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"Burakumin" in Japan
Meaning and Connotation of an Ethnic Name

Dr. Orville Boyd Jenkins

Our ethnic database has a group in Japan (nearly 2.6M) named the Burakumin.  One source tel;ls us that this name is objectionable to the people.  We used to have this people listed as the Eta, which some sources use.  We were told by someone that Eta was also objectionable.  What is an acceptable name we can use for this people in our database?

I do not find either Eta or Burakumin in the Registry of Peoples (ROP) list by name or Alternate Name.  What is your JP code?  Do you think you entered this into JP after you handed me the combined JP/ROP draft data?  I have not edited it.  I do not remember reviewing this entity, and have not done any major editing in Japan.

The name "Eta" means "polluted or dirty." The form "Eta-min" adds the prefix -min, which means "people". The connotation of the form Eta-min would be "polluted or dirty non-persons." So you definitely do not want to use this one.  The common alternative also is somewhat negative in meaning. One source defines “Buraku min” as "discriminated community people.

In Buraku sources I find the name Buraku used.  There is even a Buraku Liberation League in Japan, working officially to ensure Buraku rights.  I don't find any source indicating there is any other name, or even that Buraku(min) is a derogatory term.  What I do find is that the origin of the term is related to their original caste occupation, which was slaughtering, tanning, and working with the dead in morgues.  They were thus ritually unclean in Shinto belief.  This is exactly parallel to the Hindu caste concepts.

The Buraku (or Buraku-min, "Buraku people") are a social caste related to Shinto classification.  More specifically, they are an out-caste.  One of the links below relates their problem to the caste problem in India.  It has been illegal to discriminate against the Buraku as a class/caste since 1871, but the informal social distinction is still strongly imposed.

Thus it is understandable a Buraku might wish to be non-Buraku.  Sources even report that some Buraku try to "pass" rather than acknowledge their origins.  However, the group exists.  I suspect that they are not counted separately in most databases, but are among the total for Japanese ethnicity in Japan.  Sources indicate about 2% of the Japanese population are in the group called Buraku.

The PeopleGroups.org does not have a listing for them, because, I assume, they are covered in the entries for Japanese segments, unless they are under some other name I have not yet identified.

The Buraku speak and look and live, according to sources, exactly like other Japanese.  This may be why the PeopleGroups.org data managers for Japan have not listed them even as a segment.  (Normally, this group would fall into the category PeopleGroups.org defines as a segment, so there may be other reasons; maybe simply the intention to follow official legal or stricter ethnic categories).

Lacking any other name, and seeing that even the Buraku use this name publicly and officially, I see no reason after this brief foray into the sources, to change the name.  The biggest problem, as you note, is that no other name has been proposed.

Click here for a Google search link that produces many relevant articles about the Buraku.  I found the first four highly informative and pertinent.

For More on the Buraku
Buraku – Caste, Ethnicity and Nationality
Buraku Liberation League
The Buraku of Japan – Google Search
Buraku Problem Q&A
Burakumin – Wikipedia
Caste Based Discrimination in Japan: Burakumin Case
"Untouchability" and Segregation – Human Rights Watch
The Untouchables of Japan – Forum Discussion
Small Business of Buraku in Japan's Economy Industrial economic society and human rights


First written in July 2003 in answer to an email enquiry
Finalized as an article and posted on OJTR 27 May 2006
Last edited 3 May 2010

Orville Boyd Jenkins, EdD, PhD
Copyright © 2006 Orville Boyd Jenkins
Permission granted for free download and transmission for personal or educational use.  Other rights reserved.

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