Japanese society is portrayed as classless or one with a class structure in which very tiny elite groups and underclasses bracket an enormous number of middle-class people.
However, there are significant social differences among rural and urban residents, including family composition, educational attainment, and labor force participation. Within the urban population, social differentiation exists between the white-collar, salaried “new middle class,” blue-collar industrial workers, and the self-employed petty entrepreneurial classes of shopkeepers and artisans.
Marriage and Family Life
Marriage is generally based on mutual attraction between individuals i.e. a “love marriage”. Some people still rely on arranged marriage in which a go-between negotiated a match in a process that might give parental opinions more weight than those of the prospective bride and groom.
Looking at the history of the Japanese family over the last century or so, Japan is one of the few countries that’s gone through industrialization and had the rate of divorce drop.
In traditional Japanese families, families would send back a bride or an adopted son-in-law if they didn’t feel that the marriage was working or that the person wasn’t able to contribute to the household. Today that traditional family system is transformed into the contemporary nuclear family as more and more marriages are based on free choice because of which the divorce rate went down a great deal. In most countries going through urbanization and industrialization, it’s quite the opposite.
Weddings are almost always held in hotels or wedding halls, with a lavish banquet for several dozen guests. The ceremonies blend elements from Shintō marriage rituals and stylized adaptations of Christian weddings. Weddings are elaborately staged, and the bride and groom typically go through several changes of costume.
Most urban families consist of parents and their children while slightly extended families have an elderly parent living with a married couple and their children.
The family in Japan is called “kazoku” in Japanese. The Japanese family is based on the line of descent and adoption. Ancestors and offspring are linked together by an idea of family genealogy, or keizu, which does not mean relationships based on mere blood inheritance and succession, but rather a bond of relationship inherent in the maintenance and continuance of the family as an institution.
The most usual living arrangement in Japan today is the nuclear family—more than 60 percent of the households are of this type, and the number has increased steadily throughout this century. Another 16 percent are single-person households.
Just over 20 percent of households are extended, most of which are in rural areas. This type of household, known traditionally as the ie, is thought today to have been typical of living arrangements in Japan until well into this century, although in reality there was always considerable regional and class variation in connection with household composition. The ie usually was composed of a three-generation household of grandparents, parents, and children.
The primary imperative of the family as a social institution was to survive across the generations. In traditional agrarian life, land was almost never divided, because to do so might imperil the next generation’s ability to survive. So in most cases, inheritance was by a single child, usually the eldest son. In the case of an extremely prosperous family, they might be able to establish other children in newly independent family lines, which would remain forever subservient to the original line.
The particular social custom called “adopted sons-in-law” was there so that a family that had daughters, but no sons, might adopt a young man and have him marry their daughter, and when the adoption and marriage was completed, he would take on the family name of his wife’s family, and for all intents and purposes would be considered the heir to that family. So it’s not inheritance through the female, but still inheritance through the male, but the male’s role is created socially through the process of adoption.
Various kinds of fictive kinship modeled on patterns of adoption and relationships between family branches have been used to sustain other kinds of social relationships. Patron-client relationships sometimes are referred to as parent-child ties, and may involve elaborate formal rituals of bonding. Traditional artistic life is structured around master-apprentice relationships that involve adoption and the establishment of lineages.
The kinship system before World War II was based on upper-class family patterns established during the late Tokugawa period. Later the government put in place legal norms and standards that defined an ideal family structure. It established clear rules about membership, inheritance patterns, and the authority of the household head over assets and marriages. This legal structure was radically altered after World War II, by reducing patriarchal authority, increasing the legal rights of women, and requiring that estates be shared among children and widows.
Patterns of traditional kinship still shape the social conventions of family life.
The traditional family system was organized around a multigenerational household with a single central authority: the male household head. Inheritance of a family’s estate and succession to a family’s occupation, social position, and obligations devolved to a single child. In terms of social participation, the household was considered as a single unit rather than the sum of its members.
The kinship system is bilateral, and includes relatives connected to both husband and wife. Cognates and affines are addressed by the same terms but horizontal ties are usually stressed over vertical ties.