It is difficult to overlook the role of the family in the social organization of the Japanese family. However, this perception not only applies to the Japanese context because in most societies, the family is an important unit of social organization. Japan however provides an interesting scenario for understanding the effect of social and economic changes in the family structure.
Some analysts say, “Social problems have created circular name-calling in Japan and conservative officials and policymakers have tended to lay these issues at the feet of families” (Katzenstein & Shiraishi 81). Certainly, despite the prevailing importance of the family in the Japanese society, the family structure in Japan is undergoing significant changes. These changes have consequently led to the emergence of new and unexplored family and societal dynamics.
This paper explores the implications of the falling birth rates and the changing family structure as critical issues that may influence the future of Japanese families. Specifically, this paper explores the role that such social changes may have on the roles and attitudes of the Japanese people. This paper also explores the underlying factors that inform the falling birth rates to predict if the trend may change, or not.
Projected Characteristics of the Future Japanese Family
In many societies, the role of the parents in shaping the lives of their children manifest as a critical component in the upbringing of youthful members of the society. This importance especially manifests because critical cultural and family values transfer through different generations (from the interaction between children and their parents). Hashimoto (cited in Ikels 195) has paid a special focus on the interaction between fathers and their children in Japan.
He explains that Japan has a relatively low level of interaction between children and their fathers. Indeed, Hashimoto (cited in Ikels 195) says that when compared to Korea, United States, and Germany, Japanese parents are more likely to alienate their children by giving them less guidance on how to live their lives. For instance, some Japanese youth said their parents never taught them to be truthful (Ikels 195). Certainly,
“The disengagement of Japanese parents from their children far exceeds that of Korea (never taught by father 27%; by mother 22%), the United States (never taught by father 22%; never taught by mother 21%), and Germany (never taught by father 42%; by mother 38%)” (Ikels 195).
Therefore, compared to other children from other advanced societies like America, Japanese children learn very little from important figures of authority such as their parents or teachers.
There is a significant potential implication of the disengagement of Japanese parents from their children. Besides the obvious lack of youth empowerment and its social consequence, the continued neglect and disengagement of Japanese parents from their children may significantly change the conventional Japanese family structure, which thrives on social hierarchy and ontological security (Bumiller 39).
For a long time, this system has served to instill social obedience and inculcate a culture of social stratification to preserve the distinction between the youth and the older members of the society.
However, with the continued lack of interest among Japanese parents (regarding their children’s welfare) and the prevailing social and political influences from western and other Asian cultures, the youth may increasingly see no need to subscribe to the traditional social doctrine of respecting their parents because the possibility of enjoying the social benefits of conformance is vague. Indeed, (Ikels 196) affirms that
“The interests of filial children in consenting to the continuity of inter-generational hierarchy for a promise of return on their investments have diminished as the prospects of inheriting the political, cultural, and symbolic power in their turn seems too far away, too uncertain, and too exacting” (Ikels 196).
The implication of this social disobedience is the emergence of a new breed of young people in the Japanese society, who do not necessarily subscribe to the traditional doctrine of “respect” and “obedience”. Instead, a new generation of young people, who are more independent and assertive, may emerge. Indeed, figuratively,
“The obedient Meiji model of ryosai kembo (good wife/wise mother), which has prevailed in the Japanese society for a long time, now often independent of the guidance of the mother-in-law, learned to shape a nuclear family home and lifestyle according to her budget” (White 43).
However, it is better for this new crop of young people to “direct their disobedience in a constructive, rather than destructive direction” (Ikels 196).
Role of the Father
The role of the father in the Japanese family may significantly change in the coming years because there will be lesser involvement of Japanese fathers in the lives of their children. Already, there are significantly lower levels of parental involvement between Japanese parents and their children.
In my view, this involvement is bound to decline significantly. James (199) defines the declining role of the Japanese father in the upbringing of their children as a significant factor that has contributed to the Japanese definition of masculinity.
Indeed, James (199) says, “because of the shallow and non-routine involvement of fathers at home, the society has frequently characterized most Japanese families as fatherless. Similarly, the society seems to appreciate a father’s existence when they are healthy and out of the house” (James 199).
From this understanding, the Japanese definition of “masculinity” centers on the philosophy of disengagement in the daily running of families. In fact, the society mostly regards fathers as “financial machines”. This perception shows that the primary role of the father is to provide for the family. Affirmatively, in an excerpt from an interview, many Japanese mothers said, “the ideal spouse should provide a financially secure life for their daughters” (Mathews & White 150).
