Household, family life, kinship, and society

To understand the workings of Japanese societies, the understanding of Japanese families is imperative. The family sphere is the connecting block between the individual and society at large as the family provides the first nurturing environment for a child to undergo socialization. In the process of socialization, the individual learns the social values and norms in preparation for eventual participation in society.

In this paper, we will like to explore the Japanese family structure and its transformations, deeply embedded values in individuals and its implications on society.

The Origins of ‘Ie’

The ‘ie’ is an indigenous Japanese term used to describe the Japanese family living system. Similar to the English concept of ‘house’, ‘ie’ refers to residing in a household where members are not necessarily related or restricted by blood ties. Hence, the ‘ie’ can also be understood as a ‘stem family’ or ‘house’.

Based on a model approximated by samurai families in the nineteenth century, this ‘ie’ is supported by an ‘overlay of Confucian ideology’.1 In an attempt to resist growing Western influence in Japan in 1890, an imperial rescript on education defined explicitly the expected values of the system. In essence, one’s loyalty and allegiance to the family is only secondary to that of the Emperor, and he was expected to find ‘his raison d’etre by contributing towards the maintenance and continuance of the family’. These values of the ‘family system’ were propagated and disseminated to the population in an extremely efficient manner and gradually, the model of family relations was also extended to many other areas of life.

Membership in an ‘ie’, like mentioned, is a fluid notion that allows for mobility amongst individuals. Due to the fact that it is not restricted by blood ties, individuals without kinship ties could reside in the same house and occupy roles similar to that of others related by kinship ties. However, though it promises much mobility and flexibility, inferior statuses could be attached to those without kinship ties as compared to those in the core kinship group.

Though the ‘family system’ was later demolished, its values are deeply embedded in many aspects of Japanese culture and life. Therefore, understanding the ‘ie’ and its values is the key to appreciate its modern manifestations in modern Japan.

Characteristics of the ‘Ie’ In the Pre-war Period

In the pre-war period characterized by an agricultural economy, the concept of collectivism was in play where various members of the ‘ie’ contributed to laborious work in the farms to ensure survival of the entire family. Members of the ‘ie’ prioritized the survival of the ‘ie’ before their individual interests. Resulting in a gender division of labor between men and women where men participated in farm work and women in domestic chores, all members shared the joint responsibility of maintaining the ‘ie’.

The typical traditional ‘ie’ was of a large size, consisting of a few generations residing under one roof. There was much concern with family honour and a sense of the ‘ie’ as a unit rather a collection of individuals. Each member of the ‘ie’ was accessed by his/her economic contributions towards the household income, indicating the system’s emphasis on economic pursuit.

One significant feature of the ‘ie’ was that of continuity, the ability to perpetuate itself through generations beyond the life span of any single member to ensure survival of the ‘ie’. This also meant that the ‘ie’ requires a definite heir (usually an offspring who stayed with the parents after marriage) in each generation to continue the family line, usually after the retirement or death of its head. A spouse would be brought in to share the role of continuing the family line, and other members of that generation had a choice to stay in the ‘ie’ or return to it. The system that became codified was that of primogeniture, or inheritance by the eldest son, though regional variations do exist.

The insurance of continuity was of great importance, and various arrangements could be derived to achieve this goal. For instance, in a family with no sons, a son-in-law could be married in to occupy the role of successor to head of the family. In fact, this position of yoshi was a common one for non-inheriting sons from other families. This is illustrated in diagram (a) below.

In another circumstance where there were no children, the man could seek a new spouse, adopt a relative’s child, or the heir could take a concubine to produce an heir. As we can observe, great efforts are taken to ensure that the family line is proliferated.

Younger sons of the family might receive portions of the family property when they establish ‘branch families’, but this was largely considered as a privilege and not an entitlement. These branch households continued to be in a subordinated relationship to the main family, in varying degrees depending on factors such as economic interdependence.

The head of the household was an authoritative figure who managed all affairs of the ‘ie’, though certain tasks and responsibilities could be delegated to other members. The head was legally responsible for his members who were subordinate to him, except under special circumstances such as despotism in which the head could be removed according to decisions of the wide family council. The head also enjoyed privileges whilst other members were ‘hierarchically organized along lines of distinction based on age, sex’4 and other factors. Also, the head aimed to preserve the household resources and passed them to the next generation while honoring the family ancestors through household-based religious practices. Lastly, it was his responsibility to provide members with material sustenance as well as moral guidance.

