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  • Japanese: 穢多 (eta)

Eta was one of several classes of outcastes in Edo period Japan. Eta lived in their own hamlets with their own headmen, separate from those of regular villagers, and have been described as a "society outside society." In large cities such as Edo and Kyoto, outcastes lived in separate neighborhoods (buraku) on the edges of the city. Most possessed this status as a result of hereditary professions which were considered (spiritually) unclean; this included leather workers, gravediggers, and others who worked with human or animal skins, meat, or bodies, as well as some categories of potters[1] and others who worked in dirty and dangerous positions. Roughly 2% of the early modern population of the archipelago were eta or some other sort of outcaste.[2]

In the Kantô region, from 1720 onward, all eta were united in an association led by a figure called, in every generation, Danzaemon.

The eta designation was abolished in 1871 along with, ostensibly, all official class distinctions. Eta, like townspeople, villagers, and samurai, were now to be all considered "imperial subjects," all alike and equal.[3] However, in practice, former eta, now known as burakumin, continued to suffer considerable discrimination well into the 20th (and perhaps even the 21st) century.


  • Herman Ooms, Tokugawa Village Practice, UC Press (1996), 6.
  1. Timon Screech, “Going to the Courtesans: Transit to the Pleasure District of Edo Japan.” In Martha Feldman and Bonnie Gordon (eds.), The Courtesan’s Arts: Cross-Cultural Perspectives (2006).
  2. Conrad Schirokauer, et al, A Brief History of Japanese Civilization, Wadsworth Cengage (2013), 135.
  3. Andrew Gordon, A Modern History of Japan, Oxford University Press (2013), 65.