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The Liberation Movement

Influences towards Liberation

One of the larger influences towards the Liberation Movement (kaihō undō) were the rice riots, which we covered here.

Furthermore, many burakumin were dissatisfied with the Harmony Movement (yūwa undō) and their ideologies that based the responsibilities of their plight on to the burakumin themselves or rather their "attitude" (Cangià 2013:81) and were dominated by Buraku Elites, those who were well off and thus not in need for help or policies. 

Aside from the lack of actions by the government and the harmony movement groups, the ideals of self-determination announced by Woodrow Wilson and support by thinkers such as Sano Manabu and Nakae Chōmin.

 (Teraki 2019:130;Tsutsui 2018:160).

Nakae Chōmin moved to Osaka in 1887 and lived in the outcast area called “Watanabe-mura”(Teraki 2019:130). Through this time, he started to publish papers as if he was “burakumin” and argued that the current outcast groups could “[...] become partners in the revolution” (Teraki 2019:131). Teraki evaluates that “[...] one of the most compelling views of the Buraku problem at this time was the one by Nakae Chōmin” (2019:130).


Sano Manabu on the other hand advocated for an independent organisation by the burakumin towards their liberation and to fight alongside other suffering people. 

Some phrases from

"the liberation of special buraku"

by Sano Manabu


"In this kind of society, historical traditions that no longer have any reason to exist can still have binding force as a social norm. The tokushu buraku I am going to discuss here are the greatest victims left behind by such an irrational system."

(Sano 1922:154-155)

「 […]、一千年来の種族的反感に虐げられ来つた穢多族の根本的解放を企つる必要がある。」

"The fundamental emancipation of eta group, which has been oppressed by racial animosity for a thousand years, must be planned."

(Sano 1922:155)


"The complete emancipation of the tokushu buraku is an important element of social reform. The great task of social reform should not end merely with the liberation of proletariats and classes. It must necessarily include all suffering people."

(Sano 1922:175)


"I can only imagine a 'good day' when this unfortunate social group will be completely liberated on the basis of a grand ideal of social reform built on the independent movement of the tokushu buraku and their union with other suffering people."

(Sano 1922:176)

Swallow Association

Before the National Levellers' Society became to be, the people that later became its founders were gathered in a smaller group Swallow Association (燕会 Tsubame Kai) in 1920 (Teraki 2019:176).

Saikō Mankichi, one of the members, believed “[…] that only socialists could live a discrimination free world and so only if they were to become socialists would they find a different way of thinking about discrimination […]” (Teraki 2019:177)


The activities of the Swallow Association included local reforms and a research study group to understand the “problems of discrimination” (Teraki 2019:177). Also, they very much sympathize with other oppressed groups. It was then when they read the article written by Sano Manabu “the liberation of tokushu buraku” that the ideology and goals of a liberation movement started to crystallize.


Whilst distancing themselves from the already existing Harmony movement, the new organisation that will be the National Leveller’s Society is based on the “path to liberation through their own efforts” (Teraki 2019:178)

National Levellers' Society

The Founders

The Founders of the Suiheisha


OHRM 2005:5

Saikō Mankichi 

Saikō Mankichi 


born in Nara

17.4.1895 - 20.3.1970

Born as Kiyohara Kazutaka (清原一陸), he was one of the founders of the Swallow Association. Designed the banner and was also involved in other movements and was a member of the Communist Party.

(OHRM 2005:27)

Photo: OHRM 2005:27

Sakurada Kikuzō

Sakurada Kikuzō


Born in Nara


At the founding of the National Levellers' Society, he read out the charter and became a member of the central committee. He was active in the denunciation struggles in Kyoto, his hometown where he was the chairman of the Kyoto local office.

(OHRM 2005:30)

Photo: OHRM 2005:30

Sakamoto, Seiichirō

Sakamoto, Seiichirō


Born in Nara 

7.1.1892 - 19.2.1987

Although being raised in a wealthy family, he opposed the discrimination against the burakumin. He was the one who suggested the name Suiheisha. Was a advisor to the National Committee for Buraku Liberation (NCBL) after the war.

(OHRM 2005:27)

Photo: OHRM 2005:27

Komai Kisaku

Photo: OHRM 2005:28

Komai Kisaku


18.5.1897 - 1.11.1945

Raised in a merchant family and became a lawyer but stopped the occupation because of buraku discrimination. He was also one of the founding members of the Swallow Association and became involved in the buraku liberation and union activities. He was the one who read out the declaration. In 1927, he became the general secretary of the Nara Prefecture workers and farmers party and from 1931, he became heavenly involved into buraku improvement in his hometown. (OHRM 2005:28)

Yoneda Tomi

Photo: OHRM 2005:28

Yoneda Tomi


Born in Nara 


Born as Chisaki Tomiichirō (千崎富一郎), he met Saikō in 1921. In 1922 he distributed leaflets about the National Leveller’s Society at the Convention for the Abolition of Discrimination between Fellow Countrymen (Dōhō sabetsu tettei taikai). He then became member in the Central Committee of the National Levellers’ Society and the head of the publishing department. After 1934, he with Saikō committed to the abolition of buraku discrimination from a nationalistic standpoint. After the war, he became first chairman of the Buraku Liberation League Nara prefectural Association.