Females in the pre-war ‘ie’ usually assumed subservient roles. Daughters were married into other families and took of the position of ‘yome’ (bride of the eldest son) which was the lowest in the household. The primary function of a ‘yome’ was to produce heirs and to learn to replicate the ways of her new household under the tutelage of her mother-in-law. She was also expected to engage in the family business and ultimately be the primary caretaker of her aged parents-in-law. It was often only after the bearing of an heir that the bride was accepted into the family. After the parents’ retirement, the son succeeded the role of the head and the wife was then moved to housewife (shufu) status. This invariably gave her responsibilities of household maintenance, resource allocation within the family, and the eventual transmission of knowledge of household maintenance and housekeeping skills to her future daughter-in-law.

The Relations between ‘Ie’

With regards to the relations between ‘ie’, we discuss the concept of the ‘dozoku’. Simply put, the ‘dozoku’ comprised of several households organized into a hierarchical group, consisting the main household (honke) and branch households (bunke, bekke). The principle that branch households were in subordinated positions and owed allegiance to the main households was exploited in this pre-war image that depicted every house in the nation as a branch of the imperial family line.

Therefore, the ‘ie’ system and its values were powerful tools to reinforce an allegiance to the Emperor by creating an image of the country with the imperial family as the ultimate main household with every house in the nation as branch households.

Characteristics of the ‘Ie’ in the Immediate Postwar

In the immediate post-war period, traditional families were fragmented due to the aftermath of World War II. Their primary concern was to meet basic needs like food, clothing and shelter for survival. The economic reform in the form of industrialization also acted as a catalyst and provided the impulse for families to downsize to smaller units, giving trends to the formation of nuclear families.

Yet, the principles of nationalism and sense of togetherness were still deemed important by the Japanese government. The doctrine of Japanese Confucianism, which states that family stability as essential to national stability, was promoted to the masses. In other words, every family unit was vital to the nation’s survival.

In addition, the Japanese government made concerted effort to promote unity and equality between husband and wife within households. According to the “new constitution of May 1947, it was written that marriage shall be based on the mutual consent of both sexes and it shall be maintained through mutual cooperation with the equal rights of husbands and wife as a basis”5, thereby abolishing the patriarchal authority of the head of the ‘ie’ legally.

Characteristics of the ‘Ie’ between 1950s and 1970s

The ‘ie’ has a positive impact on the industrialization of Japan as it provided a ready supply of young labor force for economic growth in urban areas of Japan. Since the younger sons of the Japanese families had no rights to inheritance from the household head and generally growing increasingly disinterested in farm work, they were more willing to enter the new industrial markets. With the assurance from their family that they would be taken care of during difficult times, many of them took positive steps to leave the family to seek an independent livelihood in the cities. Consequently, the younger workforce no longer contributed to the pooled income of their households; instead, the income was kept for personal consumption. However, this migration of young workers from the rural to urban led to a shortage in supply of household labor for agricultural work.

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In the late 1950s and the 1960s, we saw the development of the ‘salaryman family’. This family structure consisted of a wage-earning husband who worked outside the home, typically outside the neighborhood, his wife and their children. The husband played the role of a breadwinner and worked long hours most days of the week, whilst the wife enjoyed more autonomy and freedom in the management of the household (without the immediate tutelage of her mother-in-law).

As for the 1970s, both genders enjoyed more opportunities of self actualization as men sought for career advancement and job satisfaction and women were liberated from their traditional roles. A new phenomenon called the ‘new family’ emerged, where the young husbands participated more actively in family life.

Children who were born in this decade had no experience of wartime hardships and therefore had differing values from past generations. Similar to current day Singapore children, Japanese children of that generation lived in much comfort and ease. Especially with reference to romantic relationships, they were introduced to the concept of ‘love marriages’ due to the influx of new American media.

Households of Today

The values embedded in the ‘ie’ have manifested in modern Japanese society in various forms. However, there have been some changes as individuals have made adaptations on par with societal changes.

