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Crucial Fallacies in “On the invention of identity politics the Buraku outcastes in Japan” by J. Mark Ramseyer / J.Mark Ramseyer “On the invention of identity politics the Buraku outcastes in Japan”に関する重大な誤謬とそれに基づく問題

Fujino Yutaka

Translation by Okada Kimiko, supervised by Komori Megumi

May 1, 2021
Volume 19 | Issue 9 | Number 6
Article ID 5595

The Japanese version of this article follows the English translation.日本語版が英語版の後に掲載されています。

Note: All quotes are from “On the Invention of Identity Politics: The Buraku Outcastes in Japan”, The Harvard John M. Olin Discussion Paper Series: No. 964, June 20, 2018.


Various problems can be found in the article by J. Mark Ramseyer (hereinafter, the article) to the extent that its content is hardly worthy of a serious refutation from an academic point of view. Although it is not clear whether it is intentional or simply a matter of negligence, there are many misrepresentations of facts. We should not underestimate the significance of the fact that such papers are being accepted in the academic world. Bearing this in mind, I will discuss the following three points related to modern Japanese history, my field of specialization: 

1) errors concerning the formation of modern Buraku, 

2) errors in the prejudicial equating of Buraku people with criminals, and 

3) errors concerning the Levelers’ movement.


Errors concerning the establishment of modern Buraku

The article argues that after the Meiji Restoration, the people of the discriminated Buraku, Burakumin, moved into cities in western Japan and formed slums, which became associated with high crime rates (26). Kamagasaki in Osaka City is given as a typical example (8), but Kamagasaki was not formed as a discriminated Buraku area. The area was created in 1903 when a slum was cleared to make way for the 5th National Industrial Exposition, and day laborers who had been forced out of their homes were relocated to the area (Matsuda 2003). Many such elementary factual errors can be found in this article, and these errors form the basis for its main argument. 

Errors in the article regarding population migration from the discriminated Buraku to the urban slums may be pointed out using an example in Yokohama.

In Yokohama, since the opening of the port, many laborers worked in various occupations such as day labor, dock work, and scavenging. Cheap lodgings and tenements were built in the nearby hills, and these grew into urban slums. One of these areas was called Eta Mura (a derogatory term for a Burakumin Village) (Yokohama Bōeki Shimpo, December 17, 1913) or Eta no Nagaya (tenement house) (Yokohama Bōeki Shimpo, December 27, 1913). Why were such discriminatory names used for the area? The reason was the occupations of the residents of the area. As of 1881, 12 second-hand shoe dealers and seven second-hand geta (traditional Japanese footwear) dealers were living in the area (Yokohama Shoninroku, Dainippon Shoninroku-sha, 1881).

In addition, Inoue Teizō, who explored the slums and discriminated Buraku areas around Japan in 1919, wrote that this area “used to have many tanners” (1923). Also, according to a 1919 survey by the Yokohama City Welfare Department there were many “shoemakers, sandal makers, and geta repairers” (Jiku Jiho, Vol. 1, No. 2, August 1919).

Yoshikawa Eiji, a writer who spent his childhood close to this area at the end of the 19th century, wrote that “people unjustly separated from society formed a Buraku in the low lying areas and pointed out the existence of ‘old discrimination against Buraku.’” Yoshikawa also noted that there were people working in the slaughterhouse in this area. (1955)

It is thought that people engaged in leather processing, shoe and sandal manufacturing, and slaughterhouse laborers moved to this area from the discriminated Buraku areas around Yokohama, which led to the entire area being regarded as a discriminated Buraku (Fujino, 2009). This means that there were discriminated Buraku people among those who migrated from rural areas to Yokohama, and because there were leather workers, shoe and other footwear makers, as well as slaughterhouse workers among them, the whole area was called Eta Mura. This fact refutes the observation of the article that denies a relationship between the leather industry and the discriminated Buraku and makes clear that the discriminated Buraku people were the lowest class of farmers.

The article ignores the relationship between the discriminated Buraku and the leather industry, and emphasizes the fact that most of the discriminated Buraku in the early modern period were not descended from leather workers or executioners, but were the poorest class of farmers, who were subject to prejudice because they were poor, not because they were outcastes (24-25). 

