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  • Bryant in UCLA Law Review on oppressiveness of Family Registry (koseki) and Household Registry (juuminhyou)

    Posted by Dr. ARUDOU, Debito on April 13th, 2012

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    Hi Blog.  One of my research readings is Taimie Bryant, “For the Sake of the Country, for the Sake of the Family:  The Oppressive Impact of Family Registration on Women and Minorities in Japan” (39 UCLA Law Review Rev. 1991-1992).

    You can read it from this link as a pdf here:

    Tamie Bryant.Family Registries

    While this is more than two decades old now, it still resonates, with just about everything you need to know about the subtle (but very definite) “othering” processes found in Japan’s Family Registry (koseki) and Household Registry (juuminhyou) Systems.  It gives the history of each (the koseki’s historical role in rooting out Christians, the juuminhyou’s role in census taking and tracking people), and then gives us some vagaries that arise from it:

    • The doctor who temporarily lost his license to practice medicine because he offered pregnant women an alternate means to register their children rather than have them   aborted to avoid the shame and stigma of illegitimacy.
    • The woman professor who wished to continue using her maiden name professionally after marriage despite her university telling her that she could only be identified as per her husband’s koseki.
    • The women who sued Nissan for discrimination because they were denied standard corporate allowances just because as women they were not registered as “head of household” (setai nushi).

    It also very neatly unpacks:

    1) the genealogical tracing of family for generations by corporations and prospective marriage families to see if the person was a Burakumin, or had aberrant behavior from other family members,

    2) the hierarchical structure of Japan as a remnant of the prewar ie seido and how upper-class family values and structures were officially foisted upon the rest of Japanese society,

    3) the power of the normalization of labeling, and how the state’s attitudes towards anti-individualism (as these are dossiers on the family, not just the individual) as seen in this system creates a socially-constructed reality of constant subordination,

    4) the difficulty in fighting or reforming this system because of its normalization (although people have been trying for generations), as it is difficult to prove discriminatory intent of a system with no targetable individual discriminator (and with a plausible deniability of unintended consequences). 

    5) How ethnic minorities in Japan are excluded and invisible because they simply aren’t listed as “spouse” or even “resident” on either form (Debito.org has talked about this at length in the past).

    What the article does not get into is unfortunate:

    1) How other nationalities (as in, foreigners in general) are also left out; this paper is still in the era of seeing excluded foreigners as Zainichi, whereas all other foreigners are merely temporary; this was before the boom in the number of Ippan Eijuusha (Regular Permanent Residents, the “Newcomers”) that surpassed the Zainichi “Oldcomers” in number in 2007. 

    2) How divorce under this system means one parent loses all title to his or her children (since after divorce they can only go on one koseki);

    3) How people get around this system by gaming it.

    One game is how gay couples get linked to one another for inheritance and other family-dependent purposes.  Same-sex marriage is not allowed in Japan.  However, people CAN adopt each other, something Bryant does discuss in her article, and those ties are just about as dissoluble as a marriage.

    This is one other (unmentioned, of course) reason why I believe Donald Keene recently naturalized.  If he remained a foreigner in Japan, he could be adopted, but his name would not be listed properly on the koseki and juuminhyou and no rights or benefits would accrue either way.  However, if his partner adopts him after he becomes a Japanese citizen, then all the benefits accrue.  Good for Don, of course (and my beef, remember, is not with him making these life choices, which he should do, but with him portraying himself as somehow morally superior to other NJ, something the Japanese public, according to a recent fawning Japan Times article, seems to buy into).  But wouldn’t it be nice if Don, who seems to be speaking a lot in public these days about how things aren’t to his liking, would also speak out about these vagaries of the Family Registry System?

