White 2011.pdf - 10 Change and diversity in the Japanese...

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129 Introduction Families in Japan have as many stories to tell as there are social classes, historical cultures, legal codes, economic conditions, and ultimately as there are families. The title of this essay should have the last three words in quotation marks: it would be easier to discuss Japanese family life if there were™ a “Japanese family.” What makes it a singular idea of family is the force of ideology and power promoting that ideology; a storyline of what family should be, rather than what it is. Observations over time reveal the complexity of ordinary lives – and the impossibility of describ- ing “the Japanese family.” We will treat the expectations of and the realities for families over time, the socio-economic conditions with which, or under which, families might be described. From the start of the Meiji period (1868–1912), the idea of a “Japanese family” became a matter of state concern in the establishment of a modernizing nation. Before that era and that concern, families had their principles and traditions, and their varying capacities to live up to those, but there was no singular script. Families in Japan since that era have been framed by the needs of the state but their actual conditions lie in realities often quite different from those implied – or desired – by the framers. Families everywhere are “designed” by the social institutions that states provide, and often fail to be accommodated by them. The models offered to families were highly class and region specific. Peasants might indeed live on the same land for generations but rules of inheritance and family roles would not have been the same as for land-owning samurai. In Japan since the late nineteenth century, diversity along many dimensions has been downplayed in favor of an imag- ined homogeneity. People’s lives do not sort as easily as the Confucian social ethic would array them. Fewer people than ever live in three-generation households, fewer children have siblings, and the stay-at-home mother may become a historical relic. A long history of adjustment and accommodation (mostly on the side of the families them- selves) now appears to be reaching its limits as attempts to mask the realities of change and diversity have taxed families severely. In Japan the normative concept of “Family” is far from normal family life as it is lived on the ground. Public rhetoric and political agenda for the family are based in a combination of older scripted ideas, honored more in texts than in life, and the 10 Change and diversity in the Japanese family Merry White Bestor, Victoria, Theodore C. Bestor, and Akiko Yamagata. Routledge Handbook of Japanese Culture and Society, edited by Victoria Bestor, et al., Taylor and Francis, 2011. ProQuest Ebook Central, .
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