It is true that in the 1880s, the deflationary policies of Matsukata Masayoshi, the Minister of Finance, caused the price of agricultural products to fall, and poor farmers who lost their land flowed into urban slums, forming the urban miscellaneous trade class as well as the labor force during the Industrial Revolution. The article merely applies this general migration of population from the rural to urban areas to the Buraku people. The error is in the presumption that the Buraku people were the poorest class of farmers. If the discriminated Burakumin are to be understood as simply the poorest class of farmers, it cannot be explained why discrimination against the Buraku people continues through the modern age to the present. 

Moreover, as previous regional studies into the history of the discriminated Buraku have shown, the perception of equating the discriminated Buraku with poverty is also contrary to the facts. The discriminated Buraku people earned their livelihood by gaining exclusive access to various occupations, including leather goods manufacturing and medical drugs (Fujino 2007). The perception equating Buraku with poverty itself exemplifies Ramseyer's prejudice against the Buraku.

There were many people among the Buraku working in leather related occupations and these people migrated to the slums of Yokohama, where many European and North American people lived, and there was a high demand for leather products such as shoes. As mentioned above, the prominence of people engaged in occupations that were characteristic of the discriminated Buraku led to the whole area being identified as such. The article does not take these facts into consideration, and simply states that the discriminated Buraku people migrated to the cities, formed slums, which became associated with a high crime rate.


The error of prejudice equating Burakumin with criminals

The article consistently portrays discriminated Burakumin as criminal elements. The actions of the discriminated Burakumin during the rice riots, the denunciation struggle of the National Levelers’ Association, the efforts of the Buraku Liberation League related to the postwar Dōwa administration, and the actions to denounce the discriminatory Sayama trial are all treated as crimes committed by discriminated Burakumin. This is a view of Buraku people that has persisted in the discriminatory logic of modern and contemporary Japan. The article adopts this view without question. 

After the Russo-Japanese War, the state recognised that discrimination was an inevitable result of the poverty, poor sanitation and behavioral standards in Buraku communities. So, the police were mobilized to impose lifestyle changes on Burakumin. Tomeoka Kosuke, a social worker and commissioned officer in the local government bureau of the Ministry of Home Affairs, who led this movement to improve the livelihood of the Buraku, said, “I have come to realize that of the more than 12,000 municipalities in our country, the poorest, filthiest and most dangerous are the villages of the new commoners (Buraku). Therefore, from the standpoint of reducing the number of criminals and organizing the municipalities, I believe that the improvement of the new commoners is indeed one of the most urgent tasks of social improvement” (Tomeoka 1907). He expressed the view that the discriminated Buraku should be “improved” from the viewpoint of crime prevention. Tomeoka was also heavily involved in sensitization projects and prison improvement projects, and one of the major objectives of his social work was to reduce the number of criminals. Therefore, the improvement of discriminated Buraku was also a project that became a part of such objectives (Fujino 1986). For this reason, police officers were mobilized in Buraku Improvement projects.

Through Buraku Improvement projects the association of the discriminated Buraku area with crime spread throughout society. A sense of discrimination against Buraku as a group of “inferior people” of a different "race" emerged, and the discriminatory name “Tokushu Buraku” (Special Buraku) took root (Kurokawa 2021). 

This perception was also shared by Kagawa Toyohiko, who was engaged in missionary work in the slums adjacent to the discriminated Buraku in Kobe City. In Hinmin Shinri no Kenkyū (A Study of the Psychology of the Poor), which he authored in 1915, and was published by Tokyo Keisei-sha, he noted that there were many criminals in the discriminated-Buraku area, and sought to trace the origins of the Buraku people to a “special kind of race,” calling the inhabitants “a degenerate race among the Japanese,” “a criminal race in the Japanese Empire,” and “a race of prostitutes in Japan.” He called for “racial improvement,” in other words, sterilization of the Buraku people and their eventual elimination (Fujino 1998). Kagawa’s argument is outright eugenics, advocating discrimination not only against the Buraku people, but also against slum dwellers, patients with leprosy, and people with disabilities. It caused a huge controversy in the 1980s known as the “Kagawa problem,” which has continued to this day.

