What Is a Family? explores the histories of diverse households during the Tokugawa period in Japan (1603–1868). The households studied here differ in locale and in status—from samurai to outcaste, peasant to merchant—but what unites them is life within the social order of the Tokugawa shogunate. The circumstances and choices that made one household unlike another were framed, then as now, by prevailing laws, norms, and controls on resources. These factors led the majority to form stem families, which are a focus of this volume. The essays in this book draw on rich sources—population registers, legal documents, personal archives, and popular literature—to combine accounts of collective practices (such as the adoption of heirs) with intimate portraits of individual actors (such as a murderous wife). They highlight the variety and adaptability of households that, while shaped by a shared social order, do not conform to any stereotypical version of a Japanese family.
“Asking fresh questions—and taking up new kinds of evidence—What Is a Family? illuminates household dynamics that have simply not come into focus before. Alongside sturdy formulae for success, the authors find marked diversity, improvisation, and change over time. A lively and provocative collection.” KÄREN WIGEN, author of A Malleable Map: Geographies of Restoration in Central Japan, 1600–1912
“An engaging and eye-opening volume. From the spread of the stem family structure across multiple status groups, to the emotional bonds of adoption and marriage, to the gendering of family relations, What Is a Family? is essential reading for students of early modern and modern Japan.” KATE McDONALD, Associate Professor of History, University of California, Santa Barbara
MARY ELIZABETH BERRY is Professor of History Emerita at the University of California, Berkeley. Her books include Japan in Print: Information and Nation in the Early Modern Period. MARCIA YONEMOTO is Professor of History at the University of Colorado Boulder. Her books include The Problem of Women in Early Modern Japan.
A Philip E. Lilienthal Book in Asian Studies
Berry M. & Yonemoto M. 2019. What Is a Family?: Answers from Early Modern Japan. California: University of California Press. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1525/luminos.77
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