The Founders of Suiheisha
About the Author Tadayuki Komai
Komai was born in Gose City City, Nara Prefecture, Japan in 1972. In 1998, he joined the museum as a member of staff since the opening of the Suiheisha History Museum and became the director in 2015. Through initiatives such as the ones organized by FIHRM and the "Memory of the World", he works to spread to the world the founding philosophy of Suiheisha. He is also teaching human rights theory at Kobe College. He co-authored the new editions of The Origin of the Suiheisha (Buraku Liberation Publishing House, 2002), The Heat and Light of Suiheisha Declaration (Buraku Liberation Publishing House, 2012), Buraku Issues in Modern Times ("Lectures on Buraku Issues in Modern Japan 1", Buraku Liberation Publishing House, 2022).
About the Suiheisha History Museum
Inaugurated in May 1998 at the founding site of the Zenkoku Suiheisha (National Levelers' Society), Kashiwabara, Gose City, Nara Prefecture, Japan, the Suiheisha History Museum is dedicated to the advancement of human rights culture and the universalization of human rights philosophy, and works to convey messages about discrimination and human rights issues.
In September 2015, the Suiheisha History Museum participated for the first time in the FIHRM (Federation of International Human Rights Museums) conference in Wellington, New Zealand, and became the first Japanese organization to join FIHRM in December of the same year. From that point on, the Suiheisha History Museum has launched various initiatives to share with the world its founding philosophy of "pursuing human dignity and peace".
In May 2016, the museum announced on both ICOM General Conference and FIHRM Rosario Conference, Argentina the listing of "Suiheisha and Hyeongpyeongsa records of cross-border solidarity between the minorities who had been discriminated against" (the five historical items housed in the Suiheisha History Museum) on the Memory of the World Regional Register For Asia/Pacific and the effort for the documents to be entered into the International Register was underway. On March 3, 2022, as Suiheisha was to celebrate its 100th anniversary, the newly renovated Suiheisha History Museum reopened.
On March 3, 1922, the Zenkoku Suiheisha (National Levelers' Society) was founded at the Kyoto Municipal Public Hall with the aim of pursuing human dignity and peace. The leading founding members were a group of young people who were born and raised in Kashibara, Gosho City, Nara Prefecture.
The founding of the Zenkoku Suiheisha was inspired by the Buraku liberation movement which aims to eliminate discrimination against Buraku people, promote freedom and equality and secure human rights. Many of the predecessors involved in Suiheisha movement passed on this spirit. In order to make the process of their struggle known to future generations, in May 1998, with donations from all over the country, the Suiheisha History House was established in Kashiwabara, the origin place of Suiheisha (renamed as the Suiheisha History Museum in 1999).
The founding philosophy that connects people
The Zenkoku Suiheisha championed that "respect for other people liberates oneself", and promoted its founding declaration, "let there be warmth in human society, let there be light in all human beings". It is the first human rights declaration in Japan, and also the first human rights declaration raised by those who were discriminated against. The founding philosophy of Suiheisha is to build a society where all identities are accepted and one that does no tolerate discrimination. The philosophy did not only speak to Burakumin (Buraku people) but also resonated with many others by inspiring and encouraging human rights movements autonomously initiated by Zainichi Koreans (ethnic Korean citizens or residents of Japan), Uchinanchu (Okinawan people), Ainu people and leprosy survivors. Its influence even reached Baekjeong, an untouchable caste in Korea. Hyeongpyeongsa (Equitable Society) was established in April, 1923 with Baekjeong as its core members. The history of alliance between Suiheisha and Hyeongpyeongsa leaves a legacy of bond built on the basis of universal human values such as human rights, freedom, equality, fraternity and democracy. The historic document of this exchange, "Suiheisha and Hyeongpyeongsa records of cross-border solidarity between the minorities who had been discriminated against" was added to the Memory of the World Regional Register For Asia/Pacific in 2016. Moreover, the establishment of Suiheisha drew the attention of overseas media. The Nation, an American magazine, also published an English translation of the declaration of Suiheisha in an article on September 5, 1923.
About the discrimination against Buraku which Suiheisha sought to eliminate
As decreed in its founding declaration, the philosophy of the Zenkoku Suiheisha strives to eliminate the discrimination against the social minority "Burakumin". The root cause of the discrimination against Buraku originated from identity discrimination against people known as "Eta" (an abundance of filth) of social hierarchy in pre-modern Japan. Although Japan abolished the social hierarchy of the legal system after becoming a modern country, and the status of Eta was also nullified in 1871, Buraku people, after being re-included into modern civil society, were still at the receiving end of discrimination. This had become a unique social problem to Japanese. This kind of discrimination against Buraku is similar to the discrimination against the untouchables, outcasts and Dalit in the Indian caste system.
In addition, the discrimination against Buraku was defined as discrimination on the basis of "social status and family background" in Article 14 of the Japanese Constitution promulgated in November 1946. The International Convention on All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) defines it as "descent" based discrimination which shows that eliminating discrimination has become an important human rights issue both in Japan and the world.
Japan started the "Meiji Restoration" in 1868, a year which marks as the starting point of Japan as a modern country. However pre-modern identity-based discrimination formed a new order of discrimination in the new society. And discrimination against Burakumin persisted in modern civil society. Especially from around 1900, discrimination against Buraku aggravated over time. In light of this, the government and other agencies attempted to initiate a movement to improve the status of Buraku and promote the inclusion Burakumin with the wider society through top-down policies.
However, Burakumin were not complacent with these moves. After the First World War, they independently launched a emancipation movements in pursuit of liberty, equality, fraternity, hoping to be truly liberated from the discrimination against Buraku. It is the Zenkoku Suiheisha that steered the independent liberation movement of Burakumin.
