Burakumin groups angry at Google Earth

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    The AP reports that certain groups representing burakumin in Japan are angry because Google included Edo period maps of Japan in its map collection available on Google Earth, allowing users to identify areas associated with burakumin:

    Google Earth’s maps pinpointed several such areas. One village in Tokyo was clearly labeled “eta,” a now strongly derogatory word for burakumin that literally means “filthy mass.” A single click showed the streets and buildings that are currently in the same area.

    Google posted the maps as one of many “layers” available via its mapping software, each of which can be easily matched up with modern satellite imagery. The company provided no explanation or historical context, as is common practice in Japan. Its basic stance is that its actions are acceptable because they are legal, one that has angered burakumin leaders.

    “If there is an incident because of these maps, and Google is just going to say ‘it’s not our fault’ or ‘it’s down to the user,’ then we have no choice but to conclude that Google’s system itself is a form of prejudice,” said Toru Matsuoka, a member of Japan’s upper house of parliament.

    Asked about its stance on the issue, Google responded with a formal statement that “we deeply care about human rights and have no intention to violate them.”

    Google spokesman Yoshito Funabashi points out that the company doesn’t own the maps in question, it simply provides them to users. Critics argue they come packaged in its software, and the distinction is not immediately clear.

    Google is breaking no laws in its display of old maps.

    I spent about an hour exploring some of the Edo period maps available on Google Earth [which are, by the way, incredibly awesome]. Unfortunately, since I know about as much about burakumin as the average Japanese person, I didn’t have much luck in finding one of the Eta-mura described, so here’s the screenshot the AP used:

    Google Earth

    Update: I discovered why I couldn’t find the buraku villages. Google has already censored the 1806 map of Osaka:

    censored

    It’s right near the present day location of Ashiharabashi Station. I have no issues informing the world of this fact because it is not a secret: the Wikipedia article about that part of Osaka (Naniwa-ku), is quite open in reporting that the area has a large burakumin community. The Osaka Human Rights Museum (mostly dedicated to the history of discrimination against burakumin) is located in Naniwa-ku.

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