(OHRM 2005:28)

Minami Umekichi

Photo: OHRM 2005:29

Minami Umekichi

Born in Shiga 
10.5.1877 - 24.10.1947

He became involved in the buraku improvement movement (kaizen) since 1902 and met Sakamoto in 1921. Minami became the chairman of the Central committee of the National Levellers' Society and his home became the headquarter. Unlike his colleagues, he was one of moderate thinking, working alongside with the Harmony Movement. He had to resign from his chair after 1925 due to the “spy incident” and formed then the Japan Levellers' Society as a countermovement but to no effect.

(OHRM 2005:29)

Hirano Shōken

Photo: OHRM 2005:29

Hirano Shōken

Born in Fukushima
13.9.1891 - 25.10.1940.

Hirano became a printer in 1904 and was part of the anarchist part within the labour movement. He called for more awareness for the buraku issue and became a member of the founding of the National Levellers' Society. He was part of the movement in Kanto and guided them. Alongside with Minami, he was criticised for his close connection with the Harmony movement and was also removed after the spy incident. From 1927 onwards, he moved towards a more right-wing stance.

(OHRM 2005:29)

The Declaration

General Principles

1. Tokushu Burakumin shall achieve complete liberation through our own efforts.

2. We, the Tokushu Burakumin are determined to achieve our demands for complete freedom in undertaking economic activities and in choosing our occupations

3. We shall awaken to the fundamentals of human nature and march towards highest human perfection.

Tokushu Burakumin throughout the country: Unite!

Long-suffering brothers! Over the past half century, the movements on our behalf by so many people and in such varied ways have yielded no appreciable results. This failure is the punishment we have incurred for permitting ourselves as well as others to debase our own human dignity. Previous movements, though seemingly motivated by compassion, actually corrupted many of our brothers. Thus, it is imperative that we now organize a new collective movement to emancipate ourselves by promoting respect for human dignity.

Brothers! Our ancestors pursued and practiced freedom and equality. They were the victims of base, contemptible class policies and they were the manly martyrs of industry. As a reward for skinning animals, they were stripped of their own living flesh; in return for tearing out of the hearts of animals, their own warm human hearts were ripped apart. They were even spat upon with ridicule. Yet, all through these cursed nightmares, their human pride ran deep in their blood. Now, the time has come when we human beings, pulsing with this blood, are soon to regain our divine dignity. The time has come for victims to throw off their stigma. The time has come for the blessing of the martyrs’ crown of thorns.

The time has come when we can be proud of being Eta.

We must never again shame our ancestors and profane humanity through servile words and cowardly deeds. We, who know just how cold human society can be, who know what it is to be pitied, do fervently seek and adore the warmth and light of human life from deep within our hearts.

Thus is the Suiheisha born.

Let there be warmth in human society, let there be light in all human beings

The National Levellers' Society and its declaration became a beacon of hope for those who suffered under buraku discrimination. As symbolised by the line in the declaration, "The time has come when we can be proud of being eta", the act of redefining the term 'eta'", which until then had only been used in a negative context, in a positive way by oneself, also gave a positive identity to the burakumin, many resonated with the message and ideology. (KKBM 2018:57-58).


This can be seen in the following:

“Within a year, about 60 local Suiheisha branches popped up across the nation, with the number quadrupling to about 240 the following year and nearly tripling again to over 700 by 1925.” (Tsutsui 2018:160)

Alongside the rise of the membership, the journal “suihei” (Level) became popular as well (Tsutsui 2018:160)


Within the Levellers' Society, there were those, who prioritised the issues of burakumin and the active battle against discrimination by denunciation (Tsutsui 2018:161) while another path was through alliance with the “broader working class” as “[…] they argued that liberation was not possible without a socialist revolution” (Tsutsui 2018:162).

Alongside the Levellers' Society, the Harmony movement was still active and even more supported by the government (Tsutsui 2018:162). However, while organisations existed, some within the Levellers' Society advocated for that ideology. Having these three strategies within a singular group meant that internal ideological struggles impaired the Levellers' Society(Tsutsui 2018:163).


With the war shifting the government’s focus to the mobilization, activism was abandoned as “even the core leaders of Suiheisha lent their support to the war […]” (Tsutsui 2018:163). This led to the dissolvement of the Levellers' Society in 1942 (Tsutsui 2018:1942).


  • Cangià, Flavia. 2013. Performing the Buraku: Narratives on Cultures and Everyday Life in Contemporary Japan. 1st ed. Münster: LIT Verlag.

  • KKBM = ‘Kore kara no buraku mondai’ gakushū puroguramu sakusei kenkyū kai. 2018. Hajimete miyō! Korekara no buraku mondai gakushū: shōgakkō, chūgakkō, kōkō no purogramu [Let’s start! The buraku issue from now on: Program of elementary, middle and high school]. 1st ed. edited by Hyōgo buraku kaihō jinken kenkyūjo. Ōsaka: Kaihō shuppansha.

  • OHMR = Osaka Human Rights Museum, ed. 2005. Buraku sabetsu to mukiatta 100 nin [100 persons who faced the buraku issue]. Osaka: Osaka Human Rights Museum.

  • Sano, Manabu. 1922. ‘Tokushu Burakumin Kaihō Ron [Discussion on the Liberation of the Special Buraku]’. Pp. 153–76 in Nihon shakai shi joron [Introduction to the History of the Japanese Society]. Dōjinsha shoten.

  • Teraki, Nobuaki, and Midori Kurokawa. 2019. A History of Discriminated Buraku Communities in Japan. Amsterdam University Press.

  • Tsutsui, Kiyoteru. 2018. Rights Make Might: Global Human Rights and Minority Social Movements in Japan. 1st ed. New York: Oxford University Press.

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