Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

A Case Study of Buraku and Non-Buraku Couples in Japan*

Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

A Case Study of Buraku and Non-Buraku Couples in Japan*

Article excerpt

In a report to the United Nations in 1980, Japan claimed that no minority groups existed within its borders (Weiner, 1997). The Japanese perceive themselves as an ethnically homogeneous society (see lie, 2001). Despite the government's effort to portray Japan as homogeneous, several minority groups clearly reside in this nation, such as Koreans, Chinese, Burakumin, Ainu, Okinawans, and more recently immigrants from Brazil and Peru. This paper focuses on the group commonly referred to as Burakumin or the Buraku people. Through an analysis of government statistics, questionnaire data, and interview data, I will examine intermarriages between Buraku and non-Buraku people. Specifically, I rely upon 37 Buraku/ non-Buraku intermarried couples as a case study of marriage patterns impacting a minority group in Japan. The main question I address is why intermarriage rates remain comparatively low for a group that is physically indistinguishable from the rest of the population.

This paper is divided into five sections. The first section highlights the history of the Buraku people: what makes them a "visible" minority group and how the government has dealt with them. The second section uses published reports of government surveys to highlight key patterns and trends among Buraku/non-Buraku couples, such as marriage discrimination and differences by gender and age. The third section outlines Kalmijn's (1998) integrative model, which outlines three social factors that help us understand increasing intermarriage rates between Burakumin and other Japanese: (1) preferences of marriage candidates, (2) third parties, and (3) marriage market constraints. The fourth section explains the methods used to obtain and analyze the data. The final section uses each of the three social factors to illustrate intermarriage patterns and trends among the Buraku people. In conclusion, I suggest that this paper's findings have implications for intermarriage more broadly, and also suggest future directions for researching intermarriage among the Buraku people.


Before examining the background of the Buraku people, the following vignette from the indepth interviews (one of the 37 couples) illustrates the types of issues Burakumin and non-Burakumin face when they decide to intermarry.

Hiroko and Kenichi Kimura

Hiroko and Kenichi, both in their mid-40s, married each other in 1984 when they were both 22. They first met in an integrated Buraku/non-Buraku middle school located near a Buraku area in the suburbs of Osaka. Most of the Buraku students go on to a nearby integrated high school after graduating from middle school. Although Kenichi and his parents did not want him to go to the integrated Buraku high school, they had no options after Kenichi failed his entrance exam, which would have admitted him to a better high school. Hiroko and Kenichi started seeing each other in middle school and continued to see each other in high school. Hiroko called Kenichi's house frequently and even met his parents several times. Hiroko figures that Kenichi's parents found out that she was a Burakumin because her father is a well-known Buraku liberation movement leader in the area. From the time they started dating, Hiroko had doubts about the relationship: "There were times when I really didn 't want to put up with everything, and there were times when I wondered if he was the right person for me. I thought about this quite a bit from the time I met him until the time we got married. But more importantly, I kept thinking that if I can't explain [the essence of what it means to be Burakumin] to my boyfriend and make him understand, then who can I explain it to? So, it was more than just the fact that I liked him, but my own pride and stubbornness kept me from giving up."

After graduation, Kenichi eventually went to work for Hiroko's parents at a butcher shop and Hiroko went to a junior college. They saw little of each other except on weekends. …

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