To begin, more individuals are placing personal interests before welfare of family. For instance, some individuals have chosen to stay single in the pursuit of personal material consumption, whilst others have kept to small families to maintain a particular standard of living. These have resulted in serious social problems such as decreasing marriage rate and low birth rate.

Though the individuals of today enjoy more freedom in making individual choices, the Japanese society generally view extreme individualism with alarm and cite American’s social problems such as high divorce rate, drugs and homelessness as reasons to justify their rejection of the American model as ideal.

Koseki (Family Register System)

Since the restoration of the emperor in 1868, there has been implementation of policies aimed at modernizing the country. A thorough household registration system called koseki, was established. Serving as a kind of census, it allowed the government to keep track of the members of each household. The registration was primarily used to meet the political or military needs of local lords. The central government also used it for taxing and enlisting citizens for military service.

There are 2 kinds of koseki available. A koseki touhon refers to a copy or duplicate of information containing the names of family members and even their extended family such as relatives. The relationships between these people are clearly recorded in the koseki touhon as well. The koseki shouhon is a piece of register which encompasses more detailed information such as names and other personal particulars like date and place of birth, profession, conviction, personal status circles of relatives and parents’ particulars. Depending on their preferences, migrants may or may not retain their koseki in the original area. Some migrants prefer to register the koseki in their new residing place again. Any other changes in the particulars must be notified and changed with the local municipal authority. The household head is responsible for updating the particulars of the individual members. This includes reporting a birth or death in the family. The failure to do so will cause the household head to be penalized.

The koseki, though confidentially kept by the municipal authority, can be retrieved by various governmental authorities for official uses. It can also be utilized by employers who will consider an individual’s family background when recruiting employees. Retrieval of information must be processed with an application form stating the reasons for the retrieval. This is because the koseki is extremely important and private and therefore have to be kept with care. On a case to case basis, the local municipal authority or the mayor has the right to reject an application if he feels that the reasons are inappropriate.

As the Japanese do not have the legal right to obscure their information, some people thus have been affected by the koseki system when their personal information and historical family background have been exposed to others for various reasons. To them, it is an intrusion of their personal life. For example, an employer can scrutinize a potential employee’s family background and history, and then infer from the koseki, the applicant’s characteristics, personality and social standing of the family. They will then assess the applicant’s suitability for a particular job. This may be a negative usage of the koseki when the personal background and information are not reflective of the applicant’s suitability. This affects the individual’s opportunities if his career has been restricted due to his family background. This exemplifies a close link between one’s private and public sphere in the Japanese society. The usage of the koseki reiterates the importance of the family as a basic unit in the society.

House designs

The traditional Japanese houses were usually built of wood and rooms were divided by paper-covered lattice work, with much of the other walls being composed of similar, stronger, sliding doors. These rooms afford little privacy and true enough; the traditional ‘ie’ were not expected to be provided ‘personal spaces’. The houses were built with the intention of accommodating the whole ‘ie’ as an extended family.

The design of the houses has changed in line with the changes in the perception of household. Comparatively, moderns homes are now usually for smaller families; usually 1 or 2 generation. Extended families are often not included within the house. It is also more feasible in the land-scarce major cities like Tokyo and Osaka. We can note interestingly, however, that in Kurotsuchi, households still maintain the Japanese tatami woven-rush matting areas to hold formal gatherings.

There are goals set by the government for one housing unit per family or even 1 room per person (that is, a four-person family living in a four-room housing unit). However, this goal has not been reached mainly because the cost of housing is high.


Other than all the issues mentioned above, the media plays a crucial role in portraying power and division of work in the family. All these stereotypical representations of gender and family relationships by the media are self-reinforcing the ideal gender and family ideology in the deeply patriarchal society.

Media also reflects changes in mindset of people. For example, Croissant, a women’s magazine targeting young working women in their twenties, featured articles on the single women from the late 1970s to early 1980s. The gist of these articles was that women need not rush into marriage and that they should seek other satisfactions from accomplishing professional and leisure goals first, ignoring the pressure to marry. These changes in mindset are consequences of the influence of industrialization and westernization in Japan.

