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23 Mar 2007

Men taking their wives' last names is not uncommon in Japan

filed under: journal  :: japanese culture  :: modern life

I find this story in USA Today about more American men taking their wives' last names (via kottke) rather interesting as a snapshot of gender attitudes. My impression of the American Male is that a lot of them are awfully defensive about their masculinity, much more so than men elsewhere, which explains the "sissy juice" comments received by Sam Van Hallgren (who, incidentally, is co-host of the one podcast besides This American Life that I listen to religiously, Filmspotting.)

In Japan, men have been taking their wives' last names for a long time. This may seem surprising in light of the view of Japanese society as being very male dominant. In fact, it's done for practical, usually business, purposes. If the woman's family has a well known business which is run as a family concern, and the man marrying the woman is going to enter, and eventually take over, that business, he is legally adopted by the woman's family and thus takes her surname along with it. This is called becoming a yo-shi. The word and concept is the same as for a child being adopted.

One of my uncles on my father's side took his wife's last name when they married, and has been running the family business, a large commercial bakery on the southern island of Kyuushuu, ever since. (I think he's retired now and his children have taken over.) Since my grandparents were not well off and had 6 kids to send out into the world, the fact that one of their sons was 'adopted' by this weathly family was seen as a very good thing.

The one sad thing is that the conservative family that my uncle married into regarded the adoption as an effective cutting off of his ties with his natural family. My grandmother was not even allowed in their house. When she took my sister and I to visit her Kyuushuu relatives once, we stayed at my aunt's rather cramped house rather than the big mansion my uncle lived in, and my uncle and his wife saw my grandmother at a local ryoutei (traditional high-end restaurant). I remember loving the wonderful food there, but even as a 11 year old I wondered why they weren't entertaining grandma in their house. My uncle did visit his parents whenever he was in the Tokyo area of course, but there wasn't much, if any, contact between the rest of his family and my grandparents while they were alive.

Comments on this post:

My Japanese wife’s father

My Japanese wife's father took his wife's name. He is one of ten or so children, but his wife, my mother-in-law, had no brothers. He did it to carry on the family name. Depending on how you think about it, it's either progressive (to not insist that the man's name be used), or the opposite (since the underlying reasoning is that families cannot trace their descent via "worthless" women).

If only I could convince my

If only I could convince my husband that this is the wave of the future....

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