What Can Anthropology Tell Us About Social Inequality? - A Look at the Burakumin of Japan

Caste systems may seem no longer relevant today, but even in places where they have been abolished, caste-based discrimination and prejudice can remain rampant. In Japan, discrimination like this still exists towards the Burakumin, also known as Eta (literally translated as “an abundance of filth/defilement). Anthropological concepts like kinship, descent, and lineage, as well as anthropology’s investigation of the caste system, can help us understand the social injustice faced by the Burakumin.

Today, the Burakumin exist by virtue of bloodline connections to their original Burakumin ancestors. Although the feudal caste system was abolished in 1861, history and records of their lineage still exist, and are distributed throughout Japan. Although such distribution is now illegal, it is still common practice for employers to regularly screen applicants for Burakumin ancestry. Other types of discrimination also exist, such as preventing marriage between buraku and non-buraku, due to fear of tainting the family bloodline. This practice of tracing Burakumin descent is what perpetuates their marginalization in society today.

The Burakumin were originally members of the “untouchable” caste in the Japanese feudal era, characterized by occupations like butchering and tanning, which were thought to be tainted because of their connection to death. Marriage outside of the caste was forbidden, also known as endogamy, which made class or social mobility almost impossible. Further, they were segregated from the rest of society, living in separate villages, also known as Buraku. Most interesting however, is that the Burakumin are physically indistinguishable from non-buraku Japanese. While ethnic groups around the world are victimized simply because of phenotypic differences in skin color (aka racism), the Burakumin experience discrimination because of something, that in some ways, only exists only on paper.

It is interesting to note that issues of kinship and descent like these still bear much importance to many modern-day societies, even to a first world country like Japan. The concept of kinship-based discrimination, or “tainting a family bloodline,” is unfamiliar to North American society, at least in the author’s opinion. However, North America practices its own forms of discrimination, and it is important to keep the concept of cultural relativism in mind.

Examination of the Burakumin through an anthropological lens can help to understand why marginalized groups like this still exist today. It is important to realize that although some forms of rigid social inequality, like the caste system, have been legally abolished, their effects can echo for centuries to come. This can be a hard concept to grasp. Indeed, women’s rights in North America have legally been equal to men’s for roughly half a century. However, inequality still remains, and feminism continues to be an important social movement. One should draw the conclusion then, that the inequality Burakumin experience today has been preserved in a similar way, and deserves an equivalent response.

A map that originally marked the segregated Burakumin villages in feudal era Japan, but was censored by Google at the request of the Japanese government.


http://www.japantimes.co.jp/text/fl20090120zg.html VIA wn.com 
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/margaret-dilloway/the-japanese-untouchables_b_697585.html VIA wn.com http://seattletimes.com/html/nationworld/2001972131_outcasts05.html VIA wn.com 
http://www.japantimes.co.jp/text/nn20040605f1.html VIA wn.com


My nephew, Eliot!

These pictures have been a long time coming. They're just too cute not to show to everyone I know. What follows is my little nephew's first experience with dogs! My bro's wife describes it best:

"A few weeks ago Eliot had his first up close and personal encounter with man's best friend. Our friends, (NAMES REMOVED TO PROTECT THE INNOCENT) have a couple of pugs, Jack and Oscar, who were anxious to get to know Eliot. We got a big kick out of Eliot's reaction. You can practically see the words written on his face as skepticism leads to curiosity and finally gives way to friendship."

Next up is a picture of my nephew trying to understand the mysteries of a mirror. Note the adorable puzzled look on his face!

That's it for now!



Unbelievable! Mindaugas Piečaitis, a conductor presently living in both Germany and Lithuania, has taken an unaltered piano improvisation by A CAT, and arranged (with help) an orchestral accompianment for it! I couldn't believe it until I heard it.... He makes it sound like beautiful music. Watch it all the way through!


a quickie

Do you love animals? I love animals. Here are two wicked videos with animals in them. Watch out for the first one.... you may dehydrate yourself from crying (tears of joy) so hard.

And here's one about a freaking awesome penguin with a freaking awesome backpack that does a freaking awesome thing:


a musical update

Some interesting things have popped up on the radar these last few weeks. I just had my University of Alberta Mixed Chorus concert at the Winspear Centre (where I work!) on the 28th. It went just dandy, other than a few complaints from other choristers. Thankfully my ear isn't developed enough yet to hear these erroneous nuances. Ignorance is bliss, sometimes.

Our conductor sent out a kind e-mail to all of us. At the concert he was presented a gift and a card from the chorus, which appropriately played Motown music from his teen days. In the e-mail, he described a card he thought suitable for all of us:

"You work hard, you laugh hard, you bring dedication and energy to all
that you do. Your kindness, generosity of spirit, and enthusiasm are
all greatly appreciated. The song? I'm leaning toward Queen singing
'We Are the Champions.' It seems quite suitable for all of you!"

Doesn't that make your heart smile? He's definitely one of the kindest, most warm-hearted people I've met. I'm thankful I've had the privilege of meeting so many inspiring and influential music educators in these past few years. They certainly have made a mark on me, and given me something to aspire to as I pursue my music education in these next few years.

As I look to my future, I always find myself flabbergasted (what a fun word) when I consider the fact that I—if everything goes as planned—will one day will be up on the podium conducting some ensemble. Isn't that a scary thought? Maybe I'll be conducting YOUR children some day. Thankfully I have a few years to prepare before that all happens.

Anyways, enough about my dreamy dreams. Sorry for all the mush! Musically, I'm preparing for two upcoming gigs. The first one will be on box drum (aka a Cajón, wikipedia link for picture/info) and possibly a little guitaring. I'm substituting for 'The Martingales' drummer when he's out of town, for an acoustic gig of theirs. I work with one of the members, and let me tell you, they're some great songwriters. Take a look at their MySpace for a sample of what they do. Make sure not to skip 'Manitoba.' The gig is on Friday, April 17 at Hulbert's (near whyte ave, 7601-115 St). Cover is $10. Hope you can make it, it's gonna be a blast.

Secondly, I'm working on guitar with an as-of-yet nameless rock project with a few of my high school buddies. We should have a gig lined up pretty soon, which will most likely be free (yay!). We've got a little bit of Radiohead, mixed in with some classic Weezer, some Sublime, and even a little Hawksley Workman.

Finally, and I know this-is-the-longest-post-ever-oh-god-please-let-it-end, I've been listening to a great guy by the name of Luke Doucet. Here's a link to a music video of one of his best songs, It's Not The Liquor I Miss. It's totally terrific! The feel is just great, it's got some great guitaring, and a Baritone Sax solo! What's not to love?

And here's another feel-good tune, 'Arms Tonite,' this time by Mother Mother. Trust me, these catchy songs will be popping up in your head for days!

And that's it! Trust me, I didn't anticipate for this to be long at all!