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THE "ETA 穢多", "BURAKUMIN 部落民", and "HININ 非人" -- The Non-Human Outcasts of Old Japan | by Okinawa Soba (Rob)
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THE "ETA 穢多", "BURAKUMIN 部落民", and "HININ 非人" -- The Non-Human Outcasts of Old Japan

This 1873 photograph by the elder SHINICHI SUZUKI uses friends, actors, and models in a staged scene depicting LEATHER WORKERS (Tanners).


With some exceptions, the use of "models and actors" to depicts scenes and customs of "real life" was common to ALL commercial photographers around the world, not just Japan.


In this view, a fellow scrapes the hide of a slaughtered deer, while another seems to be discussing a piece of finished cat skin to cover an old samisen. On the right stands a young man with a load of pelts.


IMPORTANT NOTE : This is the only known photograph from either the Edo-Bakumatsu or Meiji eras to offer a depiction of this "untouchable" class of Japanese citizens.


After its first appearance here on Flickr, the image has been appropriated for use in numerous blogs and publications, including a textbook published by the Oxford University Press.


NIPSA : In early May 2011, Flickr Staff NIPSA'd this photograph and all the rest of my photostream, informing me that posting photos (such as the one above) not personally photographed by me, were in violation of Flickr rules, that my photostream would be blocked from all further searches by other Flickr members, and that this photo (and all the rest of my 3,600+ images) would be stripped from all Groups and Galleries in which they had appeared.


In essence, I am still a Flickr member (and my Flickr account has not been deleted), but my entire photostream --- including all of my modern photos shot by me --- have now been relegated to the Flickr equivalent of the "ETA 穢多", "BURAKUMIN 部落民", and "HININ 非人" class of photographic untouchables.


For your interest and discussion, here are some fellow violators of Flickr's "You must be the Photographer of the Photos you post" Rule --- who have NOT been NIPSA'd :


What is NIPSA ? =




Notice the girl in the photo who has come to have the cat skin replaced on her thee-stringed samisen.


See the photo and caption here for the story of how the CATS got involved in the Japanese music industry :


You will not find such a photograph as you see above among the 1000s of "respectable" images published by BEATO, STILLFRIED, KIMBEI, FARSARI, TAMAMURA, OGAWA, ENAMI, and others. So, if you have an interest in this aspect of Japanese history, please download this rare image from the TOM BURNETT COLLECTION now --- before flickr deletes my account !


Creative Commons use permitted for educational and personal non-profit projects [credit Tom Burnett Collection]. Online Web and bloggers please link back to flickr.






".......The burakumin are descendants of outcast communities of the feudal era, which mainly comprised those with occupations considered "tainted" with death or ritual impurity (such as executioners, undertakers or LEATHER WORKERS), and traditionally lived in their own secluded hamlets and ghettos. They were legally liberated in 1871 with the abolition of the feudal caste system; however, this did not put a stop to social discrimination and their lower living standards. In certain areas of Japan, there is still a stigma attached to being a resident of such areas, who sometimes face lingering discrimination in matters such as marriage and employment.


The long history of taboos and myths of the buraku left a continuous legacy of social desolation. Since the 1980s, more and more young buraku started to organize and protest against their social misfortunes. Movements with objectives ranging from "liberation" to encouraging integration have tried over the years to put a stop to this problem.


The number of burakumin asserted to be living in modern Japan varies from source to source. A 1993 investigative report by the JAPANESE GOVERNMENT counted 4,533 "assimilation districts" - buraku communities officially designated for assimilation projects, mostly in western Japan, comprising 298,385 households with 892,751 residents. The size of each community ranged from under 5 households to over 1000 households, with 155 households being the average size. About three quarters of settlements are in rural areas. The distribution of discriminated communities varied greatly from region to region.


The Buraku Liberation League (BLL), on the other hand, extrapolates Meiji-era figures to arrive at an estimate of nearly three million burakumin. A 1999 source indicates the presence of some 2 million burakumin, living in approximately 5,000 settlements. In some areas, burakumin hold a majority; they account for over 70 percent of all residents of Yoshikawa in Kochi Prefecture. In Ōtō in Fukuoka Prefecture, they account for over 60 percent.


The word "burakumin" is used to describe descendants of outcaste communities in feudal Japan, most of them being eta (穢多) who worked in occupations relating to death, such as executioners, undertakers or LEATHER WORKERS. Severe social stigma was attached to these occupations, influenced by BUDDHIST prohibitions against killing and SHINTO notions of kegare (穢れ "defilement"). Other outcast groups included the hinin (非人—literally "NON-HUMAN") (the definition of hinin, as well as their social status and typical occupations varied over time, but typically included ex-convicts and vagrants who worked as town guards, street cleaners or entertainers. )


According to Japan, a Modern History, 2002: ,


'Fundamental SHINTO beliefs equated goodness and godliness with purity and cleanliness, and they further held that impurities could cling to things and persons, making them evil or sinful. But a person could become seriously contaminated by habitually killing animals or committing some hideous misdeed that ripped at the fabric of the community, such as engaging in incest or bestiality. Such persons, custom decreed, had to be cast out from the rest of society, condemned to wander from place to place, surviving as best they could by begging or by earning a few coins as itinerant singers, dancers, mimes, and acrobats'


The social status and typical occupations of outcast communities have varied considerably according to region and over time. A burakumin neighborhood within metropolitan Tokyo was the last to be served by streetcar and is the site of butcher and LEATHER SHOPS to this day........."


etc etc etc. See :








PHOTO CREDIT : The Tom Burnett Collection.


[NOTE : These original SUZUKI SHINICHI prints were formerly part of the Okinawa Soba Collection, and the Flickr Scans were made by me directly from the originals. However, like many things in the world of ephemera, these treasures trade hands over the years as we collectors hone our archives, and redirect our focus on different photographers and subjects. After trading hands, I continue to leave them posted here courtesy of Tom Burnett kind permission.]




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Uploaded on September 16, 2008