    Anyway, Bryant writes an excellent paper.  Read it.  Arudou Debito

    21 Responses to “Bryant in UCLA Law Review on oppressiveness of Family Registry (koseki) and Household Registry (juuminhyou)”

    1. Michael Says:

      Debito, While I agree with a lot of what you do, I don’t thinking “outing” Donald Keene as somebody who has a same sex domestic partner is appropriate. I checked using search engines (English of course as that is all I can do) and it does not come up anywhere else so I assume that may not be information that is part of his public identity.

      – Well, look, it’s one of those “open secrets”, if you will (and I can find plenty of stuff online regarding it). I’ve known about it for decades, as do many other people (I was even asked a few times by a prominent scholar of Japan if, since I’m apparently not afraid of controversy, I might consider writing a book investigating why so many of the first generation of major postwar scholars on Japan are/were gay men). Again, this tangent is not in any way to imply anything negative about LGBT lifestyles (for the record, I think they should be allowed to get married and have their unions recognized by the state).

      But c’mon already, what century is this? Let’s talk about the issue of why the Japanese state (like all nation-states in the world) only recognize certain types of behavior and relationships as “normal” and “legally-acceptable for official recognition” (in Japan’s case, not marriages with different surnames, children born outside of wedlock, people without Japanese citizenship, same-sex marriages etc.) and question why this is the status quo. With his high-profile naturalization and lifetime celebrity status, Keene could do a great deal of good in his twilight years also advocating for gay rights in Japan. He’s certainly agitating about many other things (and, as I keep saying, not all of them positive).

      So let’s get back on track with the topic of this blog entry: How the nation-state sanctions and stigmatizes interpersonal relationships and pasts through a registry system.

    2. Phil Brasor Says:

      I’ve been pretty fascinated by the koseki system since I first arrived in Japan. My wife was born out of wedlock, though as she grew up the social stigma meant less to her on a day-to-day basis than something more basic: poverty. Nevertheless, as she eventually made her way in the world—on her own, without any family support, since there wasn’t any—she was always reminded of her implied lower status whenever she was required to produce her koseki for whatever official reason. In a sense, it made her the kind of independent thinking person that she is; someone who decided long ago that since she wasn’t accepted by “society” she didn’t want to participate. She loves Japanese things, but she resents many of the tradeoffs. It’s why she won’t work for a company. It’s as simple as that. I don’t wish to imply that the koseki by itself made her this way, only that its background presence is more insidious than a lot of people imagine.

      On an ironic side note, you mentioned that two gay partners can actually use the koseki to their advantage by having one adopt the other, thus forming a legal family-type bond. The fact is, according to the law, a person can only inherit one-half of the legacy of his/her spouse when the spouse dies if they have children, since the children splite the other half. But if someone adopts another person and has no spouse or other children and then dies, the adoptee inherits everything. It may be the only system in the world where gay partnerships actually have an advantage over striaght marriages.

    3. Hochinteressanter Artikel zur Diskriminierungen in Japan durch die Werkzeuge des… | Schnell Interkulturell Says:

      […] » Blog Archive » Bryant in UCLA Law Review on oppressiveness of Family Registry (koseki) and House… […]

    4. Charuzu Says:

      As a question:

      I understand that two gay partners can actually use the koseki to their advantage by having one adopt the other, thus forming a legal family-type bond.

      In other countries that prohibit gay marriages a similar advantage can accrue.

      However, in other such countries, the issue of an incest taboo would also accrue.

      Some Dutch gays whom I know in Japan have explored such adoption, but have raised the incest issue.

      Is that a legitimate concern for them?

      – Apparently not enough for the state to outlaw this practice of adoption.

    5. Odorikakeru Says:

      @Phil (#2):
      I know next to nothing about the legal ins and outs you’re talking of. But just from reading your comment, it doesn’t even seem equal to me, let alone advantageous. If a married couple had no children then wouldn’t the partner inherit 100% in that circumstance?
      Another example: If a straight couple had two children, then the surviving partner would inherit half, while the children would share the other half, or a quarter each. Conversely, if a gay couple had two children (adoption or surrogacy), then the surviving partner would only get an equal share with the (other) children, one third. That’s if the deceased partner was the legal guardian of the children, in which case they would be legal orphans despite still having one parent.

