Google Earth In Hot Water With Japan’s Burakumin

Old maps showing where lower-caste communities in Japan were has put Google Earth in hot water with Japan. The maps had previously been on the Internet so Google Earth wasn’t expecting any flack for posting the old maps.
Now the company is having to deal with inquiries from the Justice Ministry and angry accusations of prejudice.

the maps were from a time when shoguns ruled and the caste system was a way of life. The lowest of the low were the “burakumin,” although they were ethnically like everyone else their jobs dealt with death. They lived in isolation for working with leather, butchering animals and digging graves. They were legally liberated in 1871 with the abolition of the feudal caste system;

While the caste system has been gone for a long time there are still 3 million descendants of burakumin. They face prejudice to this day because of where they live or where their ancestors lived. Employers routinely screen to check for buraku ancestry through Japan’s elaborate family records. reports:

“If we suspect that an applicant is a burakumin, we always do a background check to find out,” she said. She agreed to discuss the practice only on condition that neither she nor her company be identified.

Because of the stigma the maps could lower property values in neighbourhoods linked to the lower-caste system.

“If there is an incident because of these maps, and Google is just going to say ‘it’s not our fault’ or ‘it’s down to the user,’ then we have no choice but to conclude that Google’s system itself is a form of prejudice,” said Toru Matsuoka, a member of Japan’s upper house of parliament.

While printing maps in Japan is legal publishers and museums are careful not to anger the highly organized burakumin leadership. Public showings that pinpoint the areas almost always have a historical explanation. Google Earth failed to do this one step.


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