executing criminals as well as burying their bodies (undertakers). These various police works were also considered unclean because they, too, required being in contact with the defiled materials and other disrupters of normative human activities. In short, much of senmin’s work involved turning something lifeless (in case of dealing with the dead or defiled objects) or life-threatening (in case of their "criminal justice roles) into something living and life-supporting.


Senmin’s skills and expert knowledge in processing the dead animals also helped the development of modern medicine in Japan. In a standard Japanese history textbook, the physician, Genpaku Sugita, is generally given credit for dissecting a human body based on the Dutch medical text on human anatomy and introducing Western medicine to Japan. Little known is the fact that the record of this historical event, engraved in the stone monument placed in the cemetery where the dissection was conducted, states that it was an "old man" (okina) of senmin status who actually dissected the body and told Genpaku the location of each organ depicted in the Dutch text based on his knowledge from dissecting dead animals." Genpaku himself is suspected to have refrained from touching the body for fear of being polluted himself.



Relevance of Burakugaku for Education


As mentioned earlier, the past public policies for burakumin focused on the problem of being burakumin. They were based on the assumption that the prejudices and discrimination against burakumin created the lack of economic and educational opportunities and human rights available to other groups. Not only did the policy makers adhere to this deficit model, but the Burakumin Liberation League themselves follow this logic as they aggressively pursued the path to socioeconomic reform through public funding for housing projects and education. While the policy makers had assumed the success of these programs and moved on to address the needs of other formally unrecognized minority groups, burakumin themselves are left with the sense of ambivalence that while their socioeconomic and educational status improved vastly, prejudice and discrimination against them remain unsolved.


Out of this climate of disillusionment, particularly among some burakumin scholars and activists, emerged the effort to formulate a model that can effectively address and combat the persistent psychological stigma attached to their identity. There are two major thrusts of this movement which appear to have much potential in education: (1) education about the accomplishments and contributions the burakumin have made in the past and present as a subject matter of educational curriculum (the present approach formally called, dowa kyoiku); and (2) a call for fundamental paradigm shift in the existing form of minority education by moving beyond merely attempting to eradicate the consequences of social injustices and by addressing instead the root cause these problems: i.e., the dualistic categorization of people as belonging to minority and majority groups.


Education about burakumin. Since the average Japanese person prior to the implementation of the burakumin assimilation policies either knew little or had misconceptions about the burakumin, the goal of burakumin education in the past was to inform students accurately about the origin, formation, and nature of burakumin identity. While serving the purpose of providing more correct information about the historical origin of burakumin, this curriculum often preserved or reinforced the exiting stigma against the group as being “polluted” ? for it pointed out how burakumin took up the role of coming in contact with dead or defiled materials.[2]


The current approach to education about burakumin, of which burakugaku is the major thrust, takes a step further to demonstrate that in principle, the contact with that which is rejected or avoided on the ground that it is defiled (i.e., dead or polluted) will later become the foundational structure of a larger process or function, which is no longer perceived as defiled, but even as having the very opposite characteristic of being clean, alive, or even holy and sacred. This paradoxical and dialectical process works much like the ancient wisdom of the interplay of yin and yen in which the diametrically opposing elements -- of the clean and unclean, dead and alive, and untouchable and holy ? cyclically influence each other to complete and advance the whole cycle of life (Kawamoto, 2001).


One can identify this pattern either as a creative eco-cycle of life (creating life out of non-life), or a magico-religious rite of purification (creating the holy out of the non-holy). Either way, it demonstrates a principle of cosmic-ontology, ways of being in this universe. In the earlier examples, for instance, senmin converted dead animals into what would later become nutrients for plants (fertilizers), the ingredients and instruments for the fine and performing arts (nikawa for painting, and sahmisen and taiko for playing music, respectively), and the medium of religious rite of purification (use of taiko, or the drum). With their criminal justice occupational roles, senmin also contributed to the process of sustaining food production (e.g. yamaban, misban). With their knowledge of animal anatomy, they took part in the process of dissecting a human corpse, which later contributed the development of Western medicine, another life-saving endeavor, in Japan.