      My feeling is that if it genuinely was better financially to adopt instead of marry, then you would have a fair few straight couples opting for it.

    6. David Says:

      Incest is not prohibited by law in Japan, just as homosexual activity is also not prohibited. Japan does not follow European customs and social trends, and has never been a Christian society. Not worse and not better, but certainly different from Europe and Anglo-Saxon dominated nations such as the US or Australia.

      Gay adoption is OK in Japan, and this technique has made the subject of gay marriage a non-starter in Japan since family ties are not denied to them. It is an alternative method for allowing the freedom of an alternative lifestyle. Pragmatic and effective, and it will be OK for a koseki as well.

      – Need a source substantiating, “incest is not prohibited by law in Japan, just as homosexual activity is also not prohibited”.

    7. Jim Di Griz Says:

      @Charuzu #4

      Well, this is a country that celebrates pedophilia as a harmless Japanese sub-culture (loli con), so I can’t imagine anyones going to get too upset about the morals involved here. More important is that Keenes playing of the system (as an NJ) doesn’t exactly help improve the image of honest NJ who play by the rules etc.

      – We’re not sure if Donald has “played the system” exactly. It’s just an option that can happen under the koseki system as it stands, was what I was saying. Let’s not level accusations without evidence.

    8. Peppeddu Says:

      “5) How ethnic minorities in Japan are excluded and invisible because they simply aren’t listed as “spouse” or even “resident” on either form”

      Starting July 2012, foreigners will be eligible to be registered in the Juuminhyou.
      http://www.soumu.go.jp/main_sosiki/jichi_gyousei/c-gyousei/pdf/eng_page.pdf

      – Yep. That’ll be one flaw in the system addressed, at least. The others will still remain.

    9. Mark in Yayoi Says:

      “However, in other such countries, the issue of an incest taboo would also accrue.”

      Why would this happen if the parties’ “relation” is an artificial one that exists only in the bureaucratic sphere? These “brothers” have no blood relation whatsoever.

    10. AJ Says:

      Hang on. Incest is not prohibited by law in Japan? Can someone explain that to me/us in a little more detail? How is that possible?

    11. Jim Di Griz Says:

      @David #6

      Sorry, point of order;
      ‘has never been a Christian society’. Well, it was. Why do you think the Portuguese were so happy to help them out with muskets? There were so many christians that even after the ‘summer’ and ‘winter’ siege of Osaka castle, Tokugawa law made christianity a crime. Even harboring a christian in a village was a death sentence for the whole community.

      – Let’s not get too far into this tangent. Point of order taken.

    12. Loverilakkuma Says:

      My understanding is that gay people are recognized as Japanese citizen in family registration system, although Japan’s legal system does not grant them marriage between homosexual partners. The law does not necessarily penalize them for coming out in the first place. They are allowed to own their bars and restaurants. Some Japanese celebrities even admit they are homosexual. The stigma lies in the assumption that all gay people display homosexual acts in public–which is as much dangerous as the assumption that foreigners are inherently aggressive and hence more vulnerbale to violence and crime than Japanese.

      Regarding the issue on Keene, I don’t think he is thinking seriously about advocating gay rights by risking his reputation as a “good” image of naturalized Japanese citizen. He may have the motives to retain his ostentatious celebrity status on one hand and keep his secret identity on the other. He doesn’t have to become famous by publicly announcing his yet-to-be-confirmed ‘coming out’ like Ellen Degeneres or George Takei.

      – True. He also comes from a generation where “dedicated bachelors” didn’t talk about their lifestyles in public (it wasn’t “polite”). The movie J EDGAR gets into this, and director Clint Eastwood talked about the phenomenon during an NPR interview earlier this year.

