Burakumin - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. (See also the article on Japanese for a general description.) Historically most Buddhist sects rejected outcastes, as most outcastes violated the Buddhist taboos against death and killing through their occupations. The Jōdo Shinshu or Shinshu sect, whose founding philosophy roughly translates as "restoring righteousness in evil men," and the Nichirenshu sect, which preached the salvation of common people, were the only sects that accepted outcastes, and even today they are the most common Buddhist sects to which Burakumin belong. Outcaste members were, however, subject to segregation within the religious organization, as was apparent in the Tokugawa period practices of eta-dera (temples exclusively for a outcastes) and eta-za (segregated seating for outcastes when they attended the same temples as regular people).

In the modern period Christian missionaries took special interest in the buraku's social problems, and their belief in the equality of human beings before God attracted many Burakumin to this religion.

Religious Practitioners . In addition to training institutionalized priests like those in the mainstream Japanese society, outcaste communities produced many unauthorized practitioners of Shintoism, Buddhism, and various folk religions. Hijiri priests, diviners, and ceremonial performers are the most prominent examples. They served the religious and ceremonial needs of commoners who could not afford the services of authorized priests or who sought alternatives to the institutional religions.

Arts. (See also the article on Japanese for a general description.) The traditional occupational specializations of outcastes included those of performing artists, such as actors, singers, dancers, and street entertainers. Founders of two of the most important theatrical traditions in Japan were outcastes. The dancer/actress Ōkuni performed the earliest form of Kabuki play on the floodplain in Kyoto. Kanami and Zeami, a father and son who began the Noh play in the fourteenth century, were also of outcaste origin, and at the height of their success they performed for the shogun of the time and enjoyed considerable prosperity and political influence.

Medicine. Burakumin medical practices roughly follow those of the mainstream Japanese. Historic outcastes and Burakumin may have developed their own folk medicine because of difficulty in obtaining medical services, but there is no documentation of this.

Death and Afterlife. Burakumin beliefs about death and the afterlife are similar to those of the mainstream Japanese. The rejection and hardship they have experienced may have affected their thoughts on the subject. The dominant Buddhist sect among Burakumin, Jōdo Shinshu, advocates introspective prayer and promises well-being in the next life regardless of one's status in this life.

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