Japan's largest minority group. The burakumin have the same racial, cultural, and national origins as their fellow Japanese. As a people physically not distinguishable from other Japanese, they intermingle with the rest of the populace, but when identified as burakumin, they are subject to prejudice and discrimination, especially in areas of marriage and employment. For hundreds of years, burakumin engaged in occupations associated with death, namely meat preparation and leather-making; and oppression against them was justified by reference to Buddhist proscriptions against killing. Not only was contact with people engaged in such occupations shunned, there also emerged a pattern of residential segregation. Their residence was limited to designated hamlets called buraku; hence, burakumin ("people of the buraku"). Today, it is estimated that between 1.2 and 3 million burakumin exist, thus representing over two percent of the Japanese population. The Buraku Liberation League continues to campaign for improvements in the social and economic status of burakumin and for the eradication of prejudicial attitudes still prevalent among the general population. Also called eta (pollution in abundance) and hinin (nonhumans). (adapted from Japan: An Illustrated Encyclopedia. Tokyo: Kodansha, 1993)
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