(Tohoku University)
A Quantitative Picture of Contemporary Japanese Families: Tradition and Modernity in the 21st Century (Tohoku University Press) (2013-03-28)
Title: Preface
Author: TANAKA Sigeto
Page: iv–x
Short URL: {}

Table of contents

A project of the Global COE Program

Organization of this book

Outline of NFRJ data



Family is an important subsystem in most societies, performing the functions of population reproduction, economic production, exchange, and consumption. It also exercises the distribution of power, especially between genders and between generations. As a matter of course, family issues concern the government and policy-makers. The family system provides the basic conditions of policy-making (e.g., fertility, children’s socialization, school enrollment, employment behavior, social mobility, standards of life, health, and mortality). Moreover, policies often assume people’s “ideal” family life (e.g., the “standard household” model in social security policy). Knowledge about family is thus crucial to policymaking, as well as to the evaluation of the outcomes of policies.

Family is also a major subject area in modern social sciences. In addition to political concerns, family studies offer a good example of the social changes and continuity experienced by modern societies. The process of modernization introduced a general prototype of the modern family: a nuclear family enclosed in the “private” sphereand segregated from the “public” spheres of society. On the other hand, each society has its own traditions, which have remained in the post-modernization era. In Japan, the “ie” family regime is a stem family system wherein a family business is succeeded by one of the children in expectation of the eternal continuity of the family line. The contemporary family system is, in reality, a wide diversity of the synthesis of modern and pre-modern elements.

As in other social science research fields, a quantitative method is a powerful tool in family studies, because quantitative analysis provides scientific evidence from national representative data. In particular, since the data archive system was established in the 1990s, the volume of quantitative research on the Japanese family has grown rapidly. Data archives provide high-quality, large-scale, publicly available secondhand data, including NFRJ, which we use in this book.

A project of the Global COE Program

This book is a compilation of the research results of the project “Family Change in an Aging Society with Low Fertility: Micro Data Approach,” one of the projects of the Tohoku University Global COE Program “Gender Equality and Multicultural Conviviality in the Age of Globalization” conducted from 2008 to 2013. The members of the project were sociology, law, and social policy scholars interested in family issues in contemporary Japan.

The objective of the project was to obtain accurate information about family issues in contemporary Japan through a scientific approach using a quantitative analysis. It also sought to promote an understanding of this information in the context of law and policy, with the intention being to bridge the gap between researchers specializing with quantitative methods and those specializing in qualitative or theoretical research, as well as to look beyond the border separating these disciplines.

Concrete topics for data analysis were chosen by the initiative of each member. We can classify the topics in some groups (as is in the organization of this book) as reflecting the current interests of leading research on the contemporary Japanese family. We held small conferences to exchange the findings and to discuss their implications for theory and policy. In 2009, this project held a workshop in collaboration with two other projects (Tsujimura and Osawa eds. 2010a, 2010b). Results from the workshop discussions are partially reflected in Chapter 13 of this book. In 2010, a workshop titled “Family Change in Quantitative Perspective: Inequality, Consciousness, and Lifecourse in Recent Japan” was held as part of the “Hagi Seminar,” an annual event hosted by the GCOE Program every autumn (Table 1) . The workshop presentations and discussions appear in Chapters 2, 8, and 14 of this book.

Organization of this book

This book consists of 14 chapters divided into four parts. These parts include discussions on popular issues of current research on Japanese families: parent-child relationships, structure of unpaid work, women’s employment, and inequality.

Part I “Lineal Relationships after Modernization” deals with parent-child relationships after the child reaches adulthood or marries. The topics are co-residence, inheritance, and support. The traditional family system in Japanese society,the “ie”family regime, is a type of stem family system. The Japanese word “ie” refers to an eternal family line that is maintained by one of the children. In the late 19th century, the government of the Great Empire of Japan implemented family law to prescribe details of the iesystem, including the rights and duties of members of an ie.After Japan’s defeat in World War II in 1945, amendments to family law drastically changed the provisions of the family system and of family-related rights and duties. Chapter 1 presents an outline of the history and current state of the legal provisions.

Chapters 2–4 are reports of the results obtained from the empirical research. Topics are the timing of co-residence and the inheritance of houses and land (Chapter 2), attitudes of elderly people towards care and inheritance (Chapter 3), and co-residence/support behavior of sons and daughters (Chapter 4). These chapters reveal the continuation of stem-family-type behavior, in which the eldest son lives with his parents and succeeds the house and land long after marriage, in spite of the superficial neo-locality at the time of marriage. On the other hand, there has also been a new tendency for daughters to support and care for elderly parents, based on the gender differences in social roles. It is suggested that the Japanese family today has no consistent system for care, support, and inheritance.

