one of the reasons seems to have been that the policy was, indeed, part of the modernization/westernization move in late-nineteenth century japan (sort-of the opposite of what happened in the maghreb/mashriq/parts of south asia when they went through an arabization process — oops! — bad luck).

from “Japan’s Outcaste Abolition: The struggle for national inclusion and the making of the modern state” [pgs. 82-83] (the “new commoners” referred to here are the burakumin whose social status changed with the “edict abolishing ignoble classes” — they were literally new commoners after moving up in the world [theoretically anyway]. “eta” also=burakumin. links added by me.):

“[O]ne of the main government aims of the time was to improve the national stock so as to maximize economic productivity and military power, as expressed in the slogan ‘rich country, strong military’. Although eugenics as a scientific discipline was not introduced into Japan until the end of the Meiji period, the Meiji government had from its inception followed policies to foster stronger and healthier Japanese bodies through its encouragement of milk-drinking and meat-eating, as well as through its public hygiene and health policies. If there was a hereditary and inferior Eta nature that was biologically transmitted, then it would be in the national interest to minimize relationships between New Commoners and others.

“The leaders of the semi-official Greater Japan Private Hygiene Association, whose purpose was to improve the nation’s human resources and to heighten people’s value as labour and military power, made explicit this connection between state interests and individual health. At this body’s inaugural assembly in 1883, its president and the future head of the Japanese Red Cross, Sano Tsunetami (1822-1902), declared that, ‘the health of each of us is related to whether our country shall be strong or weak, rich or poor’. Another executive, the medical doctor Hasegawa Yasushi (1842-1912), pronounced that the association’s aim was to ‘make the nation healthy, foster the strength that is the font of capital, [...] and thereby increase militarisation’.

“Intellectuals debated precisely how the state might realize the goal of improving its human resources. Based on notions of a racial hierarchy topped by Westerners, holders of one extreme view proposed that Japanese people should interbreed with Western people. ‘The physiques and minds of Japanese are inferior to Westerners’, one writer argued, going on to propose that ‘we should import [Western] women…”

heh! (~_^)

“…and promote meat-eating to further improve our race’. While the latter idea about eating more meat proved popular, the former proved contentious. Hozumi Yatsuka attacked plans for racial interbreeding on the grounds it would adversely affect ancestor worship, a practice that in his opinion underpinned the Japanese nation.

“In somewhat more scientific fashion, the pre-eminent conservative intellectual Kato Hiroyuki pointed out in 1887 that if Westerners were racially superior and their genes dominant, then rather than improving the Japanese race, intermarriage between Western women and Japanese men would lead logically and unacceptably to the eventual replacement and disappearance of Japanese. Partly as a result of such criticisms, Japanese scholars ‘tended to emphasise environmental elements over genetics’, and devised practical plans to improve the population by reforming and improving people’s lifestyles.

People who looked at ways to reform popular lifestyles from the perspectives of national health and state power turned their attention to improving sanitation and diet and also drew attention to the problem of ‘inbreeding’ or marriages between close blood relatives. They considered inbreeding practices to be widespread, and thus to pose a serious problem, since they gave rise to disease and deformity, and ultimately would bring about ‘racial decline’. In light of these unwanted effects, intellectuals and officials called on people to desist from such unions.

“There had been occasional attacks on inbreeding during the early Meiji years. In 1875, Minoura Katsundo (1854-1929), a student of Fukuzawa Yukichi, had bemoaned the fact that alliances between close blood relatives were causing aristocratic degeneracy. Such claims were countered, however, by arguments that inbreeding was necessary to maintain the purity of aristocratic bloodlines. But growing out of a more general concern with ‘racial improvement’ among the socio-political elite, the concern with inbreeding that emerged in the latter part of the Meiji period was much broader in its focus, and it was given legal grounding by the 1898 Civil Code, which prohibited marriages between close relatives.

my questions are: first, what does “close relatives” mean? presumably first cousins anyway. then, how well was this civil code enforced? or was it changed at some point? or did the japanese not have to register their marriages with the state? or were there a lot of exemptions or something? because if there was a law banning cousin marriage in japan, why then were 22.4% of marriages in japan in the 1910s-1920s between cousins? (i actually saw a figure of 50% in something i was reading yesterday — need to find it again.) lots of looking the other way by officials? bribery? what was going on?

more from the book:

“A noteworthy aspect of the mid-to-late-Meiji anti-inbreeding campaign was that writers alleged that practice to be prevalent among New Commoners. Their claims may have had the effect of discouraging some people from inbreeding practices, as presumably the threat of becoming alike to New Commoners constituted a powerful disincentive. Such claims may have had some basis in the fact that discrimination limited the marriage pool of New Commoners and thus promoted community endogamy. But to target New Commoners as particular practitioners of this ‘offence’ was to ignore the fact that marriage relations between close relatives were not all uncommon among the population generally, and were prevalent especially among the upper reaches of society.”

previously: japan – reversal of fortune? and historic mating patterns in japan

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