The prejudicial association of Buraku with high crime rates was exploited politically during the rice riots of 1918. During the rice riots, Buraku people participated along with people demanding lower prices for rice around the country. However, as prejudice that associated Buraku people with crime was widely shared across society, the rumor that the riots were started by the Buraku people was intentionally spread and police control concentrated in the Buraku. According to Iwayuru Kome Sōdō Jiken no Kenkyū (A Study of the So-called Rice Riot Incident) compiled by Yoshikawa Mitsusada, a prosecutor at the Nagoya District Court, in 1939, of the 8,185 people who were prosecuted for the rice riot, 887 were Buraku people, or more than 10% of the total, indicating that the police crackdown was concentrated in Buraku areas.

Kobashi Ichita, the Undersecretary of the Ministry of Home Affairs explained that in the areas of Kyoto, Osaka and Kobe, “the residents of the special Buraku” started the riots out of “a kind of emotional rebellion” (Shin Aichi (New Aichi), August 22, 1918) , while another senior official of the Ministry said that "the riots in Kyoto, Osaka, Kobe, Okayama, Mie and other prefectures were all caused by the special Buraku people and it is as if the rest of the rioters are merely following these special Buraku people" (Chūō Shimbun, August 26, 1918). Similarly, Soeda Keiichirō, Director General of the Regional Bureau of the Ministry of Home Affairs, stated, "Looking at the situation of disturbances in various areas, it seems that most of them originate from the so-called special Buraku areas" (Soeda 1918). Similar statements were made not only by the Ministry of Home Affairs, but also by officials of the Ministries of Justice as well as Education, and it was this discriminatory prejudice that led the then cabinet of Terauchi Masatake to strengthen its crackdown on the discriminated Buraku.

The newspapers also reported on a rice riot in Unrinin Village, Anno County, Mie Prefecture, in which the Buraku people attacked the home of the landowner. Although the landowner’s family was able to escape unharmed, the papers reported that “the family of eight was surrounded by wild fire, and burned to death” (Ehime Shimpō, August 19, 1918), and that “members of the family could not escape and were all engulfed in flames and burned to death along with the building” (Tokyo Mainichi Shimbun, August 21, 1918). Thus, at the time of the rice riots, a sense of discrimination and fear that discriminated Buraku was associated with high crime rates and that Buraku residents were all cruel people spread throughout society (Fujino 1988). In particular, the rice riots gave rise to a new sense of fear of the discriminated Buraku, which later intensified discrimination (Kurokawa, 2021).

Ramseyer’s article, following along the lines of the discriminatory views of the bureaucrats and newspaper reports, assumes that the Buraku people led the rice riots, and affirms the discriminatory newspaper coverage at the time (28).

The article goes on to describe the Levelers’ movement, linking the protests against instances of discrimination (denunciation struggles, kyūdan) with violence and crime. In doing so, it relies on the report written by Hasegawa Nei, Chief Public Prosecutor of the Fukuoka District court in 1927.

In the “Introduction”, Hasegawa writes that the Buraku people “generally lack a sense of morality, are suspicious and brutal, their morals have deteriorated severely, their spirit of improvement and progress has gradually disappeared, and they seem to have become increasingly desperate.” Hasegawa is also strongly influenced by prejudice against Buraku people. Therefore, he states that as the Levelers’ movement “became more and more intense, the number of disturbances increased, and their nature became increasingly contentious, leading to criminal cases of disturbances, threats, assaults, etc., and the number of those who were prosecuted were countless” and goes on to introduce cases against the denunciation activities of the Levelers’ Association. Hasegawa's approach to the crackdown was based on the view that “where there is a case of denunciation, there is always a crime.” He declares that “I am a person who denies the existence of the so-called right of denunciation,” and criticizes the activities of the Levelers’ Association in denouncing discrimination as “revenge, direct action, and private punishment against those who discriminate in speech and action," and as "a challenging attitude against society.” Ramseyer develops this argument that the discriminated Burakumin are a group of criminals on the basis of cases classified as crimes by Hasegawa's extreme prejudice. It ignores the significance of the founding of the National Levelers’ Association in the history of human rights while insisting on emphasizing the views of the prosecution charging the denunciation activities as crimes. The errors in the article regarding the Levelers’ Association will be discussed in detail below.

