Working Skin

Working Skin: Making Leather, Making a Multicultural Japan

Joseph D. Hankins
Copyright Date: 2014
Edition: 1
Pages: 304
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt7zw0rb
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  • Book Info
    Working Skin
    Book Description:

    Since the 1980s, arguments for a multicultural Japan have gained considerable currency against an entrenched myth of national homogeneity.Working Skinenters this conversation with an ethnography of Japan's "Buraku" people. Touted as Japan's largest minority, the Buraku are stigmatized because of associations with labor considered unclean, such as leather and meat production. That labor, however, is vanishing from Japan: Liberalized markets have sent these jobs overseas, and changes in family and residential record-keeping have made it harder to track connections to these industries. Multiculturalism, as a project of managing difference, comes into ascendancy and relief just as the labor it struggles to represent is disappearing.Working Skindevelops this argument by exploring the interconnected work of tanners in Japan, Buraku rights activists and their South Asian allies, as well as cattle ranchers in West Texas, United Nations officials, and international NGO advocates. Moving deftly across these engagements, Joseph Hankins analyzes the global political and economic demands of the labor of multiculturalism. Written in accessible prose, this book speaks to larger theoretical debates in critical anthropology, Asian and cultural studies, and examinations of liberalism and empire, and it will appeal to audiences interested in social movements, stigmatization, and the overlapping circulation of language, politics, and capital.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95916-3
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. PREFACE: Hailing from Texas
    (pp. xi-xviii)
  5. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. xix-xxii)
  6. Introduction: THE LABOR OF MULTICULTURALISM
    (pp. 1-28)

    In 2001 Mika and her husband, Isamu, moved from a small town north of Tokyo into an inexpensive neighborhood in the eastern part of the metropolis. They both quickly started applying for jobs but had little luck. They noted that when they wrote down their new home address, their interviewer’s demeanor tended to change, grow colder, and that follow-up calls were rarely forthcoming. One day Mika mentioned this lack of luck to one of her neighbors, who was not at all surprised. She explained to Mika that the neighborhood was a Buraku, and that the employers, seeing the address, had...

  7. PART ONE RECOGNIZING BURAKU DIFFERENCE
    • ONE Of Skins and Workers: PRODUCING THE BURAKU
      (pp. 31-59)

      In July 2005, Doudou Diène, United Nations (UN) special rapporteur on contemporary racism, officially visited Japan to examine the socioeconomic and cultural status of minority groups in Japan. Among the groups he visited on his nine-day trip were the Buraku people. Diène met with leaders of Buraku political organizations and visited Buraku neighborhoods. He was warmly welcomed with emblematic displays of Buraku ways of life: he attended a drum-making workshop, visited a tannery, and was guest of honor at a dinner that featuredmotsu nabe(offal stew) and local dances.

      Diène’s office used these visits, along with historical and contextual...

    • TWO “Ushimatsu Left for Texas”: PASSING THE BURAKU
      (pp. 60-90)

      Hoping to prompt a conversation about Buraku affirmative action, I leaned over to my closest dinner companion, Oguma-san, and told him, “I am 1/32nd Native American. Comanche.”

      We had just finished the group English lesson I taught every other Monday and had moved on to Watami, the chain restaurant that we frequented after class. Several months prior, the twelve people in the class, mostly self-identified Burakumin and all between forty and eighty years old, had planned a study trip to India for late 2006.¹ They wanted to tour slaughterhouses and tanneries and, above all, meet with Dalits—outcastes they saw...

  8. PART TWO CHOICE AND OBLIGATION IN CONTEMPORARY BURAKU POLITICS
    • THREE Locating the Buraku: A POLITICAL ECOLOGY OF POLLUTION
      (pp. 93-120)

      The first two chapters of this book have examined the tension between producing and not producing signs of Buraku identity. As we have seen, this tension both relies on and effects certain political subjects, ethical obligations, and relationships among people, things, the places they live, the families they inhabit, and the occupations they take up. Just as important in this process, however, is the content of those signs and exactly how they point out Buraku difference. It is not simply that signs of being Buraku have ceased to index. What they index—and how—has also shifted significantly over the...

    • FOUR A Sleeping Public: BURAKU POLITICS AND THE CULTIVATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS
      (pp. 121-150)

      On a Saturday morning in December 2005, Tomonaga Kenzō leaned into the microphone before him and lightly cleared his throat. The large, windowless auditorium in Osaka grew quiet as attention focused on the director of one of the foremost political organizations of the Buraku people. The director of the Buraku Liberation and Human Rights Research Institute (BLHRRI) offered these introductory words:

      I want to thank you all for making the time in your busy schedules to attend today’s symposium. We are gathered to witness an historical moment. The United Nations has recently recognized a new category of discrimination: Discrimination Based...

  9. PART THREE INTERNATIONAL STANDARDS AND THE POSSIBILITIES OF SOLIDARITY
    • FIVE Demanding a Standard: BURAKU POLITICS ON A GLOBAL STAGE
      (pp. 153-184)

      On a spring day in 2006, Professor Yozo Yokota called to order a meeting of some forty representatives of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) from across the world. Representing over eleven different countries, from South and East Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, these representatives had gathered in Geneva to spend two days discussing the new United Nations (UN) category “Discrimination Based on Work and Descent.” Across those early March days, they would outline their strategies to combat this discrimination and, in some cases, share their own experiences of discrimination. Based on this information, and information gathered in a questionnaire circulated the...

    • SIX Wounded Futures: PROSPECTS OF TRANSNATIONAL SOLIDARITY
      (pp. 185-214)

      When I was in junior high school, I first learned that I was Burakumin when kids made fun of me. When I was in high school, some of my classmates refused to hang out with me or date me. Now I work with the Tokyo Liberation League.

      I am originally from Tsuruoka city, in Japan. I live in Adachi, Tokyo. I first learned that I was Buraku when I was twenty. When I was in high school, my parents wouldn’t talk about it. My friends explained it to me. I work with the Buraku Liberation League.

      I was born in...

  10. Conclusion: THE DISCIPLINES OF MULTICULTURALISM
    (pp. 215-236)

    Across this book I have endeavored to show the labor that goes into producing a multicultural Japan. This labor is multiply productive: it calls on certain people and practices to serve as evidence in this argument, and it makes demands on the people, organizations, and nations who undertake it. It also opens up avenues of action that exceed its own demands. The first section of this book demonstrated the stakes in producing, or not, signs of Buraku difference. The second lingered on the particular ways in which Buraku difference is signaled and the work required to marshal an audience for...

  11. Epilogue: TEXAS TO JAPAN, AND BACK
    (pp. 237-240)

    In June 2005 Uchizawa Junko, the freelance illustrator and writer I mentioned in chapter 6, came to Lubbock, Texas, to tour ranching and slaughtering facilities. At the time I was a graduate student living in Chicago, finishing my oral exams and preparing for fieldwork. I had only corresponded with Junko via e-mail. We had been introduced electronically by a mutual friend, Kadooka Nobuhiko, another freelance journalist who makes occasional appearances throughout this book. Junko was working on a book detailing the meat production process in countries across the world. Her aim in this project was to provide a Japanese-reading audience...

  12. NOTES
    (pp. 241-256)
  13. REFERENCES
    (pp. 257-272)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 273-277)