I'd like to leave you with the title of a book you should read to better understand Japanese history, customs and society. It was written by Sumi Suye, and because she died in Ushiku this year while in her eighties, it is also a nice opportunity to pay tribute to her in this newspaper. She was one the most beloved writers for both children and grown ups. She started to write as a political vocation and also to survive during the thirties, when her husband was isolated by the military regime. She supported her family of 5 by publishing stories that have the kindness and universality of Kenji Miyazawa (if you don't know him, you don't know Japan). She and her husband loved each other to a point that she said of him: "All I did for him, he gave me back 100 times more".
Every Japanese knows her main book, "Hashi no Nai Kawa", "The river with no bridge", as it was also made into a successful movie, with the power and popularity of "Roots", the saga of blacks sold as slaves in the United States. The topic of this story is the treatment of the lowest "cast" of the society at that time, the untouchable "Burakumin".
In many societies, the great public works, from the pyramids to digging tunnels and building dams are done by the slaves (as was better expressed in a poem by Brecht). The story of Sumi Suye centers around one of the many such buraku villages strung out between Kansai and Kanto (including near Tsuchiura), and the relationship or lack of relationship it had with the neighboring villages. It takes place around the time the Meiji restoration, when samurais became common policemen, and the untouchables were supposed to be integrated (in theory, anyway) into the larger society.
Until the end of the war, there was a register to check the origin of familes in order to avoid a mixed marriage with the lower class (and this can still be done unofficially). Nowadays if you ask someone what a "buraku" is, they will tell you that it is a lobby of the "Sanya", the meat and leather treatment and trade. How this discrimation started is difficult to say, but it is enough to think that a village could become untouchable because of the kind of work done there, having some relation with "impurities", blood, bleaching, or related to death.
The story is a love story, and many asked the author to put a good end to her saga. But because it would have changed the purpose of her writing, she choose to leave the end she thought better suited this kind of story, that is, to leave the readers with a kind of bitter taste, but also making us think and not forget. My personal conclusions: the protagonists look to our eyes like ordinary, kind persons, and so it is difficult to believe that someone really could have intentionally treated them so badly. Really the "bullying", the isolation and the avoiding of "ugly" students in the schools, can be at least historically understood when you get to know how it was in the old times. This book is translated only in part, and you can find it in our public library. It reflects the deep and touching feelings of Sumi Suye, in which many people have found a way to look inside themselves. In Japan, there are many places with shrines to venerate the "kami" (gods) of the mountains, of the streams and woods, but there is one place that has the most powerful "kami" of all, the human kindness coming directly from the heart.
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