The pursuit of human dignity
After 1942, although the Zenkoku Suiheisha no longer existed in legal sense, the founding philosophy of the Suiheishawhich pursues human dignity and equality has become an enduring legacy ever since, and the Buraku liberation movement persisted.
In 1948, the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which laid down the principles of human rights, initiated United Nations Decade for Human Rights Education in 1995 and has advocated for human rights mainstreaming since 2005. The above actions have led to a considerable impact and the movement to affirm human rights have become a world consensus over time. In addition, at the 2015 UN World Summit on Sustainable Development, all member states unanimously adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These goals are to create a future in which no one is left behind and all people on earth can live a prosperous and happy life. In order to build sustainable societies, the development of Sustainable Development Goals are anchored to human rights values and set out 17 goals and 169 targets and this resonates with the philosophy laid out inSuiheisha's guidelines: (we) are enlightened by the principles of human nature, and we will march forward in pursuit of the utmost height of human qualities. The Suiheisha History Museum, the first museum to become a member of the Federation of International Human Rights Museums (FIHRM), has spread the philosophy of Suiheisha all over the world through the Memory of the World Register initiative and FIHRM activities.
The Suiheisha History Museum attempts to raise human rights awareness and pursue human dignity through its exhibitions. These efforts has received support from by various organizations. The Suiheisha History Museum Local Support Society was established In Kashiwabara, where the museum is located, in 1999, composed of various groups with the neighborhood council at its center. In order to give the visitors a warm greeting, the Local Support Society renovated the park adjacent to the museum and enhanced greening effort.
In addition, in order to promote and support the various programs of the museum and contribute to the maintenance and development of the museum, organizations from fields such as education, sports, religion, businesses, and labor unions in Nara Prefecture jointly established the Suiheisha History Museum Sponsor Association. One of the groups that joined the Sponsor Association, the Nara Prefecture Buraku Liberation Alliance, was founded on the spirit of the Suiheisha movement and assumed the mantle of the Buraku liberation movement. The Alliance purchases a certain number of Suiheisha History Museum admission tickets to increase the number of museum visits every year. At the same time, as part of the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Suiheisha, when the museum was updating its exhibition, it also worked with parties like the Sponsor Association to review what would go into the exhibition to adopt different points of views for a more inclusive exhibition. As a result, many visitors commented that they are "deeply moved".
Touching messages left by celebrities and "the most unforgettable messages" submitted by ordinary citizens can be found at the Epilogue section of the updated exhibition. Fixed on the wall of the white space are quotes such as "building a human society of warmth" advocated by the Suiheisha written in relief characters (see the picture below). The five large carousel screens set up on the walls display passages of texts which deeply touched the visitors . This special section is also named Language Museum, and will continue to open to submissions such "compelling messages" in the future. We sincerely hope that this exhibition area, where anyone can contribute, would become a space for everyone to share the idea of "respect for human dignity".
Build a more loving world
Since the establishment of the Suiheisha in 1992, just like all the other movements which advocate human rights home and abroad, the movement to eliminate the discrimination against Buraku is a historical journey of a century. However, looking at today's Japan, the social minorities who suffered from discrimination and founded the Zenkoku Suiheisha are still experiencing discrimination when making contracts pertaining to marriage and real estate. One cannot firmly say that at present discrimination has been completely eliminated.
In addition, taking advantage of the misunderstanding and the taboo among the general public agains having anything to do with Buraku, nefarious activities are rampant, such as selling high-priced books by claiming that people do not have enough understanding about Buraku issues. These activities all use Buraku issues as the excuse to obtain profits in an dishonest way or demand the other party to perform activities which they are not obliged to. These activities also contribute to bias and misperception. As a result, slanderou comments and attacks against Buraku continue to surface on the internet, which has perpetrated discrimination.
In light of this, Japan re-enacted the "Three Human Rights Bills" in 2016, including the Act on the Promotion of the Elimination of Buraku Discrimination, the Act for Eliminating Discrimination against Persons with Disabilities and the Hate Speech Act of 2016. In 2019, the Ainu Promotion Act was enacted.
Against the backdrop of the above-mentioned status of Buraku discrimination and human rights-related trends, the Buraku liberation movement established networks by connecting with other human rights movements and local community building. Also, the movement gets its messages across by making Nara as its base with a focus on the efforts of overcoming discrimination. The Suiheisha History Museum also joins forces with this movement and plays the role as the hub for human rights information transmission. It carries out the Zenkoku Suiheisha's philosophy of pursuing equality and human dignity with a steel determination to eliminate discrimination and make this a legacy for the future.
We hope that we all share the founding philosophy of the Suiheisha, that is to build a human society of warmth and strive to realize this goal. The pursuit is to collectively build a tolerant and incusive society, where everyone can be themselves and live freely.
We are convinced that everyone who comes to the Suiheisha History Museum can connect with and agree with this spirit.
"Let there be warmth in human society, let there be light in all human beings"
The guidelines and declaration adopted at the founding assembly of the Suiheisha on March 3, 1922
1. We as Tokushu Burakumin (people of a special community), seek the absolute liberation through our own actions
2. We, as Tokushu Burakumin, demand to obtain absolute economic freedom and occupational freedom from the society
3. We are enlightened by the principles of human nature, and will march forward in pursuit of the utmost height of human qualities.
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 were admirers and practitioners of freedom and equality, victims of ugly class policies, and martyrs of male industry. As a reward for skinning animals, they were stripped of their own living flesh; in return for tearing out 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 the 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
March 3, 1922
Share the founding philosophy of Suiheisha for a loving world