In the recent times, more young Japanese are increasingly choosing satisfaction in life over the demands of tradition as a result of increasing individualization as they are financially independent. As a result, Japanese divorce rates starts to soar. Over the past decade, growing numbers of highly educated and successful professional women have challenged that assumption by turning their backs on unhappy marriages and braving the taboo of divorce.

The following paragraphs show the synopsis of Japanese dramas and its social implications and family representations:

Tokyo Cinderella Story, 1994

Tokyo Cinderella Story tells the story of a poor peasant girl (Yukiko) who comes to Tokyo to work and falls in love with a rich businessman (Masashi) who is to inherit the business from his father. To be with the one he loves, Masashi would have to turn down his arranged marriage to a rich girl and incur the wrath of his father. The concept of continuity of the ‘ie’ is seen as the eldest son is expected to inherit the business and to continue the family line. He must also prioritize the survival of the business and livelihood of employees before his personal desires.
This same concept is carried even to the workplace where there are high hopes that the son can continue with the family business. Social standing is important and thus, he is to be arranged to be married to a woman of a reputable background. A person’s social standing will also affect his or her chances in life just like how Yukiko is viewed negatively because she is not born into a rich family.

Forbidden love, 2000

The secret love affair between a teacher and a student catches the eye of society and is condemned by the society. Michi, the female lead has to face society’s judgment upon her as a corruptor of a minor. This reflects the intertwining of a person’s private and social life and how one can affects the other. She is also condemned for leaving her fiancée and setting a bad example to her students. Her family is greatly shamed in the process as well. She would have to go through many obstacles before she can end up with the one she loves.

A teacher-student relation is still stigmatized in society and it has the ability to cause great unhappiness to the various social institutions be it her family or the school. We see how the family name is valued leading to Michi’s father’s outraged at her daughter’s behavior and the shame she brings upon the family.


Mama’s Genes, 2003

A show that is reasonably current is Mama’s Genes which shows how a 35 year old mother and wife tries to come to grips with her wants and needs; a job, a better relationship with her mother-in-law and good schools for her children. The show captures the struggles of a female in the society today who is torn between tradition and self interests. Women of Japan are still expected to perform their ‘wifely’ duties in managing the needs of her family. A Japanese woman today would be more educated and there is a higher likelihood that they would pursue a career.

Under One Roof, 1993

Under One Roof is a heart-warming show about 6 children who have lost their parents living under the same roof. Even after they discover that one of the family members is not a blood kin, they can accept her as part of the household unit. The show exemplifies the importance of the household unit as a support network for the Japanese and highlights the quality of family unity.

Shotgun Marriage, 2001

Ryoko Hirosue stars as Chiyo, 20, a department store clerk, whose first encounter with Ryunosuke (Yutaka Takenouchi), 30, leads to a pregnancy. Although of different worlds, the young couple falls in love. But Chiyo’s father does not want them to get married. After eight months of struggles and growing up, he finally gives his approval. The reality about the current Japan society where pre-marital sex or the idea of romantic love is getting very prevalent is exposed in this drama. The themes of young pregnancy and single parenthood are well explored in the drama. It appears that the youngsters today are more open to accepting such ideologies.

Portrayal of women in the media

The media do create poster women for mothers. In the past, Matsuda Seiko, a popular singer, did not retire at the birth of her child and took only a short maternity leave before resuming her stage and recording work. Matsuda’s resumption of her career generated a mostly negative response from the media: she was labeled a geinojin (show businessperson) feminist and a bad mother. Rather than settling into married bliss, she was reported to have been involved with reportedly dozens of men as well.

In contrast, in recent years we have pop icon Amuro Namie who was pregnant before a widely publicized marriage. Within a short while, she filed for divorce. The irony is that her fans can accept her as she returns to showbiz.

We can infer that there have been some changes overtime in the mindset of people in Japan of the acceptability of a woman in continuing her career after marriage and giving birth. The society could not accept Matsuda Seiko because of her career-mindedness and her lack of responsibility in fulfilling her role as an ideal wife during her time.

Comparatively, in the recent years after the effect of westernization, Amuro was put in a sympathetic light by the media. Society appears to be more accepting because they sympathize with her failure in marriage. The fans marvel at her strong will to work and be independent while having to bring up a child. Over time, age-old taboos seem to give way as the rate of divorces grows in Japan. Divorces in Japan have more than doubled, from just over 95,000 in 1970 to 206,955 in 1996, according to health ministry statistics. One in three Japanese marriages now ends in divorce.

