Family and State Power in Meiji and Postwar Japan: From Family as Corporation to Company as Family




Ruszel, Julian

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My initial vision for this research was to study the history of family in modern Japan in order to better understand collectivist family structures and their relationship to the forces of westernization and individualistic, free market-oriented neoliberal socioeconomic policies that have become increasingly prominent in Japan since the 1980s. Interestingly, recent literature on the history of family in Japan reveals that what is commonly understood as the “traditional” Japanese family—called the ie (pronounced ee-ay) family—is very much a political construct that was institutionalized in Japan’s Meiji period (1868-1912; named after the reigning emperor), in the Japanese Civil Code of 1896. The ie is a neo-Confucian, patriarchal extended family system comprised of stem and branch families, with all family members dedicated to the success and perpetuation of the ie family name and occupation. This research reveals that despite moderate movement towards liberalization in the first half of the twentieth century, the wartime mobilization of the 1930s and 1940s—and ironically also the subsequent US occupation—ultimately served to strengthen conservative state power in Japan. Importantly, this perpetuation of conservative power in the postwar period included a reconfigured continuation of the heavily gendered and hierarchical social structures that had historically characterized Japanese society. While the ie model was effectively removed from the US-imposed postwar constitution and replaced with the western nuclear family as the new ideal, this research strongly suggests that the neo-Confucian principles and social structures of the ie model were reintegrated into Japan’s corporate work culture, to the degree that the ie model continued to shape Japan’s collectivist social structures and identities well beyond the end of the war. This research ultimately demonstrates a continuation of the historically close relationship between family and state power in postwar Japan that challenges deterministic notions of westernization or liberalization applied to the Japanese context. Additionally, the nature of this relationship complicates culturally bound conceptions of family as inherently separate from state and corporate structures.


JCURA Dr. Andrew Marton and Dr. Hiroko Noro


Japan, Japanese, Asian Studies, Pacific and Asian Studies, Asia, Family, State, Power, Collectivism, Neoliberalism, Globalization, Westernization, Liberalization