My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt

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OSAKA, Japan —Japan, like practically every other country in the world, has its problems in dealing with its minorities. The village we visited on Sunday afternoon in the pouring rain was inhabited by about 2000 people who belong to one of these minorities. By law they are now equal citizens but old customs and habits are hard to break.

The latest study states that this minority is made up of the aborigines who were originally on this island and were conquered by the Japanese. To them, quite naturally, the lowest and most degrading work was given. They were butchers. They tanned hide and made shoes. They were day laborers. Perhaps when Buddhism became strong, they were looked down upon more than ever.

The average income of a man in one of these villages today is 13,000 yen a year as compared to the 300,000 yen a year of the comparatively well-to-do farmers whom we visited the day before.

There is no sewage system in the village. There are two public baths and since they have an increase in population, they are planning to build a new bath house as the old one is too dirty and too small. The cost of a bath per person is only three yen, however, and all the people bathe. That is one of the really remarkable things about Japan.

In the better farm houses each family has its own bath. They get thoroughly clean first and then they go and sit in the tub which is filled with hot water which is heated by a charcoal fire underneath it and kept constantly hot. According to old-fashioned custom the father goes first and then each member of the family according to precedence and age and sex.

There is no running water in this village and one well serves about ten homes and every drop of water is carried. Most of the houses have just two rooms, a kitchen with a mud floor and then the raised floor room. Sometimes there is a little space screened off where the shoemaking is carried on, if the family makes shoes as well as doing farm labor. The average family is five people but as many as seven lived in one house we visited.

Attached to one house was a shed where bicycles and materials for shoemaking were kept and on the floor in the entrance, where there was really very little light, sat an old woman of 68, who looked nearly 80, weaving the straw sandals which are so much worn.

The head man of the village asked me if there were any comparable conditions in the U.S. and I had to confess I had seen similar conditions in some of our Indian villages and in some of our mining areas. I imagine bad conditions of living are pretty much the same throughout the world but that does not make them any pleasanter for the people who live in them.

I have a feeling that in this village, perhaps because the people are a minority group cut off from the Japanese people themselves, there was more cooperation among them and they certainly had a good man as head of the village. But what harm segregation does! These are some of the villages from which girls go to the cities and turn prostitutes and it isn't hard to understand why.

We drove into Osaka at five o'clock and, while the wind was blowing very strongly, the typhoon missed us, though I am told it did a good deal of damage in other parts of Japan.


Names and Terms Mentioned or Referenced

  • Osaka (Japan) [ index ]

About this document

My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt, June 15, 1953

Roosevelt, Eleanor, 1884-1962
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Digital edition created by The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project The George Washington University 312 Academic Building 2100 Foxhall Road, NW Washington, DC 20007

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Transcription created from a photocopy of a UFS wire copy of a My Day column instance archived at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library.