Google added historical maps of Japan last year, and now they're facing inquiries from the Justice Ministry and angry accusations of prejudice.
Why? Because its maps detailed the locations of former low-caste communities. The maps date back to the country's feudal era, when shoguns ruled and a strict caste system was in place. At the bottom of the hierarchy were a clan called the "burakumin," who lived in isolation because they did jobs associated with death, such as working with leather, butchering animals and digging graves.
These clans don't exist anymore, and the old villages have faded away. Today, rights groups say the descendants of burakumin make up about 3 million of the country's 127 million people. They still face prejudice, based almost entirely on where they live or their ancestors lived. Even if they move, people can still hire agencies to check for buraku ancestry through Japan's elaborate family records, which can date back over a hundred years.
It is evident that some Japanese companies actively screens out burakumin job seekers. Lists of "dirty" addresses circulate on Internet bulletin boards. Some
surveys have shown that such neighborhoods have lower property values
than surrounding areas, and residents have been the target of racial
taunts and graffiti. But the modern locations of the old villages are
largely unknown to the general public, and many burakumin prefer it
So Google Earth's maps might have just destroyed the peace of these people by pinpointing several areas, showing the exact streets and buildings in the same areas as the old burakumin villages.
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