The article is consistent in its critical tone in describing the illegalities surrounding the Dōwa projects and extortions, without mentioning the significance of activities in working with the local governments, developed by the postwar Buraku Liberation movement or the significance of the report of the Council for Dōwa Measures. 

The article also mentions the case of Ishikawa Kazuo, the “perpetrator” of the Sayama case, which indicated that there was a miscarriage of justice, and a request for retrial has been made, but he describes it as a case that links the Buraku with crime. He suggests that in convicting Mr. Ishikawa, the police had the “right man” (38). He also continues to criticize the protest movement against the discriminatory trial as violence and crime (39).

In the course of denouncing the Sayama trial, there were inevitably incidents by radical political forces occupying the courthouse and attacking judges. However, the main objective of this movement was to prove the innocence of Ishikawa by exposing the discriminatory attitudes of the police, public prosecutors, and the judges that led to the miscarriage of justice. The violent words and actions of just a handful of radicals were by no means the mainstream in the struggle to denounce the Sayama trial. However, the article makes no mention of these facts, and consistently argues that the pre- and post-war Buraku Liberation movement beginning with the Levelers’ movement was a movement of violence and criminal acts.

Errors concerning the Levelers’ movement

The article argues that the founding of the National Levelers’ Association (Suiheisha) in 1922 was a revolutionary plot by Comintern sympathizers in Japan (32-33). Indeed, the Japanese Communist Party showed interest in the founding of the Levelers’ Association. Sakai Toshihiko had Takahashi Sadaki joined the Levelers’ Association to form the National Levelers’ Association Youth League, that was sympathetic to communism within the Association, with Takahashi at its core. However, the Association was not dominated by these communist forces. What the Levelers’ and the communist movement had in common was a sense of solidarity as people suffering discrimination that went beyond ideological beliefs, as well as a desire for the status of “equal imperial subjects.” Within the Levelers’ Association, there was a range of beliefs, including anarchism, nationalism, and many other ideas apart from communism. Buddhist beliefs of the Jōdō Shinshu sect were common among the Levelers’ Associations in western Japan. The Kantō Levelers’ Association was strongly influenced by anarchism and nationalism, but communism did not have much impact. (Fujino 1989)

Hasegawa Nei's 1927 account on which much of the article relies for its logic, has the following sentences in its opening.

Marx and Engels, in their co-authored Manifesto of the Communist Party, stated that “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.” How right they were. In recent years, the trend of social movements has been to improve the current social and industrial institutional system in order to improve the status of the exploited classes. The war in Europe has been a turning point in this trend. The revolutionary tone has notably diminished compared to before the war, the violent tendency to curse the capitalists and seek to destroy capitalism has gradually disappeared, and social movements promoting class struggle have come to advocate moderation.


The article also relies on a Kyoto Prefectural Government report (March 1924), which states:


The founders of the movement, Sakamoto, Komai, Kiyohara and others, were all young radicals among the Buraku people and have been advocating socialism. They have worshipped Sakai Toshihiko. They are acquainted with Sakai and others under special observation, and they are receiving assistance from the socialists for this project. In addition, it is suspected that the ultimate purpose of the project is to be involved in the general class struggle and to participate in the transformation of society in concert with the socialists. (Asaji 1995) 


It is clear that those on the side of maintenance of order were very wary of the possibility of the Levelers’ movement joining with the socialist movement.

As can be seen in the writings of Hasegawa and Kyoto Prefecture, the state regarded the National Levelers’ movement as a “social movement based on class struggle.” The article accepts this perspective as fact.

