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Published on Jul 1, 2007
The Japanese village is a very old unit of community with true origins extending well into pre-history. However, during the long and peaceful Edo period (1600-1868) the government of the Tokugawa Shoguns established a very well defined system of national and local communities which included defined hamlets (ooaza or ri), villages (mura), counties (gun) and fiefs which were controlled by regional samurai leaders called Daimyo (literally "big names"). Hamlets were further divided into smaller communities of associated homes called "buraku" which might be thought of as neighborhoods, though this English term falls short of capturing the true depth and association of this particular type of Japanese community. The buraku unit of community was never officially recognized by the Edo government and represents a natural community subdivision reflective of the social character of the Japanese people. The residents of Buraku may trace their lineage to a common ancestor, though intermarriage within the Buraku is uncommon with wives typically being brought in from nearby communities. Buraku in the past were sometimes organized around a leading family who often passed this role from one generation to the next. These leading families were sometimes the households of former samurai who were reduced to becoming farmers after their side lost during the wars of consolidation leading up to the start of the Edo period. These families are today often still prominent within the small communities of rural Japan.
After the end of the Edo period the government under the leadership of the Meiji emperor re-organized the old feudal territories and effectively redrew the administrative map of Japan. One of the most extensive changes was the consolidation of nearly seventy thousand Edo-era villages (mura) into just fourteen thousand modern villages. The new villages were much larger than the old and included previously disparate communities. These larger village units are still in place today though the change has not caused the consolidated communities (at least those in the countryside) to merge in any non-civic way and most of the hamlets and buraku in Japan retain their original local character and unique sense of identity.