Burakumin - Economy

Outcastes traditionally specialized in leatherwork, basketry, sandal making, temple caretaking, street sweeping, butchering, street performance, tenant farming, and unauthorized religious practices. Until the end of the feudal age, outcastes dominated these occupations; at the time of their emancipation, nonoutcaste businesses began to operate in some of these trades, and often drove former outcastes out of business.

Today some Burakumin still are involved in the traditional crafts and trades, but many of them work as factory hands, day laborers, and all sorts of unskilled laborers. In general, their wage levels are low, and their economic struggle in the face of the overall affluence of the Japanese is striking. Many Burakumin work for small businesses, earn minimum wage with few work benefits, and suffer from insufficient and unstable incomes. The comparison of average annual income per household in 1984 reveals that the Burakumin household average was then approximately 60 percent of the national average. The percentage of fully employed Burakumin is significantly lower than that of the overall Japanese labor force. Lower educational achievement and occupational discrimination further hinder the economic advancement of Burakumin. As a consequence a significant number of Burakumin rely on government welfare to survive.

Industrial Arts. Outcaste leatherworkers of the feudal age made beautiful horse gear and armor, some of which still survives. Basketry and sandal making are among the most important—and rapidly forgotten—craft traditions in which historic outcastes and traditional Burakumin produced essential items for the common people.

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