In my view, as the economic needs of every Japanese family becomes more dominant, fathers are going to be more disengaged from their families. Since this perception defines the main understanding of “masculinity” in the Japanese society, younger males are equally likely to perpetuate the same perception.
Indeed, “Japanese men will continue to resist living for the family, as have their counterparts in other societies: a few men will live for family, but more may live for their careers, or for self” (Roberson & Suzuki 122).
Pluralism and Inclusion
The changing societal dynamics of the Japanese society paints a scenario where there will be widespread pluralism and inclusion in the society. Albeit, some pundits say Japan has a long way to change its societal composition, attitudes, and the roles of different genders in the society (because these changes are unstructured to create a dominant social force), there is bound to be a strong shift towards pluralism and inclusion in the future Japanese society. Indeed,
“the adaptability creativity, and flexibility that manifests in these emergent forms are cause for some optimism that many in Japan have envisioned and are enacting new ways of life that may yet produce a society whose vibrancy is based on pluralism and inclusion” (Katzenstein & Shiraishi 82).
Therefore, the traditional, predictable, and structured family unit in the Japanese society may disappear in favor of an unpredictable and diverse form of family unit. The diversity may blend in a “sea” of unique “individualistic” and less-culturally inclined acceptance of the family system. This shift of the family setup compares to consumerism, which observers define as “different mixtures demonstrating highly valuable blends of culture, capitalism, and personal desire” (White 43).
Besides pluralism, inclusion is also a critical factor that may define the future Japanese society. Inclusion will especially manifest through gender inclusion. Indeed, the significant gender differences between men and women may decline. The widening choice that young women in Japan enjoy informs the declining gender differences.
For example, today, “mothers and daughters believe very strongly that the younger generation is entitled to a range of choices. These beliefs have made new choices imaginable, possible, and desirable” (Mathews & White 151). Undoubtedly, the ranges of new choices are going to shape the future of Japanese families to be more inclusive and pluralist.
The changing social and economic dynamics of Japan occasion the falling birth rate in Japan. Some observers believe that the increased independence and entry of women in the workforce inform the falling birth rates in the country (Roberson & Suzuki 109). In the traditional Japanese society, there was little involvement of women in the workplace.
Evidence of this dynamic exists today because “men have been expected to devote themselves to their work to support their families, while women have been forced to devote themselves to nurturing their families and raising their children, working only part-time at most” (Roberson & Suzuki 109).
However, today, most families in Japan face serious financial worries that lower their excitement to have children. Indeed, many young Japanese people face the problems of poor or little pay (because the Japanese workforce links pay by age). Moreover, the cost of living is high (such as housing costs, while the government does not offer any childcare allowances).
When these dynamics merge with the huge burden of paying educational loans, the young Japanese employee barely makes enough money to sustain their lives. It therefore becomes even more difficult to sustain a family.
By understanding the factors that have led to the declining birth rates in Japan, it is easier to predict if this trend may change. However, based on the circumstances that have forced most young people in Japan to shy away from having any (or many) children, it is very difficult to foresee a change in this trend, in the next ten years.
Indeed, the rising cost of living and the changing gender roles that are opening more opportunities for women to join the workforce are unlikely to relent in the next ten years. Therefore, may young Japanese mothers may still face the challenges of raising children they face today (ten years from now). The falling birth rates may therefore prevail even in the next decade.
The changing attitudes, beliefs, and values that the youthful population in Japan has acquired may significantly change the future of Japanese families. So far, this paper affirms that young people are slowly acquiring individualistic values that express their different personalities and traits.
The constant neglect shown by Japanese parents manifest these “individualistic” traits among young Japanese men. I believe, when these values merge with the changing gender roles and the prevailing economic uncertainties in Japan, there will be more pluralism and inclusion in the Japanese society.
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Ikels, Charlotte. Filial Piety: Practice and Discourse in Contemporary East Asia, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2004. Print.
Katzenstein, Peter, & S. Takashi. Beyond Japan: The Dynamics of East Asian Regionalism, Itheca: Cornell University Press, 2006. Print.
Mathews, Gordon, & B. White. Japan’s Changing Generations: Are Young
People Creating a New Society, London: Taylor & Francis, 2004. Print.
Roberson, James. & N. Suzuki. Men and Masculinities in Contemporary Japan: Dislocating the Salaryman Doxa, London: Routledge, 2003. Print.
White, Merry. Perfectly Japanese: Making Families in an Era of Upheaval, Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2002. Print.