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  • The Japanese Family in Transition: From the Professional Housewife Ideal to the Dilemmas of Choice by Suzanne Hall Vogel
  • Patricia Boling (bio)
The Japanese Family in Transition: From the Professional Housewife Ideal to the Dilemmas of Choice. By Suzanne Hall Vogel with Steven K. Vogel. Rowman & Littlefield, Lanham, Md., 2013. xii, 187 pages. $49.00, cloth; $48.99, E-book.

Suzanne Vogel’s The Japanese Family in Transition: From the Professional Housewife Ideal to the Dilemmas of Choice is a warm, readable book based on her decades-long relationships with six families from suburban Tokyo. Bookended by analytic chapters, the core of the book is three long biographical chapters that trace the lives of three of the women Vogel first met in 1958: Tanaka Hanae, Itou Taeko, and Suzuki Mieko (all pseudonyms).

Vogel, who had a long career as a psychotherapist at the University Health Services at Harvard, offers nuanced portraits of these women and their families. When she first meets this group, Vogel is a young mother negotiating childrearing. In short trips that span the 45-year period from the early 1960s to the mid-2000s and during two longer stays in the mid-1970s and in 1988–89, when she was a Fulbright research scholar in Tokyo, she deepens her relationships with her core friends and informants, and investigates how the second generation is doing with their marriages, families, and [End Page 528] children. During her later visits in the 1990s and 2000s, Vogel takes note of how her friends are negotiating the passages of old age: illness, widowhood, cultivating new hobbies and interests, living with family or alone.

Vogel chose to write about three of the six families she and her husband Ezra Vogel were introduced to in 1958 as part of research that resulted in his book, Japan’s New Middle Class: The Salary Man and His Family in Suburban Tokyo (University of California Press, 1963). She notes that the interviews for this project often went better when the men and women talked in same-sex dyads, and it is apparent that she watched and listened carefully, eventually developing intimate friendships with all of the women about whom she writes. Vogel is interested in the kinds of households they set up, and she discusses their differing approaches to being good wives and wise mothers (ryōsai kenbo), drawing on many hours of interviews and conversations. She chose to write about women with contrasting styles.

Mrs. Tanaka, the wife of a physician, had been educated at a good school for girls, spoke polite, formal Japanese, transmitted rather traditional and formal values, and was virtually always at home while her five children were growing up. Her home was a magnet for friends and neighbors, a lively place to find conversations and people socializing. Her children almost all ended up as physicians or married to physicians; after her husband Takao passed away, she made her home with her eldest son and daughter-in-law, endeavoring to be as little a burden on them as possible. Vogel describes Mrs. Tanaka in old age as delighting in wearing bright-colored clothing (rather than the sober, muted colors considered acceptable for older women) and taking up making artwork out of dried flowers, an interest she developed with considerable skill, exhibiting in well-known art galleries.

Mrs. Itou came from a fishing village and commercial background, and was the youngest and most unconventional of the six women Vogel met. She came from a family line where (dating from her grandmother’s time) there were no sons, and the eldest daughter asks her husband to be adopted into the family as a son-in-law in order to insure that the family line continue (to be a mukoyōshi), taking on the family name and becoming heir to the family business. Perhaps reflecting the power dynamics associated with this practice, Mrs. Itou was considerably more willing than the other women Vogel spoke with to express her opinions in public, dominate conversations, be out of the house attending to business that interested her even when her children arrived home from school, and let cleaning and cooking fall by the wayside when she was...


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pp. 528-532
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