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  • Mabiki: Infanticide and Population Growth in Eastern Japan, 1660–1950 by Fabian Drixler
  • Osamu Saito
Mabiki: Infanticide and Population Growth in Eastern Japan, 1660–1950 by Fabian Drixler. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2013. Pp. xx + 417. $75.00.

In the late 1960s, Akira Hayami, the pioneer of historical demography in Japan, found that marital fertility in Yokouchi, a village in Suwa County in the province of Shinano, central Japan, declined substantially between the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. His observation was based on a comparison of age-specific fertility rates for married women who were born before and after 1700. The decline was particularly marked for those between the ages of twenty-one and thirty. He reasoned that since the fertility levels between the two [End Page 385] cohorts were not significantly different for those who married after the age of twenty-one, “On admet, pour expliquer le contraste frappant qui distingue la première centaine d’années de la seconde, qu’il y a certainement eu une limitation volontaire de la population.”1 In his Japanese-language monograph on Suwa County was less euphemistic: there he suggests that direct measures were taken by village couples to reduce their marital fertility.2 Many scholars took his suggestion as evidence for the practice of mabiki 間引, the topic of Drixler’s book.

After the publication of Hayami’s work, Drixler notes, scholars addressed the issue of mabiki by exploiting various time-series data from village household registration records, from which they concluded that some kind of mabiki was practiced. However, their observations were confined to the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, and they were unable to replicate a fertility pattern similar to what Hayami had found for Yokouchi, mainly because the population registers these scholars utilized usually did not cover a long enough period before 1700. Now, thanks to Drixler’s ambitious venture in estimating total fertility rates (TFRs) from 1660 to 1870 for a sample of 3,300 village population registers from ten provinces in the eastern half of Japan, we are provided with data that exhibit a sudden decline from a TFR level of over 5 in the third quarter of the seventeenth century to a TFR level of about 3.5 in the eighteenth century. Although Yokouchi is not included in this “eastern provinces” sample, Drixler’s findings confirm Hayami’s hypothesis about the decline of marital fertility between the late seventeenth and the early eighteenth centuries. For his study, Drixler adopted a technique called “own-child method” (OCM). This method, unlike longitudinal analyses employed in previous [End Page 386] studies in historical demography, requires only cross-sectional data, or a set of “snapshots” of each population (pp. 7, 245). It enables Drixler to assemble material from as many as 3,300 village population registers with multiple sequences of different lengths for a number of villages, thus covering a wide enough area as well as a long enough time period so as to link this 220-year series to the post-1886 series of TFRs and other demographic measures. Moreover, Drixler goes on to estimate how many pregnancies ended with the destruction of the fetus or the newborn during the 220 years in villages of the eastern provinces; to accomplish this, he uses a Monte Carlo simulation model with various sets of parameters borrowed from various disciplines and various places of research. His calculations show that in the 1660s, the estimated TFRs were high and close to the observed fertility rates, whereas from roughly 1700 to 1800, the gap between the estimated TFRs and the observed fertility rates becomes as wide as 40 percent. From these calculations (pp. 123–25), he concludes that there must have been some ten million infanticides (or abortions) between 1660 and 1870!

Having established these extraordinary outcomes from the demographic calculations, Drixler sets off to weave together information from a wealth of mabiki scrolls and votive tablets (ema 絵馬), contemporary discourses, and domainal records concerning childrearing subsidies and pregnancy surveillance in the latter half of the Tokugawa period. His discussions and interpretations of this material occupy the central place in this book. He begins with the culture of reproduction, family aspirations, and...


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