Japanese society has definitely not remained totally free of social discrimination. The country’s 670,000 Koreans, many of them residents of Japan for two or more generations, regularly protest against their second-class status.
As evidenced by bones, weapons, and pottery most recently uncovered by archaeologists, the Asian equivalent of Neanderthal Man crossed a now-submerged land bridge from eastern Siberia to what is now Sakhalin Island and northern Japan some 100,000 years ago.
These migrants, who later settled throughout the Japanese archipelago, where ancestors the ancestors of the present-day Ainu, whose Caucasoid facial and body hair distinguished them from subsequent immigrants from China, Manchuria, Korea and perhaps the Malay Peninsula. It was the growth and military assertion of the newcomers that drove the “hairy people” (as they were labelled) back north to their present concentration in Hokkaido.
The Ainu, an ethnically distinct community regarded by anthropologists as the island’ original settlers and now grouped almost exclusively in Hokkaido, campaign for civil rights in a movement similar to that of Native Americans in the US.
A third group, not of different ethnic origin form the Japanese mainstream but unquestionably inferior in status, are the burakumin (“ village dwellers,” a euphemism for their old caste name- meaning “a lot of filth”—which was officially abolished at the end of the 19th century). They are descendants of outcasts employed to perform the originally taboo—and still disdained – trades of butchery, leather- work, garbage collection, and the handling of corpses. They live in separate hamlets or on city outskirt: 400,000 in Tokyo and an estimated 2 million throughout the country. You’re most likely to come across them cleaning up garbage in parks and temple grounds, or shining shoes at railway stations. For weeks after the Kobe earthquake in 1995, mounds of garbage lay uncollected despite the quick resumption of other basic services. Why? One of the worst-hit districts was Nada-ku, a burakmin stronghold that suffered a high casualty and death toll.
Unquestionably, few visitors will come to Japan truly free of preconceptions relayed to them and picked up along the way. There is no shortage of stereotypes. The beleaguered workaholic salaryman, the exotic geisha, the long- suffering Japanese housewife. Regardless of the degree of truth in these images, the secret of any successful and satisfying exploration of japan is to cast aside preconceived notions and come with an open mind.
Wherever you go, you will have to chance to admire or criticize, to confirm stereotypes or to note exceptions. The curious visitor will find a myriad aspects of the “real Japan” – whatever that might be.
Japan is a country where the intriguing, the exotic, and the utterly baffling are commonplace, where little can be taken at face value.
Yet few people are so warmly welcoming of strangers as the Japanese. Ultimately, if you remain open- minded and ready for adventure will be rewarded by unexpected and unforgettable experiences available nowhere else on the planet. Welcome to Japan!