It would be impossible to explain from this perspective the fact that the National Levelers’ Association regarded the edict abolishing the senmin class (the so-called “Emancipation Edict”) issued in 1871 as the “sacred will” of Emperor Meiji, or that it strongly protested from a patriotic standpoint against the anti-Japanese 1924 Immigration Act of the U.S. On the contrary, the Ramseyer article places the Levelers’ Association, which it says was dominated by communists, in the same category as the Red Guards of the Cultural Revolution in China and the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, and condemns the denunciation struggles as collective and brutal violence. The article cites the above Kyoto Prefectural Government's Suihei Undō no Jōsei (March 1924) in which the police reports, “Never mind that most burakumin opposed the Suiheisha, …The violent tactics of the Suiheisha eliminated that sympathy.” However, the article makes no mention of the statements in the report that the rise of the Levelers’ movement diminished the Buraku people’s sense of self-deprecation and raised their self-esteem, regardless of whether they agreed with the movement or not, or that “the rise of the Levelers’ movement gave the Buraku people a strong feeling of the urgent need to eliminate discrimination.” The article arbitrarily selects quotes from historical materials in order to portray the Levelers’ movement as being simply one of violence.

Next, the article argues that the control of the Levelers’ Association was transferred from the communists to a criminal cohort when Matsumoto Jiichirō became the chairman of the central executive committee of the National Levelers’ Association and its leader in 1925. It describes Matsumoto, who ran a construction company in Fukuoka, as the head of the criminal organization. and that under him, denunciations of discrimination became acts of extortion (33-35). The article’s view of Matsumoto also relies on the above publication by Hasegawa Nei. Hasegawa says of Matsumoto, “Many people may think of him as a head of a criminal organization, but he is a good man with blood and tears.” The article takes the description, “head of a criminal organization” of Matsumoto literally, and portrayed the National Levelers’ Association under the leadership of Matsumoto as a criminal cohort. However, Matsumoto was not only a leader of the Levelers’ movement, but also a Member of Parliament affiliated to the Socialist Masses Party, a proletarian party. In particular, Matsumoto favored the Popular Front tactics advocated by Nosaka Sanzō and Yamamoto Kenzō, who participated in the 7th Congress of the Comintern in 1936, in their “Letter addressed to Communists in Japan.” After the attempted military coup of the February 26 Incident, he sought to build an anti-fascist front to protect the parliamentary government from the military, and called on all parties to participate. There is no reference in the article to these facts. What is consistent is the prejudiced argument that the Buraku Liberation Movement was a movement of criminals before and after the war.


As mentioned above, Ramseyer's article neglects the basics of writing an academic article, of reading through materials and literature and examining existing research on the subject. It was written based on the assumption that Buraku people were a criminal cohort and that the Buraku Liberation Movement was a violent criminal movement. It is not even worthy of academic critique. 

Therefore, it is necessary to rigorously question the responsibility of Ramseyer, the author of the article, and the responsibility of the Review of Law and Economics, for its role in publishing it uncritically.



Asaji Takeshi, “Suihei Undō no Jōsei – Sōritsu ki Zenkoku Suiheisha o meguru Chihō Gyōsei Shiryō (Situation of the Levelers’ Movement – Local Administrative Records Regarding the National Levelers’ Association at the Time of its Founding), Buraku Kaihō Kenkyū, No. 102, February 1995.

Fujino Yutaka, “Tomeoka Kosuke to Buraku Mondai” (Tomeoka Kosuke and the Buraku Problem), Buraku Liberation Research Institute ed., Ronshū Kindai Buraku Mondai (Modern Buraku Issues) Kaihō Shuppansha, 1986.

Fujino Yutaka, “Kome Sōdō ni okeru Hisabetsu Buraku Shudōron no Seiritsu“ (The Establishment of the Buraku Initiative Theory in the Rice Riots), in Tokunaga Takashi, Kurokawa Midori, and Fujino Yutaka, Kome Sōdō to Hisabetsu Buraku (Rice Riots and the Discriminated Against Buraku), Yūsankaku Publishing, 1988.

Fujino Yutaka, Suihei Undō no Shakai Shisō shi Kenkyū (A Historical Study of the Social Ideas in the Levelers’ Movement), Yūsankaku Shuppan, 1989.

Fujino Yutaka, “Kindai Nihon no Kirisuto kyo to Yusei Shisō (Christianity and Eugenics in Modern Japan),” in Fujino, Nihon Fashizumu to Yūsei Shisō (Japan Fascism and Eugenics), Kamogawa Shuppan, 1998.

