Japanese feudal society left a class structure that placed ‘humble people’ at the bottom. They consisted of eta (extreme filth) and hinin (non-human). The eta were assigned such duties as disposing of dead cattle, leather production, being security guards and sweeping, while hinin made their living as security guards, executioners and performers. The Burakumin (‘people of the hamlet’), as they are now known, are still subjected to intense prejudice and discrimination, as such contact is seen as ‘polluting’ the higher castes. There are around three million Burakumin in Japan today.
I first encountered the Buraku issue when I met my future husband. After he told me that he was of Buraku origin, I told my family. Then, they changed their attitude quite abruptly. They said that I should not go out with him any more, although they had said previously that he looked gentle and good. I was not even allowed to make a phone call to him. They continued to explain their prejudice toward Buraku people to me, without any accurate knowledge of the Buraku issue.
When they realized that I would not leave him, they asked me if it was all right with me if the marriage ceremony of my elder brother, scheduled a month later, would be cancelled [because of my decision]. I decided to visit my brother’s fiancée in the hopes of persuading her to understand my side of the story. She asked me if I intended to marry my boyfriend. I answered that I thought I did. After a short silence, she said, ‘If you plan to marry him, I want to cancel my engagement to your elder brother.’
My elder brother, who is a police officer and quite feudal in character, resorted to violence towards me when I did not obey him. One night, my family called my boyfriend to our house to attend a family meeting where my parents, my elder brother and the matchmakers between him and his fiancée were present. All of them asked him to leave me. However, he firmly responded that nothing was wrong with us. They insulted him and shouted: ‘You have ruined our family.’ He patiently held back his anger with his clenched fists trembling on his knees.
It depended on his will whether we would separate or not. I continued to exchange shouts with my parents, my brother and the matchmakers until early the next morning.
My brother, who had treated me violently because of my persistence, suddenly knelt down on the floor in tears, saying: ‘Separate from him, please. Don’t destroy our marriage, please.’ When I heard his words, I was so fazed by what he said that my mind ceased to function. I really could not understand what made my family harbour such ideas. When my father was young, there was opposition to him marrying my mother because he had eye problems. Because of that, he understands the pain of being discriminated against. Nevertheless, he was discriminating against Buraku people himself. My mother, who as she said went through hardships because she had married a man with a disability, opposed our relationship so that I would not face similar difficulties.
I came to think that I made them unhappy and that it would be all right if I gave up going with him. Finally I said: ‘I intend to separate from him.’ My boyfriend looked all the more sad because he had left our fate for me to decide. I will never forget his sad face.
In the end, my elder brother and his fiancée held their wedding as previously arranged. I became ill. Observing my suffering, my father gave me permission to see my boyfriend. I later realized that it was a tactic to slowly separate us. One morning I left my house with three pieces of clothing in my bag and 200,000 yen [$1,875] in cash. I left a letter for my family.
We registered our marriage at the town office that day. When they heard the news, my father and brother denounced me: ‘You are no longer allowed to enter our house.’ I had been disowned.
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