Paradigm shift in multicultural education. All of the above examples describe a process of life, of birth and death, which are two sides of the same coin. Specifically, when examining the contribution the burakumin have made to the mainstream Japanese society, one is presented with a model of holistic life process ? i.e., a creative ecosystem of life -- whereby birth (creation) takes place through death (coming in contact with the defiled), and vice a versa. This cycle is a natural part of the physical and biological worlds, as well as of their spiritual manifestations (e.g. religious ceremony), which are cleansed by the rite of purification performed by senmin (and the emperor) with various items they produced.


Using this organic metaphor as a point of departure, we shall call for a paradigm shift in minority education -- which may be defined here as both education about and for minority groups such as multicultural education in the U.S. and Human Rights Education in Japan ? from a material-dualistic to a cosmic-ontological perspective. From the dualistic perspective, categories of thought and existence are divided into two opposing and antagonistic elements. The category of “minority” in and of itself follows the dualistic logic, because for the so-called minority to come into existence, one must assume the existence of the non-minority, or the majority. Furthermore, for the so-called minority education to legitimize its existence and goals, it not only has to presuppose this category but also affirm associated values assumptions and ideological perspectives. These include the idea of the majority group being in the more privileged position than the minority with the former expected to either exploit or aid the latter.


We argue that the dualistic approach to minority education has helped accomplish the practical goals of providing material resources to those who lack them (through public housing projects, affirmative action policies, and scholarship), but falls short when it comes to capturing the ultimate reality of the cosmic life processes implied in burakugaku: that there is no divide between the minority and majority in the ontological dimension of our existence. All beings are subject to the creative life cycle of birth and death; this process, in and of itself is life-sustaining. However, this life-sustaining system can be corrupted where divisions (dualism) are created from within so as to designate a given segment of the system as separate from others (dualistic split) ? as in the case of the separation of minority and majority.


From the ontological viewpoint, for example, the material, social, psychological, and spiritual well being of every member of Japanese society, among other things, depends on the vital function of buraku bunmei. Harukoma, the buraku-based performing art, is a case in point. Prior to the spread of mass education in the late nineteenth century, the majority of the citizens were illiterate. Because they could not read farming instructions, they relied on the street play performed by traveling senmin called harukoma for such information. Since senmin were given no land of their own due to their defiled status, many of them sought performing arts as their means of living. Harukoma traveled from a village to another demonstrating the process of farming cycle from seeding to harvest as a dance; in the mean time, the performance included the element of pre-celebrating the harvesting of abundant crops -- a magical-religious ritual of bringing about a plentiful farming season.


Notice that the work performed by senmin sustains the life cycle that involves every member of the community, senmin or non-senmin, for everyone’s life depends on food. It was not senmin alone which sustained the production cycle; many other factors contributed the crop production: seeds, land, water, wind, right temperatures, human labor, etc. However, throughout much of Japanese history, the contribution made by senmin and burakumin alone was almost never given due credit. For example, few Japanese are aware of the integral agricultural and spiritual roles harukoma played in the traditional farming villages. Nor are they informed about the connection between harukoma and the two major theatrical arts of Japan, no and kabuki, since no history textbooks mention this link.


Thus there is a deep gaping hole in the ways cultural history of Japan is presented, and we argue that much of this omission is created by both conscious and subconscious effort to "do history" without any references to senmin. Stories of such mass-level denial abound within today’s burakumin communities. Shimizu who conducted an ongoing fieldwork with burakumin youth can list the following anecdotes as examples.



・ Since most burakumin families could not afford textbooks, the Burakumin Assimilation Education Policy mandated that textbooks be given to all students in the compulsory education free of charge. While all children benefited from this program, no credit was given to the burakumin who worked for decades to pass the law.



・ Most burakumin lived in lowlands closed to a river plagued by constant flooding; they were forced to live in such areas because they were prohibited from making living from farming. Most of these communities did not even have bridges connected to the non-buraku areas. As a result of the Assimilation Law, however, many such communities were connected through bridges, a development that contributed the improvement of the transportation system of entire communities. While the industry and commerce flourished in many communities as a result of such public projects, many non-burakumin stigmatize these bridges as “buraku bridges,” as if they were polluted by virtue of their mere association with burakumin.



