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He Who Seeks The Truth

By publishing books about Japanese discrimination against minorities and other rights abuses, particularly during the war, Akio Ishii has brought to light complicated realities facing Japan today.

Lamenting the ‘culture of silence’ that has made Japan ignore its ‘stigmatised communities’ and keep a stony silence about the atrocities it committed in East Asia during the Second World War, Japanese book publisher Akio Ishii, the 2008 Ramon Magsaysay Awardee for Journalism, Literature and Creative Communication Arts, wants to compel his countrymen to face “the truth of history”.

In fact, he is looking for a “good and respected Philippine history book” that his Akashi Shoten publishing house could translate into Nippongo and publish “to convey the truth of World War II”.

“The Japanese people should learn from the Asian viewpoint. They should read books that clarify the truth of history,” said Ishii who was interviewed through his interpreter and editorial executive, Jinno Hitoshi.

Akashi Shoten has already published books on the ‘comfort women’, women in Japanese-occupied territories like the Philippines and Korea who were forced into sexual slavery by Japanese troops during the war.

"To create a discrimination-free society, the important role taken by the publishing business cannot be underestimated."

It has also published a guide to the Philippines under its Area Studies imprint, Understand Contemporary Philippines in 60 Chapters, edited by Manila-based journalist Takushi Ono with Takefumi Terada.

In its citation of Ishii, the Ramon Magsaysay Awards Foundation said that in publishing books about Japanese discrimination against minorities and other rights abuses, particularly during the war, Ishii has brought to light “complicated realities” that lie “behind Japan’s famous facade of social harmony and homogeneity”.

“Often hidden from view are troubling elements of the country’s social life involving stigmatised communities such as the burakumin and the minority ethnic groups like the Ainu or the many Koreans, Filipinos and other foreigners living in Japan today,” it said.

An institution in feudal Japan, the buraku system was a form of ‘social hamletting’, or segregation.

In his public lecture at the Ramon Magsaysay Centre Ishii said he will tackle the ‘rightist drift’ in the last 20 years among members of Japan’s younger generations, exemplified by the immediate former prime minister, Shinzo Abe, which has resulted in Japan glossing over its record during the Second World War in its history textbooks.

Ishii is considered a maverick in the Tokyo publishing world. Although Akashi Shoten pales in size when compared with Japan’s big-time publishing houses, it is big in heart with its dedication to publishing about human rights and social issues.

Ishii said there’s a “propensity of the Japanese publishing world to view issues surrounding discrimination as taboo”.

“To create a discrimination-free society, the important role taken by the publishing business cannot be underestimated,” he said.

“The publishing business must become a bastion for the movement to eliminate discrimination in thought and culture,” he said.

Thus was born 30 years ago the Akashi Shoten, which publishes books on human rights and the marginalised, such as the burakumin, Korean minorities, the elderly and the disabled, women and children, and people from developing countries like the Philippines who go to work in Japan.

Ishii knows what he’s talking about—or what he’s publishing—since he himself descended from a burakumin family.

The burakumin is a largely unknown to the rest of the world, a measure of how the Japanese establishment has been successful in glossing over some of Japan’s more unsavoury social realities and rendering them invisible before the world.

To borrow from the American novelist Ralph Ellison who wrote about ‘niggers’, the burakumin are Japan’s ‘invisible men’. They are the Japanese version of India’s untouchables.

When the social status system was established during the Edo era in the 17th century, the burakumin were considered lower than the three main classes—warrior, peasant and townsfolk.

They were considered as belonging to the eta (extreme filth) and hinhin (non-human) classes. These ‘filthy subhumans’ were relegated to the buraku, or hamlets, outside of the establishment (‘min’ means people).

Ishii wears the badge of the burakumin proudly since he has named his publishing house after his hometown or hamlet, Akashi, in Hyogo-ken near Osaka, south of Tokyo.

And by operating a maverick publishing house in Japan’s capital, he has made the burakumin and other discriminated minorities of the world a central issue in Japan and a fly in the ointment as the country rose as a world economic superpower and a global financial capital. (By LITO ZULUETA In Manila/ The Philippines Daily Inquirer/ AsiaNews)

MySinchew 2008.10.22


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