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In Japan this was a term used to describe those people who handled tasks which were considered to be exceptionally distasteful: executioners, butchers, undertakers, midwives, and tomb attendants - in general, any job which required the handling of the dead or the remains of the dead. Even the makers of leather armour could be considered Eta.

The term possibly comes from "etori", or "butcher".

Eta were considered practically subhuman, especially in the Edo era, and were treated much like India's untouchables, the castless caste. To have Eta familial roots remains a stigma even today. These people are currently known by the euphemism "Burakumin".