Burakumin - End of Feudal Era

End of Feudal Era

The feudal caste system in Japan ended in 1869 with the Meiji restoration. In 1871, the newly formed Meiji government issued a decree called Kaihōrei (解放令 Emancipation Edict) giving outcasts equal legal status. (This terminology is not the original, but a later revision. Originally, it was labeled Senmin Haishirei (賤民廃止令 Edict Abolishing Ignoble Classes.) However, the elimination of their economic monopolies over certain occupations actually led to a decline in their general living standards, while social discrimination simply continued. For example, the ban on consumption of meat from livestock was lifted in 1871 in order to "westernise" the country, and many former eta moved on to work in abattoirs and as butchers.

However, slow-changing social attitudes, especially in the countryside, meant that abattoirs and workers were met with hostility from local residents. Continued ostracism as well as the decline in living standards led to former eta communities turning into slum areas.

There were many terms used to indicate former outcasts, their communities or settlements at the time. Official documents at the time referred to them as kyu-eta (旧穢多 "former eta"), while the newly liberated outcasts called themselves shin-heimin (新平民"new citizens"), among other things.

The term tokushu buraku (特殊部落 "special hamlets", now considered inappropriate) started being used by officials in 1900s, leading to the meaning of the word buraku ("hamlet") coming to imply former eta villages in certain parts of Japan.

Movements to resolve the problem in the early 20th century were divided into two camps: the "assimilation" (同和, dōwa?) movement which encouraged improvements in living standards of buraku communities and integration with the mainstream Japanese society, and the "levellers" (水平社, suiheisha?) movement which concentrated on confronting and criticising alleged perpetrators of discrimination.

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