The Osaka Minority Museum

Recently, I went with a friend of my to see Steven Spielberg’s new film ‘Minority report’. The film talks about hidden files in the mind of a psychic that the main character, Tom Cruise needs to clear his name of a supposed crime that he is going to commit.

Soon after, I went with a teacher friend to the Osaka museum of Japanese Minority Cultures. We were in Osaka at the time for a Sumo tournament with a whole group of individuals and after looking in the Lonely Planet guidebook, deicided that this destination would be a good one to explore. Strangely enough, I wished we had not.

We set out on the tube, which in Osaka is relatively easy to follow. although you have to keep an eye out for station names. We soon discovered that station names became larger in Kanji and smaller in Romaji the further we went from the city centre. We even went wrong twice and mistakenly took the wrong service going back the way we had come.

The temperature on the train also made us rather dozy which did not help our decision making. However, after three changes we finally got to the stop that in our guidebook stated was the nearest point to the museum. Great we thought, not far. On the small map, supplied as part of the book it looked easy enough to get to the museum.

However, when we got out of the station and started to try and find out way, we quickly became disoriented. Sometimes in Japan all the urban areas start to look the same and so we went up and down the same road four or five times before finally asking in a small, old wooden restaurant if they knew the way. They had never heard of it and looked at us as if we were mad. Why go there they asked? We want to see what it is we replied. We expected a large museum, huge signposting to the museum and lots of interesting things inside.

Finally we made a wrong turn that ended up being a right turn which brought us right outside the museum. A very modest town hall sized building with a very small entrance fee of about 2000 yen I think.

The museum itself was brilliant. I did not know for example that music in the Okinawan culture was such an intrinsic part of its way of life. Ainu music I heard for the first time, it was haunting and beautiful. For myself the most interesting aspect was that which dealt with the Burakumin – that problem which noboy dares mention. This group who are made peripheral to Japanese society becuase of historical links to butchering or shoe making – all those areas within society that Buddhism detested – still suffer today. However, in my home town of Chizu in Tottori, my town hall representative are fighting this racism and many a long meeting has tackled the subject.

I was surpised to see at the museum a replica of a ‘black book’ one of the supposed books used by Japanese companies to list Burakumin names, in an attempt to enable companies to be able to screen out these people rather than employ them. This practice is now long dead but I could not help feeling as I left the museum that it was in a such an out of the way place on purpose. What a shame as these cultures seem to have so much to offer and are now beginning to make headway culturally in Japan, particularly Okinawan music.

Copyright @ Warren Courtney. All rights reserved.

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