Academic journal article Anthropological Quarterly

Wounded Futures: Pain and the Possibilities of Solidarity

Academic journal article Anthropological Quarterly

Wounded Futures: Pain and the Possibilities of Solidarity

Article excerpt

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Sympathetic Selves

I begin with three stories.


When I was in junior high school, I first learned that I was Burakumin when kids made fun of me. When I was in high school, some of my classmates refused to hang out with me or date me. Now I work with the Tokyo Liberation League.


I am originally from Niigata city, in Japan. I live in Adachi, Tokyo. I first learned that I was Buraku when I was 20. When I was in high school, my parents wouldn't talk about it. My friends explained it to me. I work with the Arakawa Buraku Liberation League.


I was born in a Japanese Buraku neighborhood. I knew I was Buraku from a young age. But I didn't participate in the Buraku Liberation League [BLL]. When I was 23 years old, I participated in the Tokyo branch of the BLL. I became interested when I heard of the false arrest of a Buraku man for a crime he did not commit. I want to fight against discrimination.

These stories are not mine. They are stories, drafted in English, by a small group of Japanese sanitation workers and Buraku activists who, in 2006, participated in a solidarity trip to Tamil Nadu, India, to meet with "outcaste" Dalit people there, to tour their neighborhoods, homes, and workplaces, to learn about their circumstances, and share experiences- challenges and successes-in facing a form of discrimination based on descent and occupation.

This week-long trip was the second such trip in three years, and, if all went according to plan, would be but one of many such trips taking Buraku people west to India. Preparation for this trip began months in advance. People who had participated in the first trip presented impressions from that first venture to broader audiences, in hopes of expanding participation. They also organized a monthly English study group. On their first trip, they had gone with no language preparation, a fact they lamented while there. They had exchanged pictures and experiences with the Dalit through an interpreter, but they wanted the felt proximity of direct communication. Eight months prior to their second trip, then, they organized an English language class, and-having heard of this native English speaker working with the head offices of the Buraku Liberation League-hired me to teach them.

The 12 students in this English class, all between 40 and 80 years old, were absolute beginners in the language. At the first meeting, we discussed their goals, specifically what types of English they might want to learn for their upcoming trip. We drilled English reproductions of several Japanese sentences they had identified as key in describing their situation as minorities in Japan: "Buraku discrimination is a form of caste-based discrimination," and "Buraku people face discrimination in marriage, employment, and education." Beyond these statements and a smattering of travel phrases, we devoted most of our time to developing what we came to call "my story"-succinct statements, some of which begin this article, that could be used to explain to Dalit comrades how the Buraku activists came to know they were marked as Buraku, how they became involved in the Buraku liberation movement, and what type of work they currently did.

Once we had covered enough key phrases and grammar to move on to "my story," I asked each member of the class to bring three sentences of their "my story" to share with the rest of the students and to turn in to me. We went around the class, each person standing and sharing their personal statement. About 15 minutes into this exercise, the onus of presentation fell on one person who had come extraordinarily prepared. She stepped up with her three sentences in grammatically perfect form, including phrases, much to my delight, I had taught the previous class. She explained to us that she had not learned that she was Burakumin until she was in junior high school. She described the way in which some of her later high school classmates had refused to associate with her at all, and how some people refused to date her once they learned her background. …

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