When Google Earth added historical maps of Japan to its online collection last year, the search giant didn’t expect a backlash.
The company is now facing inquiries from the Justice Ministry and angry accusations of prejudice 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 class called the “burakumin,” ethnically identical to other Japanese but forced to live in isolation because they did jobs associated with death, such as working with leather, butchering animals and digging graves.
Castes have long since been abolished, and the old buraku villages have largely faded away or been swallowed by Japan’s sprawling metropolises.
Today, rights groups say the descendants of burakumin make up about 3 million of the country’s 127 million people. But they still face prejudice, based almost entirely on where they live or their ancestors lived.
I think it’s shameful that the practice of caste discrimination is still alive and kicking in one of the most developed countries in Asia.
Of course, one could argue that Google has no excuse for overlooking such cultural sensitivities in Japan. It’s been operating globally for some years now; this “slip-up”, if you will, seems like sheer insensitivity on their part.
But by rapping Google on the head for its mistake, aren’t we indirectly condoning the practice of discrimination? Feel free to share your ideas below! I’d love to know what you think.