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Tuesday, Jan. 27, 2009


Burakumin, 'musical jobs': readers respond

Koseki at root of problem

I wish to thank you for the excellent article "Breaking the silence on burakumin" on Jan. 20. I work for the Buraku Liberation Center in Osaka and was featured in the Aug. 2, 2008, issue (search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/fl20080802a1.html). One point I would add is that it is the koseki (family registry) system itself that is the main practical reason buraku discrimination has hung on so long. In our latest newsletter, I wrote a short article about that.

"The two main ways that buraku discrimination occurs in today's Japan is through marriage and employment discrimination. If someone of buraku descent intends to marry someone of nonburaku descent, the nonburaku person's parents often utilize a 'background check' to determine ancestry, and if buraku roots are detected, they then put great pressure on the couple to break the relationship off.

"Companies also use such 'background checks' to weed out 'undesirables,' of which buraku descent is high on the list, irrespective of that person's abilities.

"Needless to say, while the ideal is to have an egalitarian society that doesn't judge a person by his or her ancestry, one practical solution to the abuse of these 'background checks' would be to make it much more difficult to do. The koseki system is what allows these ancestry checks, and while recent improvements have made it illegal for third parties to see one's koseki, the very existence of this information guarantees that those seeking to abuse the system will find a way.

"Japan's koseki system is a throwback to its feudal past, and its continued existence has been a major obstacle in the road towards eliminating another throwback — buraku discrimination. A major overhaul of this system would certainly go a long way towards reducing buraku discrimination."

The BLC's English newsletters can be viewed at www.konkyo.org/burakukaiho/news/burakuhistory.pdf.


Lessons learned from 'Paul'

The Dec. 30 article "Foreign faculty face annual round of 'musical jobs' " is right on. I worked in Japan for three years as a lecturer, and there was no way you could stay any longer. Occasionally, a "fourth year" contract extension was dangled before teachers to get them to head some odious research task or whatever. However, this fourth year was rarely if ever a reality and it usually distracted that teacher from searching for a job.

A huge reason I left Japan was because of a guy named "Paul." Paul was in his 40s, rode a bike, lived off convenient store onigiri rice balls, always had a backpack, and had been teaching in Japan almost 20 years . . . in two- and three-year stints. I met him while doing evening classes, and he and I would share an occasional beer in the parking lot and talk about the best and worst of Japan.

I realized that 43-year-old Paul was being paid the same as me (at 27), and that all those years he had invested in teaching in Japan had earned him an entry-level salary everywhere he went. His options were narrowing as fast as his gray hairs were multiplying. I hate to think how he's faring now. I hope he found some hair dye so he will still "qualify" to teach.

In a normal job, one's salary grows through time on the job and/or advancing through the ranks. Yet what happens when time on the job is limited and there are no ranks? If you work at NHK for 20 years, your salary and benefits have grown commensurate with your experience. If you are an EFL university lecturer with 20 years experience, you will be paid the same amount as the guy who just arrived at Narita, ink not yet dry on his degree, making his students giggle because he has no idea what they mean when they ask if he likes natto.

At the end of the day, the Japanese students are the ones that suffer, as James McCrostie and John Spiri wrote in their article. They have inexperienced young teachers who have little investment in the quality of education or the university in which they teach since they'll be leaving soon. Why would I take on a huge project eating into my personal time when I know that my contract ends in three years?


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