Part II “Structure of Unpaid Work” covers housework within a household. Chapter 5 explores the determinants of the frequency of detailed categories of household chores, focusing on gender differences. Chapter 6 investigates the determinants of the division of housework between a couple in terms of both absolute and relative frequencies. Chapter 7 describes women’s attitudes about caring for elderly parents, focusing on differences by age.

As is well known, unpaid work falls under the dominance of the gender structure. Chapters in Part II investigate the details of the gender structure and the impact of people’s personal experiences on the structureof unpaid work.

Part III “Consequences of the Feminization of Employment” discusses women’s work and family issues. Chapter 8 provides an overview of the position of the female workforce in the Japanese labor market and discusses how women succeed (or fail) to achieve work-life balance in the changing economic/political environment. Chapter 9 focuses on mothers of infants to specify the determinants of women’s employment behavior. Chapter 10 examines how men and women recognize the problems between work and family as “conflict.” Chapter 11 investigates men’s attitudes toward the sexual division of labor, with special attention paid to the interaction between the wife’s and husband’s economic status.

Women’s employment has garnered attention in social science and political debates in contemporary Japan. Research on this topic has established an accepted theory that the feminization of employment since the 1960s has had no impact on the basic structure of gendered work lives. The four chapters in Part III prove that the theory still holds true in the early 21st century. Moreover, as Chapter 8 suggests, women might experience more difficulty in the unstable labor market today. Chapters 10 and 11 discover a gender structure within husband-wife relationships. Chapter 9 detects a clue to the change in the fact that women’s higher education promotes regular employment in the early stage of childrearing.

Part IV “Family and Inequality” includes a variety of topics on inequality. Chapter 12 investigates the effect of relatives (other than parents) on children’s educational attainment. Chapters 13 and 14 discuss disadvantages due to divorce or step relations.

Family plays an important role in the social mechanism of inequality. In one aspect, it is a social network through which wealth is transferred through inheritance, monetary or nonmonetary support, and gift giving. In another aspect, it is a social group for production and distribution, whose members create a division of labor and receive the distributed outcome. These characteristics contribute to inequality created through intergenerational or gender relationships. Unequal social resource distribution has accordingly been a major issue in family studies. However, such studies have always limited their focus to areas within the nuclear family. Inequality from nonnuclear family relationships has thus been invisible. Chapters in Part IV shed light on the invisible area.

Outline of NFRJ data

Most of the chapters in this volume use National Family Research of Japan (NFRJ, by the Japan Society of Family Sociology) data as the main source for their statistical analyses. NFRJ is a series of large-scale surveys with national representative samples of Japan. Three surveys were conducted in 1999 {NFRJ98}, 2004 {NFRJ03}, and 2009 {NFRJ08}; these surveys were designed to be comparable to each other. In addition, a special survey {NFRJ-S01} was conducted in 2002 to collect family-related personal histories of women. The data obtained through the surveys are deposited at the Social Science Japan Data Archive {SSJDA}, Institute of Social Sciences, University of Tokyo. A synopsis is presented in Table 2. Details can be found on NFRJ’s official website.

NFRJ data have three merits for family studies:

On the other hand, the data have its limitations. In Japan today, it is becoming increasingly difficult to obtain people’s collaboration as survey subjects, as is generally the case with social surveys (Inaba 2007). Moreover, characteristically in the NFRJ, married people are over-represented in the valid responses. Data characteristics aredisclosed in published official reports (available online).

The NFRJ project currently continues a panel survey ({NFRJ-08Panel} 2009–2013), which consists of a series of follow-up surveys of a portion of the respondents of NFRJ08. The next large-scale survey will be conducted in 2019.


Table 1: Workshop “Family Change in Quantitative Perspective”

[Ommitted. See]

Table 2: Synopsis of NFRJ surveys

[Ommitted. See]


  1. [Inaba 2007] Inaba Akihide, 2007, “Problems Relating to Declining Response Rates to Social Survey Research in Japan: Trends after 2000,” International Journal of Japanese Sociology, 16: 10–22.
  2. [Tsujimura and Osawa eds. 2010a] Tsujimura Miyoko and Osawa Mari eds., 2010, Gender Equality in Multicultural Societies: Gender, Diversity, and Conviviality in the Age of Globalization, Sendai: Tohoku University Press.
  3. [Tsujimura and Osawa eds. 2010b] 辻村みよ子・大沢真理編, 2010,『ジェンダー平等と多文化共生:複合差別を超えて』東北大学出版会.


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Affiliation of the authors (as on the publication date of the book) is on the List of Contributors section.

Tohoku University / Faculty of Arts and Letters / Applied Japanese Linguistics / TANAKA Sigeto / Family Change in an Aging Society with Low Fertility / Book

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