Cosmic-ontological models of healing and pathology. From the viewpoint of our cosmic-ontological model of minority education, the existence of the whole organism ? both at the societal and individual level -- depends on the work of all of its constituting parts, of both “clean” and “unclean.” Drawing on the ancient text, the Chronicles on Japan, Kawamoto (2001) describes his theory of the dialectic ecosystem of how the living and the dead mutually influence each other to complete a whole life cycle. His analysis shows that in the ancient times (before 500s), the word defiled, or kehare, literally meant, the state in which the life force, ke (written as ki in Japanese, or “chi” in Chinese, which means life) “dried up” (hareru). Specifically, the major areas of such a “defiled” state were: (1) illness, injury, and death; (2) natural disaster; (3) breaking of rules and laws. He notes that all of these phenomena are “not something that happen to a particular group of people [like burakumin] but intrinsic properties of all living beings and natural phenomena” (p. 90). Historically, both the emperor as the deity of Japanese national religion, Shinto, and senmin played the role of transforming the “lifeless” state of kegare, or defilement, back to the state of “life-full-ness,” or ki: the emperor did so by ways of religious rites of purification, and senmin by ways of producing technologies and labors necessary for the emperor to perform this role.


It is then crucial to realize the necessity of the defiled (kegareta) state to set the stage for the beginning of new life, and the inevitability of such life to decay and terminate itself at a certain point; everything passes and emerges according to the law of nature, while certain segments of the population, the emperor and senmin, needed to ensure that this process stays intact.


What then disrupts and then corrupts such a cycle? The ontological paradigm suggests a rather ironic and paradoxical answer: i.e., the corruption is not caused by the objects that are defiled, but people’s fear of such defilement and subsequent use of their (neurotic) (1) psychological defense mechanisms, and (2) the institutional structures and processes that legitimize these defense mechanisms as “culturally constituted defense mechanisms” (Spiro, 1994, pp. 145-159). In other words, the two objects which people normally consider to be defiled, the defiled material and those who come in contact with them (senmin-burakumin), in reality, are not the actual sources of defilement. Rather, defilement springs from within the mind of people who fear the (supposedly) defiled objects ad people and the society that institutionalizes such collective fear as a cultural system.


The following evidence from Kawamoto’s (1994) folkloric investigation illustrates this mechanism. In a rural Japanese village of Hidaka, the village’s folk tale (ii tustae) -- a story handed down from the generation to another through oral traditions ? describes yamaban, semin who performed the duty of mountain guard, saving the lives of villagers at the times of famine. Being assigned the role of controlling the animal population as well as processing their corpses to produce usable materials, the senmin had a constant stock of animal meat of which their regular staple consisted. Not only did the commoners detest senmin for eating the meat, but the commoners were also prohibited by the government authorities from eating the meat. Meanwhile, the ruling class freely made use of various products made from the animals by the senmin. At the times of famine, however, a young senmin messenger would go from door to door to all the households of the village. He invited people to the house of senmin to secretly eat from and be nourished by a large pot of “animal soup” (niku jiru), without the fear of being reported to the authorities for this illegal conduct.


This example shows that the detested object (meat) and the people who came in contact with it (senmin) did not cause the actual defilement, or, ke-hare, i.e., the drying up of the life-force of ki. Rather, it was the deliberate avoidance of the meat provided by senmin for fear that both the meat and senmin are polluting, which could have been fatal. The defilement thus emerges from people’s psychological state, rather than the objects of perceived defilement (meat and senmin). It is essential to understand that senmin and burakumin were discriminated against not because they themselves were contaminated (still a widely-held view to justify the discrimination against burakumin), but because the minds of the people who separated themselves from the detested object and people were “contaminated” with fear.


What then brings the healing so as to eradicate the root cause of prejudice and discrimination against burakumin? We call for the tested wisdom of experienced clinicians: The road to healing starts with an honest realization of and confrontation with one’s own fear. Take Freud’s reference to the ancient tale of King Oedipus, who slew his father and married his mother for fear that his fate predicted by the oracle would materialize. Seeking his enemy outside, he ended up fulfilling the prophecy, while the true enemy was inside him. Similarly, the past policies and programs of minority education in Japan sought the cause of prejudice and discrimination against burakumin outside the etiology of human fear and in the various socioeconomic and educational factors that plagued burakumin. Again, while acknowledging the practical legitimacy and immense utilities of these programs, we argue that they only scratch the surface of a more fundamental problem: internal fear and the projections of this fear onto an external scapegoat, burakumin.


We would like to close this paper with stories of young burakumin who transcended the prejudice and discriminations against them, not by correcting the wrongs of their oppressors, but by confronting and moving beyond the fear and prejudices existed in their own minds.


