Google’s inclusion of historical Japanese Maps in Google Earth has caused an outcry in Japan. According to the AP these maps were already on public view and online. But Google is taking heat from rights organizations as well as the Justice Ministry in Japan.
Why? What’s the controversy?
Apparently the historical maps originally showed locations (which have now reportedly been removed) where a feudal caste called the Burakumin lived. According to the Wikipedia entry:
The burakumin are descendants of outcast communities of the feudal era, which mainly comprised those with occupations considered “tainted” with death or ritual impurity (such as executioners, undertakers or leather workers), and traditionally lived in their own secluded hamlets and ghettos.
They were legally liberated in 1871 with the abolition of the feudal caste system; however, this did not put a stop to social discrimination and their lower living standards because Japanese family registration (Koseki) was fixed to ancestral home address until recently. In certain areas of Japan, there is still a stigma attached to being a resident of such areas, including some lingering discrimination in matters such as marriage and employment.
The AP article points out that job discrimination is still very much alive in Japan against the descendants of this group:
Today, rights groups say the descendants of burakumin make up about 3 million of the country’s 127 million people.
But they still face prejudice, based almost entirely on where they live or their ancestors lived. Moving is little help, because employers or parents of potential spouses can hire agencies to check for buraku ancestry through Japan’s elaborate family records, which can span back over a hundred years.
An employee at a large, well-known Japanese company, who works in personnel and has direct knowledge of its hiring practices, said the company actively screens out burakumin job seekers.
Groups advocating on behalf of the rights of the decendants of the Burakumin were upset by the publication of the historical maps on Google Earth. At the bottom of the objections is the idea that Google Earth would somehow facilitate continued discrimination by making it easy to identify the places where their descendants lived and continue to live.
In fairness to Google the fact that these maps were already public made it less predictable that the issue would cause such a stir. As mentioned, the offending material has apparently been removed.