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  • House, Home, and Gender in Modern Japan
  • Sally A. Hastings (bio)
Gail Lee Bernstein . Isami's House: Three Centuries of a Japanese Family. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005. xxx + 283 pp.; ill. ISBN 0-520-23974-1 (cl).
Gail Lee Bernstein, Andrew Gordon, and Kate Wildman Nakai, eds. Public Spheres, Private Lives in Modern Japan, 1600–1950. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003. xiv + 400 pp.; ill.; tables. ISBN 0-674 01651-3 (cl).
Harald Fuess . Divorce in Japan: Family, Gender, and the State, 1600–2000. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2004. xviii + 226 pp.; ill.; tables. ISBN 0-8047-4357-6 (cl).
Jordan Sand . House and Home in Modern Japan: Architecture, Domestic Space, and Bourgeois Culture, 1880–1930. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003. xx + 482 pp.; ill. ISBN 0-674-01218-6 (cl).

Enfranchisement of women in democratic capitalism has not entirely banished the ideology of the separate spheres in which politics is gendered male and women are consigned to the private sphere. Family and domesticity have consequently loomed large in women's history. In their recent books, Jordan Sand, Harald Fuess, and Gail Bernstein treat aspects of family and domesticity that have been less studied, and thereby integrate men as well as women into Japanese families and homes. The Japanese word ie, like its usual English translation "house," signifies both the building that shelters the members of a family and the family itself. Sand draws our attention to the physical details of real and imagined homes. Writing about domestic architecture, he shows that the modern concept of the "home" changed how people imagined their dwellings, their furniture, and the lives that would match these possessions. Focusing on divorce, Fuess provides a new vantage point on the customs and laws that governed the formation as well as the dissolution of marriages, a crucial link in preserving houses in the sense of lineal descent groups. Whereas most studies conceptualize the family in abstract terms, Bernstein investigates one particular family over three centuries. Like Sand, she is attentive to the buildings that the family occupied as well as to the interactions of family members with each [End Page 170] other. Their three books speak to each other in several ways, especially with respect to gender analysis and class formation. The relationship of house and home to the history of the modern Japanese nation is further enhanced by reading Sand, Fuess, and Bernstein in conjunction with several of the eleven essays included in Public Spheres, Private Lives in Modern Japan, edited by Gail Lee Bernstein, Andrew Gordon, and Kate Wildman Nakai. This collection of essays, written in honor of Professor Albert M. Craig of Harvard University, includes chapters by both Bernstein and Fuess. The word "private" in the title of the volume is particularly apt, for in the three rich and densely documented monographs reviewed here, the profile of the state is relatively low.

At first glance, Sand's relatively narrow focus on the years from 1880 to 1930 seems a chronological mismatch with the other three volumes, all of which promise an overview of several centuries between 1600 and the present. In point of fact, all four books are at their strongest in addressing the shift in the nature of state and society that occurred after the Meiji Restoration of 1868 had brought the Tokugawa regime of early modern Japan to an end. The new household registration law of 1871 initiated the process of bringing the household under the direct regulation of the state, but it was not until 1898 that the new civil code set a national framework for governing households.

Of the authors under discussion here, Harald Fuess is most attentive to the nature of the Japanese family prior to 1868. His study of divorce is a welcome corrective for imagined views, propagated by present-minded social scientists as well as by uninformed laymen, that divorce was rare and difficult in the Japanese past. Fuess shows that the twentieth-century high point of 1.98 divorces per one thousand population in 1999 was far lower than the nineteenth-century peak of 3.39 in 1883 (3). Moreover, for much of the twentieth century, the rate was less...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-2036
Print ISSN
1042-7961
Pages
pp. 170-179
Launched on MUSE
2009-09-11
Open Access
No
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