Shimazai Toson's "Hakai"

Late-Meiji legacies of prejudice and paranoia

By William Wetherall

First posted 8 September 2010
Last updated 10 January 2011

Shimazaki Toson Hakai (1906) Burden of descent Note on "shuzoku" Nihonmura in Texas

Shimazaki Toson

Shimazaki Tōson (島崎藤村 1872-1943) is one of the highest regarded of late Meiji, Taisho, and early Showa novelists. Hakai (破戒), which he published in 1906, is undoubtedly his best known story, not only as a work of fiction, but as social commentary about what he perceived to be the conditions of descendants of people who, until 1871, had legally been classified as eta or other outcaste statuses. The novel has been translated into English by Kenneth Strong as "The Broken Commandment" (1974).


Shincho bunko edition of Hakai
Strong's translation of Hakai

Shimazaki Toson's "Hakai"

For this article, I have used the following sources.

Shimazaki 2009 (1959) [1906]

昭和二十九年十二月二十五日 発行
平成十七年七月三十日 百二十六刷改版
平成二十一年八月二十五日 百三十四刷
500ぺーじ (新潮文庫 し26)
解釈:平野謙、島崎藤村:人と文学、431-453 (昭和四十二年九月)
北小路健、『破戒』と差別問題、454-494 (昭和六十一年六月十七日)

Shimazaki 1974 [1906]

Shimazaki Toson
Translated by Kenneth Strong
The Broken Commandment
Tokyo: University of Tokyo Press, 1974
xxv, 249 pages, hardcover
Translator's Introduction: vii-xxv (1972)
The Broken Commandment: 1-249

Ko 2010

高榮蘭 (コウ・ヨンラン)

Ko Youngran
"Sengo" to iu ideorogii: Rekishi, kioku, bunka
[The ideology of "postwar": History, memory, culture]
Tokyo: Fujiwara Shoten, 30 June 2010
381 pages, hardcover

The story

The story opens with the progatonist, Segawa Ushimatsu (瀬川丑松), an elementary school teacher, considering the room into which he would be moving from his present lodging, where the second paragraph tells us something he had felt unpleasant about had happened. The third paragraph describes the incident as one in which a man named Ūhinata (大日向), who had been temporarily boarding at the lodging, had moved into a private room at the local hospital where his money bought him special treatment.

Within a few days, Ūhinata was back at the lodging house, having left the hospital one night after other patients had threatened to leave because, they claimed, he was an eta. The head of the hospital visited him daily, but then other lodgers objected to his presence. Ushimatsu, witnessing this from the shadows, "lamented this non-human treatment (非人扱い hinin atsukai) that had no cause [reason], and dwelled on the miserable fate of the clans [tribes] of eta [eta clans] (穢多の種族 eta no shuzoku) . . . for Ushimatsu too was an eta" (page 7, my translation).

In the next paragraph, the narrator relates that Ushimatsu had come to the town of Iiyama immediately after finishing normal school at age 22, and "Today, three years after that, Ushimatsu is known by the people of the town of Iiyama, only as an enthusiastic young teacher, and that he was actually an eta (穢多), a new commoner (新平民 shin-heimin), there was not a single person who knew" (page 7, my translation).


Burden of descent

By the third part of Chapter 1, Ushimatsu is recalling his father's admonition, which increasing haunts him. Here I have transcribed the entire paragraph, and shown both my structural translation and Strong's very polished (but not entirely accurate) translation (Shimazaki 2009: 14-15 and Shimazaki 1974: 9-10, green furigana as received in cited Japanese text, all blue highlighting mine).

Shimazaki Toson's "Hakai" (1906)
Segawa Ushimatsu's burden of eta descent

Shimazaki's text

Structural translation

Strong's translation


When Ushimatsu first left his parents' knees [care, home], his father, with the air of being deeply concerned about his only son's road ahead, had made him listen to various stories. It was then . . . [his father] had told him about the [Segawa] clan's [family's] ancestors. Different from [Unlike] the descendants of Chosenese [Koreans], Shinaese [Chinese], and Russians, or [of] different-country-people [aliens] who had drifted from nameless islands and changed their allegiance, like the clans [tribes] of eta living along the Tokaidō [Eastern-sea circuit] -- their blood line was one that had been passed down from warrior dropouts of long ago [who had fled and gone into hiding when defeated], and though [our family] is very poor, [it] is not a family like [those] defiled because of a [past] sin, [his father] had told him. His father had added that, the secret knack of an eta child [son, descendant] who goes out into the world and establishes oneself . . . the single hope [prospect], the single way [means], as for that [secret knack], there is nothing other than to hide one's origins, and "no matter what eyes you see [situation you face], no matter who you encounter, definitely [absolutely] do not disclose [confess] [your origins]; if in a [moment] of anger or grief you forget this admondition [warning, commandment], regard [yourself] as one who at that very time [moment] has been thrown [cast, flung] from the world," his father thus taught him.

When he left home for the very first time, his father, deeply concerned for his only son's future, had given him much advice. it was then that he had told him about their ancestors: how they were not descended, like the many groups of eta who lived along the Eastern Highway, from foreign immigrants or castaways from China, Korea, Russia and the nameless islands of the Pacific, but from runaway samurai of many generations back; that however poor they might be, their family had committed no crime, done nothing dishonourable. One thing more he added: that the only way -- the only hope -- for any eta who wanted to raise himself in the world was to conceal the secret of his birth. "No matter who you meet, no matter what happens to you, never reveal it! Forget this commandment just once, in moment of anger or misery, and from that moment the world will have rejected you forever." Such had been his father's teaching.


Note on "shuzoku"

Of interest here is that Shimazaki describes some of its characters as being of a "clan of eta" (穢多の種族 eta no shuzoku) -- or of the "eta race" if using "race" with its broader anthropological implications of a racioethnic descent group. Strong steers around the racioethnic implications of "shuzoku" by explaining rather than translating the first instance of "eta no shuzoku" as "this outcaste people, the eta" while translating the second instance as "groups of eta" (Japanese text: Shimazaki 2009: 7, 14; English translation: Shimazaki 1974: pages 4, 9).

The term "shuzoku" (種族) was commonly used at the time to mean a racioethnic descent or lineage group that is somewhere between "race" (人種 jinshu) in its narrow biological sense and "nation" (民族 minzoku) in its narrow racioethnic sense. For comments on this usage in relation to Taiwan at the beginning of the 20th century, and on how the term is still used in Japanese translations of terms related to race and racial descent in United Nations conventions, see "Race boxes" in Taiwan statistics in the article "Taiwan: The legal integration of Formosa" in "The Sovereign empire" section of "The Empires of Japan" feature of this website.

The terms jinshu, shuzoku, and minzoku should be differentiated, especially when used together. Their semantic ranges overlap, but "jinshu" is more on the physical end of the spectrum, and "minzoku" is more on the social end, while "shuzoku" is somewhere between. For a good example of usage of these three terms in the same sentence, with such nuances, see Murayama 1942.

Also of interest here is the fact that publicists of "buraku liberation" today -- while adament in their denial of any racial differences between descendants of former outcastes within Japan's mainstream population -- insist that "buraku residents" be included under the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD). For more about this battle of words and their underlying meanings, see The racialization of Japan in the "Race" section of this website.


Nihonmura in Texas


For a review of Ko's book, see Ko Youngran on "the ideology of 'postwar'".