An evaluation of the ‘ie’

The concept of the ‘ie’ might have changed, but its ideologies and principles are largely used in studies with respect to other areas of society. These ideologies are often contrasted and compared with other family models to substantiate the ‘uniqueness’ of the Japanese cultural identity.

One of the main characteristics that conceptualizes the ‘ie’ is the idea of continuity. As quoted – “it is independent of the individuals who pass through and the primary duties of the living members are to honor the ancestors who went before them and ensure that descendants will follow after them.” How they do that is to continue to hold rites for those who are dead or remember them by placing alters in the homes.

There was great pressure to have an heir so that he could inherit everything under the household and assume leadership. It is important to the Japanese that someone continues the line of the ‘ie’. If there were no males available, the husband of a daughter could replace that role or children can be adopted. Therefore, love was not of primary importance to a marriage. People will rather keep to the continuity and harmony.

Two anthropological studies document the strong ties of obligation and ideological continuity persisting at the highest level in Japanese families regardless of living arrangements. One of these recounts the way that women agree to and cope with strategic marriages within the long-standing business families that stand at the pinnacle of enormous Japanese corporations (Hamabata 1990). The other is about families of the former nobility, officially dissolved in 1947, but still acting out their lives as representatives of important social elites in Japanese society, notably because of the depth of their family line (Lebra 1993).8 The same idea of continuity is carried across to even the workplace where many Japanese still hold firmly to the ideology of lift-long employment.

The cohesiveness of the ‘ie’ as a household unit highlights the quality of unity among the Japanese. This can be a positive quality for Japan as the job of governing groups of people with vested interest is comparatively easier than governing the interest of many separate individuals. How the Japanese will rather put aside their self-interest for a consensus within the family lowers the occurrence of family conflicts as well. The flipside of this quality is also the inefficiencies that are brought about. For example, the process of coming to a common consensus may be time-consuming and the voices of good advices by some individuals may be drowned by the majority.

A group cannot function well without a leader and for the ‘ie’, the household head was their leader. Economically, the household head played an important role. He was the central authority figure. He controlled the income and had full powers over the family’s consumption while the rest of the family would work to contribute to the total income- the question of individual incomes did not arise. The women were also taught to submit and obey the men. Their prime obedience were first to their fathers, then to their husband and husband’s family and finally when widowed, to their son.

Similarly, we know that on a slightly more macro level, main household could have many branch households within its umbrella that will take to the instructions and direction of the main households. All these shaped the culture of obedience to authority in various aspect of Japanese’s life as well.

However if we were to evaluate on a deeper value, what this entails is also that the idea of human inequality and sexual discrimination is perpetuated in the ‘ie’ model. The issue of gender equality is also something that is often discussed. Males are generally favored over the daughters and often they are considered to be inessential to their families. A famous phase which nearly summed up the ideal family: “one to sell, one to take over, one to stand by” best illustrate the picture. The eldest son would take hold of the main inheritance while the younger son received some help or formed sub-branches to the main branch. The daughter whom they hope to be born first is so that they can help with the housework when their siblings are growing up.

In a male-oriented ‘ie’ system it required considerable expenditure to provision a girl for marrying off and even after marriage, the family might have to supply clothes and pocket money to help her establish a standing in her new family. Thus, no one wanted large number of girls in their family. In poorer families, they will rather sell their daughters as domestic helpers or get them to earn low wages as cotton operatives for example. This was the family structure which produced the girl workers who gave the cotton industry its vital role in the in industrialization of Japan. In this way, the ‘ie’ system prevented human equality and created sexual discrimination within the families in which Japanese are born and brought up.

Traditionally, marriages were liaison between households and the married couple had no say in the arrangement. After the marriage, the couple will move in with the husband’s family and the male head of the household was in position of absolute authority over other members of the household. The women were often at everyone’s beck and call and also responsible for household chores and occupation.

In modern day context, the wife is often known as the professional housewife and her main role is to budget in the family’s finances and take care of all the needs of her family. In most homes, the mother is the dominant figure and takes on most of the responsibilities for raising the children. Some of them may even have to do it while holding a job outside. For the husband, his role was to work long hours and bring home money. Since he rarely sees the children during the week, he is sometimes called the ‘Sunday friend’. However with the on-going recession, some husbands have more available time and they are starting to spend more time with the family.

