On the way back from an outing to a hot spring in Shiga Prefecture, which is just east of Kyoto, this poster stared me in the face as I stood at a urinal in a JR train station toilet.
Literally, the poster reads:
"If you find racist graffiti, please tell a station employee."
The large letters then go on: "Graffiti prohibited."
Below that: "People hate [the red is peeled back] thoughtless, crude graffiti..."
The words covered by the "Graffiti Banned" poster within a poster would no doubt be "buraku" or perhaps worse.
Any reference to "human rights" in Japan--from the small signs on Kyoto buses to large banners outside schools near certain stigmatized communities--is code for Japan's "buraku" community, and to a lesser extent Koreans.
These signifiers--the signs and banners and pleas for "thinking about human rights"--tell the uninformed that Japan's outcaste population lives nearby in one of the many buraku, or "villages," spread throughout Japan.
The amazing thing, in the case of the burakumin people, is that they are racially and linguistically indistinguishable from "normal" Japanese. Their names and accents and diet are the same.
They are different only in the accident of their ancestor's work--the unclean toil, usually involving the dead or animal skins, that other classes would not perform and therefore relegated to the members of the untouchable community--and today in their place of residence. And of course that they are still the target of bathroom graffiti in late 2007.
Japan Tokyo Kyoto Buraku Shiga
Monday, December 17, 2007