It is impossible to physically distinguish a burakumin from a non-burakumin, yet when a burakumin's origins are revealed he is subject to discrimination and often humiliation. A close friend whom I accidentally discovered to be burakumin was moved to tears that a foreigner should even know the word and feared that I would treat him in the same way that discriminatory Japanese have done all his life. Before we discussed his background, I was largely ignorant of what it meant to be burakumin. I had heard the word used and had heard of its pejorative connotations, but I expected the oppression that surrounded it to be obsolete; my optimism was misplaced. While I cannot claim to be an expert on the burakumin, this article is a personal reaction to the pain of a friend and an attempt to draw attention to the unnecessary suffering of an unseen minority group.
I asked a student about this group once, and he was reaction was so strong (for a Japanese guy) that I was shocked. I repeatedly asked that I never use the word again. And then as he was leaving the lesson, asked me one more time. Makes one curious.