    13. Jim Di Griz Says:

      @ Mark In Yayoi #8
      ‘Why would this happen if the parties’ “relation” is an artificial one that exists only in the bureaucratic sphere? These “brothers” have no blood relation whatsoever.’
      So, let’s get this straight…they would be legally brothers where inheritance is concerned, but not legally brothers where incest in concerned? I think that Woody Allen would agree with that kind of application of morality.
      Mark, all laws are ‘artificial’ and ‘bureaucratic’. Who has the power to decide that breaking laws for some people is ok, but not for others, because of things like who they are?

    14. Mark in Yayoi Says:

      @Jim 13 – ”So, let’s get this straight…they would be legally brothers where inheritance is concerned, but not legally brothers where incest in concerned?”

      Jim, that’s an incorrect interpretation. They’re brothers only on paper. They’re not genetically brothers, which is what the word “incest” (and its implications of unnaturalness and possible birth defects) implies. Inheritance is an artifact of bureaucracy, whereas genes are most definitely not.

    15. Charuzu Says:

      I do not know whether incest is legally prohibited.

      Yet there is literature that indicates that incest is viewed as objectionable in a variety of cultures.

      http://www.newsroom.ucla.edu/portal/ucla/Ewwwww-UCLA-Anthropologist-Studies-7821.aspx?RelNum=7821

      I am surprised to hear the implication from David #6 that true (rather than the legal fiction for which I asked a question) incest is not legally prohibited or viewed as objectionable in Japan.

      I believe that the incest taboo is viewed as far more universal than a taboo tied to Christianity or its associated religions (Islam, etc.)

      Yet I do see:

      http://www.thebirdman.org/Index/Others/Others-Doc-Sex/+Doc-Sex-Pedophilia&Incest/UniversalityOfIncest.htm

      “How often this incestuous marriage system occurred in traditional Japan is still largely unexplored. One indication of what is likely to be found is a 1959 study by Kubo showing that there were still rural areas in Japan where fathers married their daughters when the mother had died or was incapacitated, “in accordance with feudal family traditions.(154) Kubo concluded that incest was considered “praiseworthy conduct” in many traditional rural families. In the 36 incest cases he studied in Hiroshima, he found that there was often community moral disapproval of the families who lived in open incestuous marriages, but that the participants themselves did not think of it as immoral. In fact, when the father was unavailable to head the family, his son often took over his role and had sex with his sister in order “to end confusion in the order of the home.” Other members of the family accepted this incest as normal.”

      If that description is indeed true, then it would provide an interesting difference between Japan and the rest of mankind.

      – Or else the reaction to an aberrant system linking citizenship, family, and residency. As authors Miyamoto Yuki, Ninomiya Shuhei, Shin Ki-young note in a recent Japan Focus article, about Japan’s outlier status in this regard:

      “• The argument has been raised that the individual as the basic social unit would lead to the breakdown of the family.
      Hard to see the logic of that. Only Japan and Taiwan [which got it from Japan’s colonial era] use the koseki system. Other countries register individuals. In Western Europe, individual identity documents such as birth, marriage and death certificates are all separate. There are, of course, also systems for registering families, but the “head of household” does not exist. The husband and wife write their names down, along with the names of children. In case of divorce, this document becomes void. It’s as simple as that. There not being a koseki has nothing to do with the health of the marriage.”

      Full article at http://japanfocus.org/-Shin-Ki_young/3593

    16. Jim Di Griz Says:

      @Debito
      Interesting quote;
      ‘There not being a koseki has nothing to do with the health of the marriage.”’
      Is ‘the health of the marriage’ is one of the reasons for maintaining the koseki system? If so, then it is another myth of Japanese uniqueness, since we know that Japanese marriages are becoming ‘less healthy’, with increasing divorce rates, and plummeting birth rates.

    17. Rudy Says:

      AJ and Charuzu both say they would be surprised if incest would turn out not to be legally prohibited in Japan. So would Debito, I think, given his request for a source.

