THE "ETA 穢多", "BURAKUMIN 部落民", and "HININ 非人" -- The Non-Human Outcasts of Old Japan

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This 1873 photograph by the elder SHINICHI SUZUKI depicts LEATHER WORKERS (Tanners).
One 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 depict 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 :

www.flickr.com/commons/usage/

What is NIPSA ? = www.flickr.com/help/filters/#262

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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 : www.flickr.com/photos/24443965@N08/3363745529/

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.

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HERE IS WHAT THE WIKIPEDIA HAS TO SAY ABOUT THE BURAKUMIN :

".......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 : en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burakumin

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Photo Credit : THE TOM BURNETT COLLECTION. Used with Permission.

RANDOM SOBA : www.flickriver.com/photos/24443965@N08/random/

Hassy Chick Kalai, buddadvasu, and 57 other people added this photo to their favorites.

View 20 more comments

  1. Okinawa Soba 68 months ago | reply

    IIIIIIIIII.....as the comedian Henny Youngman once said, "Take my wife—please".

  2. Okinawa Soba 61 months ago | reply

    Hi Mind. Glad the photo was of interest. As far as modern Japanese having no idea, you are basically right. They know the old descriptive terms, but the reality is far from most. That being said, I have run across a few Japanese in the Tokyo area who told me that when they were getting married, their parents investigated the family tree for any trace of ETA or KOREAN blood --- which if found, would have been sufficient grounds for the parents vehement disapproval.

    Meanwhile, on Okinawa, a local mom we know --- a good friend, and a transplant from the mainland --- was incensed to find that her daughter had fallen in love with an American of KOREAN ancestry. She was not at all bothered by his "American" status...just the KOREAN part of it. Amusingly, her Okinawan husband thought it was great, and blessed their romance !

    I am assuming, therefore, that there are still more than a few old-timers out there who retain the existence of the ETA in the back of their minds, and pull out that card when their son or daughter thinks they have found "true love".

  3. The.unexpected 58 months ago | reply

    Hi, I'm a administrator in the group "The Unjust Society" and we'd loved to have this photo added to the group.
    The truth.
    www.flickr.com/groups/theunjustsociety

    -Please add the photo and find out what our group is about.

  4. mr thepete 57 months ago | reply

    Great read! Thanks!!

    Going to have to bookmark it and come back later!

  5. Okinawa Soba 57 months ago | reply

    Hi Pete --- Thanks. I hadn't looked at it for a while, and just checked the links. One was inoperative --- a news story that had "timed out". Fixed that. Come back to it anytime !

  6. Okinawa Soba 57 months ago | reply

    Abej2004 --- Thanks for the note ! You reminded me that the caption paragraph that pointed that out had gotten pushed to the bottom after I added my GOOGLE MAPS note. I just returned it to the top again. Thanks.

  7. Ciucciapunti 50 months ago | reply

    Hi, I'm an admin for a group called Persone people людзі lidé mennesker ihmiset gens άνθρ, and we'd love to have this added to the group!

  8. Tevj 48 months ago | reply

    Well, it's been 20 months since you posted the photo, so you appear to be safe. I downloaded it anyway tho just because it's awesome. These photos are indeed rare glimpses into now extinct places and times and are absolutely irreplaceable. I would say we're lucky to have them.
    Nice job by the way in describing your photo. Most people go into nowhere near that kind of depth. Thanks for the education. Sounds to me like the Buraku need a Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. reincarnate to lead them to their figurative 'Promised Land' (or at least equal rights). Keep up the good work Okinawa Soba..
    One final thing, you were talking about how the 'freedom of the press' has gotten flickr banned in certain places because it depicted reality. All i have to say about that is BOO HOO to the people trying to hide what they're really up to. On a related tangent, this Now Available information has opened MY eyes to what's going on in our national forests. I encourage you to take a look at the forests of the Pacific NW from about 20 miles up. The clearcuts appear to have been made by a drunken crop circle maker gone berzerk. It looks like a wrinkled patchwork quilt. I'm sorry, but a 300 year old tree is NOT a renewable resource. I know, we DO need the wood, but it still doesn't make it right. I can hear you thinking, and no thanks, I DON'T want to give up my toilet paper! :) Thanks for providing the forum... I feel so much better now...

  9. Okinawa Soba 46 months ago | reply

    I think so, too. Again, while there are endless photos of Geisha, as far as I know this is the only authentic Meiji-era photo of the Eta known to exist.

  10. k.nowak 45 months ago | reply

    There always has to be someone to blame in case something bad happens, that's why the samurai have become merchants and no one calls it dishonour anymore, but the buraku cast still exists.
    Good point about those alive plants, I always say the same in discussions about vegetarianism.
    Thanks for sharing your knowledge!

  11. waw rainbow 41 months ago | reply

    just fantastic.commonplace,common people.. its beautiful..

  12. roberthuffstutter 40 months ago | reply

    Hello Okinawa Soba,
    Just finished this page. Very interesting collection of opinions. Now, about the AINU; I had heard that many were blondes with blue eyes. Is this a myth or a genetic factor of a Viking who stopped by the northern island of Hokkaido?

    For some reason, I tend to see some resemblence to the Inuits or Eskimo peoples, Asians, right? If not Asians, could they be descendants of a tribe from India?

    What are the prospects for a coffee-table type of book on this subject?

  13. proulxmontpellier 25 months ago | reply

    Any buddhist priest who'd tell you that about sea animals is bullsh***ing himself. If you've taken the buddhist vows, the first is "not killing". Period. And buddhist monasteries food is exclusively veggie.
    As for killing, it always makes me laugh that people who slaughter deers and dogs and cats should be outcast, but not those who kill human beings...

  14. Okinawa Soba 25 months ago | reply

    PROUL --- I agree with you 100%. Having met a pile of Buddhist priests here in Japan, I can tell you that --- although there are probably a few sincere ones --- the percentage of them who are full of bullsh** is about equal to the percentage of bullsh** that likewise afflicts Protestant Ministers, Catholic Priests, Jewish Rabbis, Muslim Imams, and Hindu what-evers.

    Usually, in Religion, Military, Politics, and Business, the higher up the ranks you go, the greater degree of bullsh** you encounter within each particular group, and the "few good men" are truly few.

    Thanks for mentioning the vows taken by Buddhist priests. The next time I run onto one of those guys (or gals), I will grill him (or her) on the matter, and give him (or her) no room to wiggle ~ ! ;-)

    As for me, I remain complicit in all manner of death --- not discriminating between plants and animals --- and just last night, had a fine salad and a well-cooked piece of steak for dinner ~ !

    And when I am gone, I expect to make an equally fine meal for the worms, maggots, and microbes who now rule the earth in the dirt under my feet. Or perhaps, while swimming, a shark will munch on me, or while walking the plains of Africa, a Lion and his pride will find me tasty.

    The cycle is never ending.

    Until then, in matters of photography, I will continue to use my beloved slide films --- all of them coated with gelatin made from the slaughtered remains of cows, horses, and pigs.

    Next time I see a Buddhist priest taking pics with a disposable camera, I will ask him about that!

  15. galla28 24 months ago | reply

    Merci pour ces magnifiques cliches - très intéressants . Nous ne les aurions probablement jamais vu sans vous. Les japonais ont un oeil magique .... pour capter les belles images.

  16. Okinawa Soba 24 months ago | reply

    Merci pour le gentil commentaire. Ces photos sont très rares. Je suis étonné qu'ils ont survécu jusqu'à aujourd'hui. Reconnaissants pour la preuve documentaire de la réalité historique.

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