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These ideologies created status distinctions through the ranking of the ‘main’ and the ‘branch’ families that broke off and also, the ranking of people of different extent of power within the household unit. A sense of hierarchy in within family is also observed through the different terms of address. Brothers and sisters are always distinguished according to age, and this model is transferred into wider relations between children. Generally, the inferior members address superior ones with a term of relationship while superior ones can use personal names. This form of distinction is carried into other spheres of life as well, for instance the workplace and community.

There is a system of hierarchy also because each member knows the roles that they had to play specifically in the family. Like mentioned also, other forms of hierarchy within the household occur as members followed the authority of the household head. Some examples are as such- the head house followed by the men usually had priority for bath time and had special seats allocated for them at meals. Women will eat only after the needs of the men were already taken care of.

There is great care to protect the interest and reputation of the ‘ie’ and anyone who tarnished the name ran into risk of being thrown out of the ‘ie’. To secure the social standing of a household, many betroth their children at a young age to find suitable alliance upper-class families. There was usually an occupation tied to the ‘ie’ and this affected their social standing in society. Members of the ‘ie’ try to continue maintaining that but this has been threatened with the change of what defines a household in the current society. In recent times, education also seems to be more of the way to decide where one’s position in society is.

Respect or indebtedness found in the parent-child relation is rooted in Confucius’ teaching. The terms aiji and joai is used to describe love between parents and children but often it is referred as the honor and respect accrued to it. Traditionally, the care parents give their children is known as ‘on’. Children were expected to give unconditional obedience to parents and also to care for them repaying this ‘debt’. A famous proverb is “Fubo no on wa yami yori takai takaku umi yori mo fukai”- which means that your parents’ grace is higher than the mountain and deeper than the oceans.10 The extent of the debt of children to parents is emphasized in the country where many owe all their land and livelihood to their positions as successors.

The importance of this traditional relationship is said to be used as model to many other relationships in society such as between master and pupil, employer and employee, in politics or even underworld activities. We feel that that idea of respect and indebtedness can have a positive influence on society with the onset of aging population in Japan and ease the load of welfare on the government.

The Family in the Rural Communities

On a more macroscopic perspective, we began our discussion on the relation between the Japanese family and community. Despite being a minority in the overall Japanese population now, the rural community is still deemed important as the sites of production of Japan’s staple food are regarded as a significant source of tradition.

In modern rural communities, the vast evolution of machinery and other farming products like chemical fertilizers has freed labor from rice production. Consequently, young people have left the villages to pursue work in the cities.

In this modern rural community, every household plays an equal part to ensure its continuity. At village meetings, communal activities and all village obligations, one member of each household is required to attend as a representation of that household. In fact, much neighborly interaction is also carried out between houses and not individuals. This implies an emphasis of the households and communities as a whole over the individual, strengthening the value of teamwork.

The cooperative and equalizing nature of the households as promoted by the village is reflected in its system of rotation of tasks and responsibilities. Every household will take turns to be in charge of community duties, for instance, the settlement of disputes or collection of dues. The way the tasks is circulated to everyone also encourages roles sharing as well as roles taking.

With regards to relationships between neighbors in this wider community, strong links are often developed especially amongst immediate neighbors though they may not be personal friends. This is largely due to close proximity that increases chance interactions; also, immediate neighbors are usually the ones to rely on in times of need and emergencies.

As we can see, participation of the family in the rural community fosters a sense of membership, along which comes with a series of obligations and responsibilities. Membership is beneficial primarily because it brings security in the face of danger and comfort in times of need. However, any one house can be called regularly to send members to participate in tasks, activities and exchanges, most of the time without a choice.

Extended family sitting outdoors smiling

The Family in the Urban Communities

The most distinct difference in urban communities as compared to rural ones is one of choice. In urban communities, life is generally much less constrained in terms of participation in neighborly activities. Their social networks revolves around their various spheres of life, for instance, those who commute long distances to work may relax in bars in the vicinity of train stations, and enjoy totally different company for shopping and dining. However, the neighborhood communities still have a role to play in their lives. In one community for instance, the urban Japanese still maintain a level of neighborhood cohesiveness in organizing themselves to secure acceptable services for their community.

