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Above the Clouds

Above the Clouds: Status Culture of the Modern Japanese Nobility

Copyright Date: 1993
Pages: 430
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  • Book Info
    Above the Clouds
    Book Description:

    This latest work from Japanese-born anthropologist Takie Sugiyama Lebra is the first ethnographic study of the modern Japanese aristocracy. Established as a class at the beginning of the Meiji period, thekazokuranked directly below the emperor and his family. Officially dissolved in 1947, this group of social elites is still generally perceived as nobility. Lebra gained entry into this tightly knit circle and conducted more than one hundred interviews with its members. She has woven together a reconstructive ethnography from their life histories to create an intimate portrait of a remote and archaic world. As Lebra explores the culture of thekazoku, she places each subject in its historical context. She analyzes the evolution of status boundaries and the indispensable role played by outsiders. But this book is not simply about the elite. It is also about commoners and how each stratum mirrors the other. Revealing previously unobserved complexities in Japanese society, it also sheds light on the universal problem of social stratification.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-91179-6
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Tables
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. List of Illustrations
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Orthographic Note on Japanese Words
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  6. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-xviii)
  7. ONE Studying the Aristocracy: Why, What, and How?
    (pp. 1-27)

    On May 15, 1947, some two hundred titled noblemen gathered in the imperial palace to hear words of farewell from His Majesty, who in the previous year had already renounced his “divine” status and assumed a human role. Twelve days before, the new constitution had come into effect, designed to ensure universal equality under the law. The titles and prerogatives of the nobility were thus revoked, and the former elite became commoners like everybody else: the wordcommonerwas now obsolete. This abolished aristocracy of modern Japan is the subject of the present book.¹ My aim is to reconstruct the...

  8. TWO Creating the Modern Nobility: The Historical Legacy
    (pp. 28-61)

    The basic structure of the nobility under study came into formal existence in 1884 as the result of an imperial ordinance called thekazokurei.¹ The embryo had taken shape fifteen years before, which calls us back to the dawn of Japan’s modern era, the Meiji Restoration.

    The Meiji Restoration, launched in 1868, was a turmoil of sociopolitical events and transitions. When the Tokugawa shogunate, which had endured for over two and a half centuries, was defeated in the civil war of 1868–69, it collapsed, together with its feudal system of control. The winning camp thrust the thus-far marginalized imperial...

  9. THREE Ancestors: Constructing Inherited Charisma
    (pp. 62-105)

    Members of the hereditary elite, by definition, owe their status to their ancestors. Kazoku life histories are indeed shaped by the weight of ancestors, which is still felt in one way or another. It is fitting, therefore, to begin our analysis with images of ancestors held by descendants. By linking the living generation to bygone generations, this chapter exhibits the continuous aspect of life experience, keeping it more or less separate from wartime and postwar events that dislocated all Japanese, including the kazoku. Discontinuity and transformation are thus reserved for the following chapters.

    We have already met kazoku ancestors in...

  10. FOUR Successors: Immortalizing the Ancestors
    (pp. 106-146)

    Ancestor worshippers in Japan mention as a major reason for their devotion the debt they owe their forebears for their very existence. Certainly they would not have come to life without their ancestors, but neither would the ancestors have continued to exist without descendants. Essential to the ancestor cult is the interdependence of ascending and descending generations. (Ancestor worship, then, implies the worship of descendants as well.) Devotion to ancestors is demonstrated by perpetuating their legacies through a continuous line of generations of descendants. For reasons to be spelled out below, the perpetuation of ancestors is conceived as “succession,” and...

  11. FIVE Life-Style: Markers of Status and Hierarchy
    (pp. 147-195)

    Turning away from the last two chapters’ focus on death, the deceased, and ancestors, this chapter looks into the routine life of the latest generations that still “live” in the memories of informants. In contrast to our interest thus far on the time depth of ancestor-successor relations, let us now orient ourselves to the spatial breadth of life conditions. The following pages will, I hope, succeed in translating the previous chapters into a more tangible, this-worldly level of experience with respect to where, how, and with whom our subjects lived. By delineating salient markers of aristocratic life-styles I hope to...

  12. Plates
    (pp. None)
  13. SIX Marriage: Realignment of Women and Men
    (pp. 196-242)

    In discussing ancestors and successors in chapters 3 and 4, we took individual households as units of analysis, and emphasis was on the lineal continuity of each household. While marriage, too, could be seen in the same light as instrumental to the production of legitimate successors to the house, this chapter examines matrimony more as a realignment between households (or househeads), involving cross-generational discontinuity and the reconstitution of the unit house through an outsider’s entry as well as the departure of nonsuccessor insiders. Although marriage is the primary topic here, adoption or a combination of adoption and marriage (son-in-law adoption)...

  14. SEVEN Socialization: Acquisition and Transmission of Status Culture
    (pp. 243-284)

    The kazoku status, to be hereditary, had to have its culture carried on by successive generations. Chapters 3-6 conveyedwhatthat status culture was like; this chapter will considerhowit was acquired by or transmitted to kazoku members, with a main, but not exclusive, focus on the child. To the extent that “what” cannot be separated from “how,” some redundancy, particularly with chapter 5, will be unavoidable, especially in regard to who socialized kazoku children.

    The socialization influence flows both vertically—downward from superiors or seniors, or upward from inferiors or juniors (as when a kazoku master was influenced...

  15. EIGHT Status Careers: Privilege and Liability
    (pp. 285-333)

    We have examined how kazoku children were reared and trained in the home, boarding houses, and schools; let us now take up their adult careers. In so doing, we will be more in touch with the public realm, which so far has been treated largely as the ground for private, domestic life. By placing kazoku in the public arena, and by paying attention to institutional as well as individual biographies, we will gain a better idea of how the upper layer of Japan’s social structure as a whole was shaped.

    The main question here is whether kazoku status in any...

  16. NINE Conclusion
    (pp. 334-355)

    To conclude this ethnographic journey, I will attempt to pull together salient features of the hereditary status and hierarchy that have appeared and reappeared across the preceding chapters. In the introduction we encountered a series of oppositional concepts presented for interpretational purposes; here these oppositions will be useful again for drawing some generalizations. The second half of this chapter sums up the relationship between emperors and aristocrats—for, as we have seen, the emperor is an important focal point for the aristocracy. Here I reconsider the idea that the kazoku served as a sort of hanpei (bulwark) for the imperial...

  17. Epilogue: The End of Shōwa
    (pp. 356-362)

    Emperor Shōwa’s terminal illness and eventual demise on January 7, 1989, threw Japan into a state of shock, as judged from the media coverage of the widespreadjishuku(voluntary abstinence from festivity and entertainment) and prayer and mourning. Thereafter, open debates about the emperor and the imperial institution as a whole ensued, and publications began to fill the bookstores. The loudest voices came from two extremes: from the strongly pro-emperor advocates on the right, and the anti-emperor critics on the left. One camp demanded a constitutional amendment to redeify the emperor, while the other took Shōwa’s death as an opportunity...

  18. Notes
    (pp. 363-382)
  19. Glossary
    (pp. 383-394)
  20. References
    (pp. 395-408)
  21. Index
    (pp. 409-430)