Fujino Yutaka, Hisabetsu Buraku Zero? – Kindai Toyama no Buraku Mondai (Zero Buraku? - Buraku Issues in Modern Toyama), Katsura Shobō, 2001] [Kanagawa ken no Buraku shi (Buraku History of Kanagawa) Kanagawa no Buraku shi Editorial Committee, Fuji Shuppan, 2007.

Fujino Yutaka, “Kindai nihon no Hajimari to Buraku Mondai no Seiritsu” (The Beginning of Modern Japan and the Establishment of the Buraku Problem), in Kurokawa Midori and Fujino Yutaka, eds. Kindai Buraku shi – Saihen sareru Sabetsu no Kōzō (Modern Buraku History: The Realigning the Structure of Discrimination), Yūshisha, 2009.

Hasegawa Nei, Suihei Undō narabini kore ni kansuru Hanzai no Kenkyū (A Study of the Levelers’ Movement and Crimes Related to It), Ministry of Justice, Research Division, Shihō Kenkyū, No. 5, Report Collection 4, July 1927.

Kurokawa Midori, Hisabetsu Buraku Ninshiki no Rekishi – Ika to Dōka no Aida (History of Buraku Recognition: Between Heterogenization and Assimilation), Iwanami Gendai Bunko, 2021.

Kyoto Prefectural Government, “Suihei Undō no Jōsei (Situation of the Levelers’ Movement)”, March 1924.

Matsuda Kyoko, Teikoku no Shisen – Hakurankai to Ibunka Hyosho, (The Imperial Gaze: Expositions and Cross-Cultural Representations), Yoshikawa Kobunkan, 2003.

Soeda Keichirō, “Sōjo ni Kaerimite” (Reflections on the Disturbances), Shimin, Vol. 13, No. 9, September 1918.

Inoue Teizō, Hinminkutsu to Shōsū Dōhō (Slums and Minority Communities) Ganshōdo, 1923.

Tomeoka Kosuke, “Shin Heimin no Kaizen (Improvement of the New Commoners), 1”, Journal of the National Police Association, No. 80, January 1907.

Yoshikawa Eiji, Wasurenokori no Ki – Shihan Jijoden (A Chronicle of What was not Forgotten: A Semi-Autobiography),’ Bungei Shunjū 1955.




J.Mark Ramseyer “On the invention of identity politics the Buraku outcastes in Japan”に関する重大な誤謬とそれに基づく問題

敬和学園大学人文学部教授 藤野豊


以下の文章の引用はすべて、‟On the Invention of Identity Politics: The Buraku Outcastes in Japan”(The Harvard John M. Olin Discussion Paper Series: No. 964)から行っている。 




  1. 近代被差別部落の成立に関する誤り 
  2. 部落民=犯罪者とする偏見の誤り 
  3. 水平社運動に関する誤り







































それゆえ、論文を書いたRamseyerの責任、それを無批判に掲載したReview of Law and Economics の責任を問い、きびしく追及していく必要があると考える。


March 24, 2021


This article is part of Japan’s Burakumin (Outcastes) Reconsidered: A Special Issue Assessing and Refuting Ramseyer’s Interpretation. Please see the Table of Contents.

Please also see our previous special issues on The Ramseyer controversy on the 'Comfort Women' edited by Alexis Dudden, Supplement to Special Issue: Academic Integrity at Stake: The Ramseyer Article - Four Letters 


​See also, a special issue on The 'Comfort Women' as Public History edited by Edward Vickers and Mark R. Frost.



Fujino Yutaka (藤野豊) is a professor in the Faculty of Humanities, Keiwa College, and has research interests in Japanese fascism, post-war democracy, the Buraku Question, prostitution and Hansen’s disease. His recent publications include books on forced sterilization and the eugenics protection law, unemployment and the coal industry rationalization policies, and prostitution in postwar Japan. 

Okada Kimiko (岡田仁子) is a part-time lecturer at Kobe College.

Komori Megumi (小森恵)is the Acting Secretary-General, The International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism (IMADR).