March 26, 2015

The culture of adoption


I previously noted Kiku Day's critique of Lost in Translation (2003), in which the "good Japan" is "Buddhist monks chanting, ancient temples and flower arrangement," while modern Japanese are depicted as "ridiculous people who have lost contact with their own culture."

In fact, Japanese are as nostalgic about the Edo period (1603-1868) as we are about the Wild West, on the one hand, and the Georgian period, on the other. As with cowboys and English aristocrats, popular depictions of the Edo period typically revolve around samurai (who were both law enforcers and aristocrats) and upper class merchants.

The peasants end up being pretty much part of the scenery. But during the Edo period, Japan minded its own business, fared reasonable well economically, and produced a quite literate and educated society. What's not to (selectively) like?

Women also fared well compared to their European counterparts. They weren't any more "liberated" and primogeniture still ruled. But a samurai's daughter would be the equal of the Bennet sisters in most respects (the cinematic heroines of Edo period dramas owe a lot to Elizabeth Bennet). In many ways, probate law was more flexible.

A Japanese Mr. Bennet wouldn't worry about the disposition of his estate. Of course, if one of his daughters had the opportunity to marry way up, he would encourage her. But then he would find another suitor who occupied a (slightly) lower social cast (but with money) and adopt his son-in-law-to-be into the family, making him a legal Bennet.

These mukoyoshi ("adult adoptions") were also a good way for a family with a lot of sons to keep them from fighting over the estate.

Paternal lines have been maintained this way for centuries. These days, though, the more pressing cause is a fertility rate of 1.4. Especially at family-owned businesses, mukoyoshi is not only a socially acceptable way to keep the family name alive and well, but to select an heir perhaps more suited to the job than what nature supplied.

Which means that, sometimes, the child can indeed choose his parents. And the parents can do genetic engineering in reverse (using a professional matchmaking service, though it's always better to "promote" from within the company).

Related posts

The downside of adult adoption
The three families
Techno-orientalism

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