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Perfectly Japanese

Perfectly Japanese: Making Families in an Era of Upheaval

Merry Isaacs White
Copyright Date: 2002
Pages: 265
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  • Book Info
    Perfectly Japanese
    Book Description:

    Are Japanese families in crisis? In this dynamic and substantive study, Merry Isaacs White looks back at two key moments of "family making" in the past hundred years—the Meiji era and postwar period—to see how models for the Japanese family have been constructed. The models had little to do with families of their eras and even less to do with families today, she finds. She vividly portrays the everyday reality of a range of families: young married couples who experience fleeting togetherness until the first child is born; a family separated by job shifts; a family with a grandmother as babysitter; a marriage without children.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93659-1
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Figures
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. INTRODUCTION: Are Japanese Families in Crisis?
    (pp. 1-16)

    The power of official versions of family life in Japan—the patriarchal Confucian lineage family, the home as the source of respite, solace, and nurturance—startled me when I brought my young son, age two months, to Tokyo in 1978 for a conference on women’s studies. My son’s picture appeared for three days running in a national newspaper as evidence of his mother’s dangerous feminist priorities. The articles argued that I had put him at risk by bringing him half a world away from the paternal roof and before the end of the traditional three months’ “seclusion” period guaranteeing the...

  6. PART ONE Making Family:: A Nation Begins at Home

    • CHAPTER 1 Why Families Are a National Security Issue
      (pp. 19-41)

      An official at the Ministry of Health and Welfare listened as I asked about apparently “pronatalist” social policies, seeming to many to be strategies for increasing the birthrate. He leaned back in his chair, laughed, and said, “No, we don’t have to do that. We don’t need to have any such policies because the local areas are doing it for us!” The government relies on local programs and incentives to implement its messages to procreate, care for the elderly, and thus support the future of Japan. Indeed, the future of the nation is at stake, but the nation cannot dictate...

    • CHAPTER 2 Family under Construction: One Hundred Years at Home
      (pp. 42-62)

      When I first began to study Japan in the early 1960s, the postwar economy had not yet reached takeoff and the material lives of ordinary people were still modest. In 1963, my hostess invited few guests outside the family into her small and sparsely furnished home that was not yet stacked floor to ceiling with consumer goods as it would be a decade later. Except for radios and the occasional “automatic” washing machine, families had few of the modern appliances then common among American middle-class families. Their Japanese counterparts had no cars or air conditioners and few television sets. Carpeting...

    • CHAPTER 3 Families in Postwar Japan: Democracy and Reconstruction
      (pp. 63-96)

      Kanda Michiko lives with her husband and two daughters in rural Gumma Prefecture. Her husband’s family left them their land and an old farmhouse that her husband, Masa, a contractor and carpenter, has been renovating. Most people, he says, would have torn it down and built a completely new house, but he loves working around the old structure, admiring the craftsmanship and adding, supporting, and replacing. He has expanded the ground floor, added an extra bathroom, and above all, to the visitor’s eye, reveled in craftsmanlike decoration. He is an expert in filigreed wooden screenwork and he has created detailed...

  7. PART TWO Containing Elements

    • CHAPTER 4 Elemental Families: Starting with Children
      (pp. 99-121)

      A reporter from a Japanese news magazine asked me, “Why do Americans who are having their first child say they’restarting a family?In Japan, having a child doesn’t start a family: family goes on, it’s all around you, backward and forward—it’s like the air.¹ To her, this suggested that children must be more important in America than in Japan. She said that Americans without children must feel they have no family but also that if it takes the birth (or adoption) of a child to begin one, the American notion of family is shallow and impoverished. Family to...

    • CHAPTER 5 Life Choices for Women and Men: The Bounded Realities of Reproduction
      (pp. 122-153)

      Yanagihara Kazuko, the mother of two sons thirteen and ten years old, sat on a curb in front of the Hawaii Prince Hotel at the yacht basin in Honolulu, surrounded by supporters protesting a yacht race on August 3, 1998. Ten years earlier, Kazuko had been dismissed from the Japanese company sponsoring the race, a manufacturer of audiovisual electronic goods such as video players. She had been working for the company for thirteen years and was pregnant with her second child. Her boss had tried to get her to resign. Finally, the company ordered her transfer to a location necessitating...

    • CHAPTER 6 Twenty-First-Century Blues: Aging in Families
      (pp. 154-180)

      Honma Shigeru is eighty-two; his wife Shizuko is seventy-nine. They are reasonably healthy and live in a small condominium in the building where their eldest son lives. They try to be independent of the younger generation, which means trying not to ask for things explicitly. Their daughter-in-law, however, fills the gap by providing much they do not have to ask for, allowing them to keep their dignity as they unprotestingly accept the evening meal she brings them. They live on Honma-san’s pension and savings. Their son worries constantly about what will happen when one of his parents dies, especially if...

  8. PART THREE Consuming as Survival

    • CHAPTER 7 Marketing the Bite-Size Family: Consuming Images, Supporting Realities
      (pp. 183-204)

      The essence of nostalgia is in the creation of personalized, perfect images of the past, locating this wholeness in a particular place and time. Nostalgia invades the present too: brooding over contemporary experience and conditions—over deviations seen or made from the perfect model—can inflect attempts to fix the present. In Japan, imagined families are more than sentimental references to the past; they are also potent means of holding the present accountable.

      The young woman holding a package wrapped in an old-fashioned patterned cloth, we imagine, has gone “home” to her grandparents in the country and holds a traditional...

  9. CONCLUSION: Exceptions Are the Rule Families as Models of Diversity
    (pp. 205-212)

    To those concerned with the falling birthrate and the care of the elderly, twenty-first-century families may look like patched arrangements among people sharing residence. What is obvious from the cases we have seen, however, is that even without the internal structure and values approved by official ideologies, these families are more than congeries of individuals going it alone together.

    The Fujimuras of the 1990s, like the Maruyamas a century earlier, function in spite of rather than because of a heavy-handed family code. In the Maruyamas’ multigenerational household, negotiations and strategies of family management refer little to orthodoxy, much more to...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 213-228)
  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 229-244)
  12. Index
    (pp. 245-255)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 256-256)