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Burakumin Outcry Against Google Earth in Japan

Aoyama Dori and San...
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Burakumin Outcry Against Google Earth in Japan

Google is dealing with a new issue. I won't explain the details here. Do a google search with the following tokens: 'burakumin tokyo map david rumsey' to read all about it. See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burakumin for an explanation of Burakumin in general.

Personally, as an amateur anthropologist, I am fascinated by the history of the Burakumin people in Japan and the current outcry really puzzles me. But then I'm fascinated by the Yakuza and how they facilitate business in Japan, the Ainu people, and the treatment of Chinese and Korean permanent residents born in Japan, too.

I know this dates back to feudal times but being a younger generation (born after WWII) person I find such political correctness and conservative attitudes to be both interesting and disappointing.

In the US and other western countries, activists would have outed all of the shameful details and made sure that there is full transparency regarding historical things that put a country in a bad light.

Why should we be concerned about this? I really wasn't so concerned about it until I read about the outcry against Google Street View in Japan. I was shocked when I read this letter: globalvoicesonline.org/2008/…

I'm not sure how successful they will be in shutting it down in Japan but it will be a sad day if it is shutdown.

At our own home on Google Street View you can see two of our vehicles out front, the silhouette of our son in the front doorway and clearly our lawn and landscaping. Our home can be viewed by anyone (and I mean anyone) who walks by, rides by or drives by on the public street that we live on, or...by anyone who can use Google Street View and knows our address. I can see my friend's home in Japan, her car and even laundry drying on the balcony. I read the explanation in the letter about privacy but I don't buy it for one minute. I guess when I'm walking through neighborhoods in Japan taking pictures I need to be more careful.

Is it illegal to take a picture of someone's home in Japan? If so, then I've probably committed many hundreds of crimes, guilty as charged.

Pacifica, California
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1. Re: Burakumin Outcry Against Google Earth in Japan

I read about this a couple days ago, but didn't get the sense that the issue was about taking pictures of anyone's home. Instead, it was an issue of identifying certain neighborhoods as historically Burakumin neighborhoods. Burakumin were people who's work had something to do with death, so even people who worked with leather items, which came from the hides of dead animals, were classified as Burakumin.

The problem is that people with Burakumin family backgrounds are often discriminated against as being "dirty," similar to the Indian caste system. If someone applies for a job, and the employer noticed that the person's address was in one of these Burakumin neighborhoods, they might not be be hired because they'd be suspected of coming from a family with a Barakumin background.

The complaints were coming from people who didn't like the way that Google made it easy for employers and others to find out that they lived in historically Burakumin neighborhoods. I thought this was interesting both because I always wonder how such an advanced society still clings to those kinds of beliefs, and because the last time I was in Tokyo, it turns out there was a historically Burakumin neighborhood near where I was staying. I would have liked to have wandered around, because the neighborhoods still supposedly have lots of leather and butcher shops.

Honolulu, Hawaii
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2. Re: Burakumin Outcry Against Google Earth in Japan

I'm siding with Simba. You can already get a Google view of areas in the US affected by the Swine Flu. Next it will be houses with HIV residents.

I should think the Burakumin have been exposed enough.

Aoyama Dori and San...
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3. Re: Burakumin Outcry Against Google Earth in Japan

I've looked at seven of those neighborhoods in the Tokyo area and one in the Osaka area. With the exception of one in Yokohama, there is little or no evidence of what the neighborhood was in the past. In central Tokyo many of these areas were bombed out during the war, anyway. The current residents of those areas are mostly not Burakumin and there is little remnant of the past. There are many lists on the Internet already naming the locations of these neighborhoods. It's my feeling that making a big deal of this simply ignites curiosity, creates more blog entries and website entries which are basically permanent records of this and the effort is probably going to backfire. This information is already out there. The genie is not going to be put back into the bottle. What I fear is that wonderful facilities such as Google Earth and Google Street View will be censored.

The outrage against Google Street View was a separate matter. Sorry if you were confused.

Hong Kong, China
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for Hong Kong, Osaka
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4. Re: Burakumin Outcry Against Google Earth in Japan

Regarding Google Streetview, my feeling is as long as I or my cars with license plates don't appear in an image, then I really don't have a problem. It was actually interesting to see my house in Texas.

Aoyama Dori and San...
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5. Re: Burakumin Outcry Against Google Earth in Japan

I just checked our house and street. The resolution is not clear enough to reveal license plate numbers. I suspect this was done intentionally. Interestingly, we just painted the exterior so the old color is still there. A few of our neighbors are doing the same thing. I wonder if they have a redo schedule or not.

Toronto
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6. Re: Burakumin Outcry Against Google Earth in Japan

Privcacy policy on street view is country dependent, so far. You can clearly identify license plates for Italy, though people can ask to have them blurred. So you might see a few cars in the picture, one with blurred plate while the others clearly identifiable. In Canada, due to privacy legislation they are going to blur out all license plates, and supposedly faces.

Tokyo, Japan
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7. Re: Burakumin Outcry Against Google Earth in Japan

Wow! No one is walking around in my neighborhood! Wonder when they took the photos? Obviously, someone actually stood on the street next to my house to take a 360 degree photo. So glad I didn't have my laundry hanging out!

There are minor errors -- thankfully. My address takes me to the street in back of our house -- which makes me appreciate the folks working at Japan's postal service. They certainly don't bring our mail to the back door!

Aoyama Dori and San...
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8. Re: Burakumin Outcry Against Google Earth in Japan

They use cars with 360-degree cameras on them to take the pictures. See the bottom of this article: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Google_Street_View

Japan
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9. Re: Burakumin Outcry Against Google Earth in Japan

An interesting article in the Japan Times regarding the Burakumin concerns about this issue and Google's use of historical maps:

…japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/nn20090505a1.html

Aoyama Dori and San...
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10. Re: Burakumin Outcry Against Google Earth in Japan

Thanks for the link. It's this AP article that ignited the furor. Here is one quote that I find interesting:

"Lists of "dirty" addresses circulate on Internet bulletin boards. Some surveys have shown that such neighborhoods have lower property values and residents have been the target of racial taunts and graffiti. But the modern locations of the old villages are largely unknown to the public, and many burakumin prefer it that way."

This is a part of Japan's history. As one who believes in transparency I feel that what's done is done and we as a human race should learn from the past. Clearly, the discrimination is wrong but it seems like Japan as a society has not learned from this. Most visitors to Japan don't see this side of the underbelly but it should be a choice. In the US we acknowledge and openly discuss slavery, the internment of Japanese-Americans, the Holocaust through a national museum and many other unpleasant topics in history. I can't understand why the treatment of burakumin should be any different.