The family in twenty-first century Japan: between nation and transnation
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The family has often been seen as a transhistorical institution and in many times and places has been viewed as the most basic unit of society. In the context of current concerns about the low birth rate and high longevity in contemporary Japan, the family is the focus of attention. Although there are certainly specificities about Japan's current demographic crisis (Mackie, 2013a), a survey of modem Japanese history would reveal that the family has been in constant transition. The fluidity offamily forms was recently brought home to me when I had the opportunity to look at some documentary films from about 30 years ago. In 1980, the Japan Foundation produced a documentary film about a multi-generational family- the Hanawa family- living in Nerima Ward in the west of Tokyo (Japan Foundation, 1980). The four generations of the family included members born under two vastly different political and social systems: Imperial Japan (1890-1945) and post-war Japan. The older generations of the family had experienced World War II, the Allied Occupation of Japan and post-war reconstruction and economic growth. The documentary was produced on the cusp of the economic boom of the 1980s, known colloquially as the 'bubble years'. The youngest members of the Hanawa family, toddlers and primary-school children at the time the film was produced, would have come of age in the years of economic recession and would have been most likely to become members of the 'lost generation' of the 1990s (Dasgupta, 2009, pp. 79-95). This documentary provides a sense of the changing forms of family over the course of the twentieth century. In order to chronicle the family in early twenty-first-century Japan, however, it is necessary to investigate a variety of family forms, which increasingly include transnational connections and which involve encounters with diversity within the very walls of the family home.
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