Many organizations with same names and functions as those in the rural communities exist in the urban community. Examples of these organizations include a senior citizen’s group, a festive community, and a women’s group. Festivals are especially important events because they bring out families to be members of a community together to celebrate all over Japan and foster a community identity.

Knowing and caring for one’s neighbors are principles that have been strongly upheld in Japanese community life and they are still relevant in modern Japanese society today. One underlying and most significant value enforced by families in community is the strict sharing of duties between houses. It reiterates the prevalent principles of equality and cooperation of the families within the community.


Every society undergoes perpetual changes and the process is a dynamic one. The Japanese society is of no exception. Over the years, the Japanese family system has undergone various changes due to other forces within and beyond society. One example of the former is that of industrialization and one of the latter is the growth of western influence. In some instances, some traditional values are still the governing principles of daily life whilst in others; individuals have made adaptations to the values to suit current context.


Moon, Okpyo. 1989, From Paddy Field to Ski Slope: The Revitalisation of Tradition in Japanese Village Life, Manchester University Press, esp ch. 5-6.

Akitoshi Shimizu, Ie and Dozoku: Family and Descent in Japan, Current Anthropology, 28(4), Supplement: An Anthropological Profile of Japan (Aug-Oct 1987), s85-s90
Bachnik, Jane 1983, Man, ‘Recruitment Strategies for Household Succession: rethinking Japanese household organisation’ . pp 160-82 18(1)

Bachnik, Jane and Charles Quinn (eds) Situated Meaning, inside and outside in Japanese self, society and language. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Befu, Harumi, 1981, Japan: An Anthropological Introduction, Chandler, ch. 2.

Dore, Ronald, 1999, City Life in Japan: A Study of Tokyo Ward, Richmond, Surrey: Japan Library, pp. 91-18

Fukutake, T., 1989, The Japanese Social Structure: Its Evolution in the Modern Century, University of Tokyo Press, ch. 3-5

Hamabata, Matthews M. 1994, “The battle to belong: self-sacrifice and self-fulfillment in the Japanese family enterprise”.

Hendry, Joy, “Marriage in Changing Japan”, Croom Helm, Community and Society, ch. 1, 3.

Hinorobu Kitaoji, 1971, American Anthropologist, Vol 73(5), pp 1036-1057

Kawamura, Nozomu 1989, “The transition of the household system in Japan’s modernization”, in Y. Sugimoto and R.E. Mouer, Constructs for understanding Japan, London and New York: Kegan Paul International.

Nishikawa Yuko, “The Modern Japanese Family System: Unique or Universal?” in D. Denoon, M Hudson, G. McCormack, Multicultural Japan: Palaeolithic to postmodern, New York: Cambridge University.

Nakane, Chie, 1967, Kinship and Economic Organisation in Rural Japan, London: Athlone Press. Ch 1, 3, 4, conclusion.

Okimoto, Daniel and Rohlen, Thomas, 1988, Inside the Japanese System: Readings on Contemporary Society and Political Economy, Stanford University Press, ch.1-2.

Smith, R. and Beardsley (eds), 1962, Japanese Culture: Its development and characteristics Chicago: Aldine, esp Befu and Kitano articles.

Tomoko Hamada, Absent Fathers, Feminized Sons, Selfish Mothers and Disobedient Daughters: Revisiting the Japanese Ie Household, JPRI Working Paper No. 33

Vogel, Ezra, 1963, Japan’s New Middle Class: The salary Man and His Family in a Tokyo Suburb, California University Press, pp. 165-253.

White, Merry, 2002, Perfectly Japanese: Making Families in an era of upheaval, Berkeley: University of California Press.

Yanagisako, S. 1979, “Family and household: the analysis of domestic groups” in Annual Review of Anthropology 8

Joy Hendry, 2003, “Understanding Japanese Society”, Routledge Curzon

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About the author

Nadia Petrova

I'm running this blog because I love Japanese culture, especially the art of geisha. When I was a little girl, I used to dream of becoming a geisha myself. In my spare time, I enjoy watching good anime and reading some manga.

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