Kenji (pseudonym) is a member of the Buraku Liberation League in the Central City. He is in his early thirties and was once the director of the youth program. His role in the office has been to help children and adolescents from burakumin family in the process of discovering their identity and coming to terms with it. Recalling how he came to know his burakumin identity, he told Shimizu how he “hated” being a burakumin. He learned at school that burakumin engaged in dirty jobs like killing animals. He was horrified to discover that he was one of such people. Yumiko, a mother of two in her early thirties on the other hand, said she was changed positively after she discovered that she was a burakumin. She said that she used to bully her peers in high school because she thought she was such a bijin, a cute and sexy girl. Being so arrogant, when she was upset over something, she would find easy targets, her innocent classmates, and dump her frustration over them. But after she came to work at the Buraku Liberation League, she realized that what she used to do to her peers was what the Japanese society has done for burakumin. She realized that how dirty (kitanai) she herself was? just as much as those who discriminate against the burakumin. She was then able to be more understanding of and compassionate toward other people’s pain.


Many young people interviewed talked about critical encounters they had with mentoring figures, most of whom are older members of the Buraku Liberation League. The mentors took the younger members under their wings, and helped them realize that fearing and being ashamed of burakumin identity in of itself is unwarranted. Through personal mentorship and apprentice in identity, they pointed out that it was only the individual person’s egotistical self-seeking (e.g. hiding one’s burakumin identity to pass as a “normal” Japanese) that creates the negative evaluation of burakumin. When some of these young burakumin becames willing to transcend their egoistic fears and desires, they began to dedicate themselves to causes greater than their individual selves: e.g. working to help other burakumin and other minority groups (case studies based on these interviewed will appear in the forthcoming book by Kawamoto, Shimizu, and LeTendre).


To restate our basic argument, the current approach to minority education, of which the Human Rights Education of the Japanese Ministry of Education is the most recent example, is based the dualistic position that separates a given segment population as belonging to the minority, and the other to the majority group. Furthermore, it takes a (Marxist) materialistic position that the lack of the materialistic resources to burakumin resulting in poverty, social injustice, and oppression can be blamed for the problem that burakumin face. While acknowledging the positive outcomes this approach has created for improving the external aspects of burakimin’s lives (e.g. housing, education, income, etc.), it does not penetrate deeply enough to set in motion the more fundamental healing mechanisms of buraku bunmei, the eco-system of life on which all the inhabitants of the cosmos depend.


At the basis of this life system is a cosmologically grounded way of being (i.e., ontology) whereby no single part is less or more than the other. It is an all-for-everyone-and-everyone-for-all system, undivided and unranked by the dualistically conditioned classification systems (e.g. of minority vs. majority). Herein, birth, death, and rebirth indiscriminately affect all members of the eco-system. Although someone needs to come in contact with the element of “defilement” to maintain this process, in terms this cosmic principle, death is no longer defiled but it becomes a cradle for the rebirth. Symbolically stated, it would be the “death” of the egoistic pride of burakumin ? who subjected themselves to the detested tasks ? that brought “life” to the all other. The more fundamental and truer “death” -- of hatred, prejudice, and oppression and the subsequent human suffering they create -- on the other hand arises from the very fear that perceives other beings to be the threat to the human ego ? e.g. a father who refuses to let his son marry a burakumin girl for fear that the marriage will “contaminate” the family blood. Burakugaku thus calls for a Copernican shift in the way we frame minority education in Japan and possibly elsewhere. Who is to call anyone to be “different,” “separate,” and even “defiled” when one’s own material and spiritual existence and well-being is preconditioned by the so called “other?” It is a koan (a zen riddle to help practitioners attain enlightenment) that all educators of this “global” village may consider.



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[1] . Inspired by Paul Tillich’s (1959) line in The Theology of Culture, “When we say that religion is an aspect of the human spirit, we are saying that if we look at the human spirit from a special point of view, it presents itself to us as religious. What is this view? It is the point of view from which we can look into the depth of man’s spiritual life. Religion is not a special function of man’s spiritual life, but it is a dimension of depth in all of its functions” (pp. 5-6, italics added).


[2] . See for example the testimony of one burakumin, “Kenji,” in the later section of this paper.







Burakugaku (Buraku Study): a New Paradigm for Education関連ページ

Burakugaku is not a special function of education, but it is the dimension of depth in all of its