The burakumin (from the Japanese for "village people") are descendants of people who, in feudal Japan, were treated as outcasts from society. Although they have largely integrated into life in modern Japan, they still face discrimination in some areas of the country. Historically, such outcasts were engaged in activities involving either death or the slaughtering and processing of animals.Although "burakumin" is not particularly seen as derogatory, the preferred term within the community is "mura-no-mono", or "people of our community".
On House, M.D., we learn in the episode Son of Coma Guy that Gregory House was inspired to study medicine when, during a period when his father was stationed in Japan, he accompanied an injured friend to the hospital and was assisted by a man who he initially believed to be a janitor but who turned out to be a physician of buraku descent who had been ostracized by the other doctors in the hospital. However, they had to turn to the buraku when House's friend took a turn for the worse because he was the best doctor in the hospital.
During the feudal period, the burakumin were segregated into separate villages. History is not certain whether the burakumin were ostracized because they engaged in activities seen as impure, or whether they turned to these activities because they were not permitted to engage in more respectable activities. Ironically, because the burakumin held a virtual monopoly on such activities, they were often financially successful.
Despite being restored to full legal status in 1871, there was still blatant discrimination against them and they often suffered financially as others entered into their traditional professions. It was not until the early 20th century that the Japanese government started a program of improving their living standards and punishing those who discriminated against them. But the Suiheisha that was, to the Buraku, akin to the NAACP of USA, split up and the rights of Buraku have been forestalled to the late 20th century. Although in principle, all Japanese were equal in the eyes of the law, even as late as in 1975 it was revealed that countless private businesses and local police stations have been profiling Buraku families and discriminating them in law and business. Households also asked private detectives to do background checks on people in order to weed out possible Buraku from marriage.
Discrimination largely continued until the 1980s when younger members of the community started protesting for equal rights. Although numbers are uncertain, there are about 900,000 buraku in Japan today according to the government, and about 3 million estimated buraku according to their support organizations. In two prefectures, they form the majority of residents.
Today, although the discrimination of Buraku is weakening with newer generations, the right wing-minded Japanese youth hold misgivings toward the Buraku, saying they are receiving undue Buraku welfare to get them ahead in society. The old political houses still hold discrimination against Buraku. Hiromu Nonaka, a leading politician of Buraku descent, shouted at Prime Minister Taro Aso in 2003 to "never forgive" him when he was confirmed to have said he cannot "let a Buraku (like Nonaka) become a Prime Minister." Considering how diplomatic Japanese are in daily lives, and moreover being from the old-fashioned city of Kyoto where they are famous for being stiff and reserved even for Japanese, for Nonaka to shout directly at someone and also declare he will "never forgive" someone is a great display of wrath.
Even as recent as 2010, NTT (Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corporation) made news headlines as it was defaced with discriminatory graffiti against Burakumin by an unknown perpetrator.