      I don’t know whether or not it is prohibited, either. But I would in fact be surprised if it would turn out to be illegal. I don’t think that incest is illegal in my own country of birth, The Netherlands, or at least not actively prosecuted. Or is it? Perhaps Charuzu knows more about this. But what I wanted to say is that I think there is some confusion here: it would seem to me that incest and sexual activity involving minors are legally separate, although they often converge in reality. I would be highly surprised if consensual sexual acts between two adults, even if they are directly related, were in fact illegal in Japan or a Western European country. I was/am under the assumption that these countries have no laws prohibiting whatever kind of consensual sexual activity between adults.

      Sexual activity involving minors is, of course, a different story.

    18. David Says:

      Under Japanese civil law, marriage has certain requirements. However, there is no law in place that prohibits specific sex acts. Homosexual sex, incest, oral sex and masturbation are not mentioned as forbidden acts. Marriage between first cousins is also legal in Japan. Here is the part of civil law that governs marriages.

      http://love.itlawyer.jp/minn/s-konninnnoyoukenn.php

    19. Charuzu Says:

      Rudy #17

      “I don’t think that incest is illegal in my own country of birth, The Netherlands, or at least not actively prosecuted. Or is it? ”

      Incest in the Netherlands is certainly illegal and under several different laws.

      Indeed, consensual adult incest is illegal I believe in every EU country without exception.

      And, as science continues to strongly suggest that incest is an inherently disordered act, I think most EU citizens will support such a prohibition.

      http://www.newsroom.ucla.edu/portal/ucla/Ewwwww-UCLA-Anthropologist-Studies-7821.aspx?RelNum=7821

      – And that’s just about enough about incest. No more comments regarding that tangent will be approved.

    20. Mumei Says:

      > This is one other (unmentioned, of course) reason why I believe Donald Keene recently naturalized. If he remained a foreigner in Japan, he could be adopted, but his name would not be listed properly on the koseki and juuminhyou and no rights or benefits would accrue either way. However, if his partner adopts him after he becomes a Japanese citizen, then all the benefits accrue.

      As predicated, it just came to be.
      ドナルド・キーンさんが養子縁組 三味線奏者の上原さんと
      http://www.sponichi.co.jp/society/news/2013/04/30/kiji/K20130430005714360.html

      日本文学研究者のドナルド・キーンさん(90)が、浄瑠璃三味線の奏者、上原誠己さん(62)と養子縁組したことが30日、分かった。キーンさんが29日、新潟市内で行った講演で明らかにした。

       誠己さんによると、キーンさんが日本国籍取得を表明した2011年春ごろから養子縁組の話が持ち上がり、昨年3月に正式に「キーン誠己」となった。

       06年11月、誠己さんが古浄瑠璃について教えを請うためにキーンさんを訪問して交流が始まった。大英博物館で台本が発掘された人形浄瑠璃「弘知法印御伝記」を09年、約300年ぶりに復活上演した際も、キーンさんの助言を受けた。

       誠己さんは「五世鶴沢浅造」として長年公演に出演。1997年に故郷の新潟市に戻り、家業の酒造会社を手伝いながら、三味線の指導や奏者の活動を続けた。

       現在は東京都内でキーンさんと同居し、スケジュール管理や食事作りなどに携わる。誠己さんは「健康管理をしっかりやり、多忙な先生を支えたい」と話している。

    21. Karjh12 Says:

      Does anyone know of a protocol/process where a child,residing overseas can be removed from the Koseki by a non Japanese parent.

      Children born overseas where one parent is Japanese can ,within three months of birth, be
      registered on the Koseki by the Japanese parent, without the consent or knowledge of
      the non Japanese parent.
      So if the international marriage hits problems the child is Japanese according to the Koseki
      system.

      This has implications in the current “supposed debate” and passing of legislation toward Japan ratifying the Hague Convention. This does not seem to be being addressed, given that Japan also
      does not recognize dual nationality.

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