The burakumin, Japan’s largest minority group, have been the focus of an extensive yet strikingly homogenous body of Japanese language research. The master narrative in much of this work typically links burakumin to premodern occupational groups which engaged in a number of socially polluting tasks like tanning and leatherwork. This master narrative, however, when subjected to close scrutiny, tends to raise more questions than it answers, particularly for the historian. Is there really firm historical continuity between premodern outcaste and modern burakumin communities? Is the discrimination experienced by historic and contemporary outcaste communities actually the same? Does the way burakumin frame their own experience significantly affect mainstream understandings of their plight? Embodying Difference: The Making of Burakumin in Modern Japan, by Timothy D. Amos, is the result of a decade-and-a-half-long search for answers to these questions.
September 2011 / ISBN 978-0-8248-3579-8 / $33.00 (PAPER)