so why DID the japanese quit marrying their cousins?

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

(note: comments do not require an email. eat your fish head soup!)

Advertisements

11 Comments

  1. I wonder if something like this might have happened in the highlands of Scotland two or three hundred years ago. I’ve often heard it said that dumb, inbred people came from Scotland to Kentucky, etc. However many many people also came to Canada from Scotland and they didn’t seem to be particularly dumb or inbred–at last not in the last 150 years or so.

    Scotland must have been almost tribal when the clans were fighting. But by the middle of the 19th century my great grandparents in Caithness seemed to be law-abiding, straight-laced Presbyterians who were not marrying their cousins.

    Reply

  2. @melykin – “I wonder if something like this might have happened in the highlands of Scotland two or three hundred years ago…. However many many people also came to Canada from Scotland and they didn’t seem to be particularly dumb or inbred–at last not in the last 150 years or so.”

    i think there was still a lot of cousin marriage in the highlands in the 1700 and 1800s. and then there’s all that corruption (in the form of patronage) in nova scotia. =/

    @melykin – “…my great grandparents in Caithness….”

    the old caithness or the new one?

    from what i understand, the normanization of scotland — which included, among other things, the introduction of manorialism to the region, the immigration of all sorts of new peoples from the continent, and i’m guessing a more rigorous adherence to roman catholic teachings like the cousin marriage ban possibly? (i think some of these details are in this book, iirc) — occurred mainly in the south and the east of scotland, so were your grand-relatives from a normanized region or a more highland scot area? (^_^)

    Reply

  3. “and it was given legal grounding by the 1898 Civil Code, which prohibited marriages between close relatives.“

    Well there’s a bullseye.

    “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?”

    If the cousin ban was easier to enforce in the new manors than in the old traditionalist villages then my guess for Japan would be similar – easier enforcement in the newly industrializing towns and harder enforcement in the traditionalist villages.

    (Even if the actual *enforcement* was the same you’d be much more likely to randomly meet someone who wasn’t a close cousin if you moved to the town whereas in your home village there might not be anybody who wasn’t a close cousin on at least one side.)

    Reply

  4. @g.w. – “…easier enforcement in the newly industrializing towns and harder enforcement in the traditionalist villages. Even if the actual *enforcement* was the same you’d be much more likely to randomly meet someone who wasn’t a close cousin if you moved to the town whereas in your home village there might not be anybody who wasn’t a close cousin on at least one side.”

    yes and yes. (^_^)

    also, there might be some social pressures in the new urban settings to avoid cousin marriage. if the upper classes started avoiding it (and a lot of these people thinking and writing about it were from the upper classes), then it might become fashionable and filter down to the aspiring middle class (if there was one) and, eventually, to the lower orders.

    did you see that there were hints there that the burakumin might’ve particularly engaged in cousin marriage? at the very least, they must’ve married pretty endogamously ’cause they didn’t really have many other choices (and they may not have wanted to marry out either, of course). and then i saw this on wikipedia:

    “Mitsuhiro Suganuma, the ex-member of Public Security Intelligence Agency, testified that burakumin account for about 60 percent of the members of the entire yakuza.”

    mmm-hmm!

    Reply

  5. “also, there might be some social pressures in the new urban settings to avoid cousin marriage.”

    yes, seen as lower class, rural and peasantish

    .
    “did you see that there were hints there that the burakumin might’ve particularly engaged in cousin marriage? at the very least, they must’ve married pretty endogamously ’cause they didn’t really have many other choices”

    castes create the population density effect (if it exists) but by another route

    .
    “that burakumin account for about 60 percent of the members of the entire yakuza”

    yes, surprised not am i :)

    Reply

  6. My grandparents and great grandparents on my father’s side were from the area that is now the new Caithness. (near Thurso) They were Presbyterians, not Catholics. They were very devout, conservative Presybterians. This was in the 19th century. There aren’t many genealogy records from those parts before the 19th century so I don’t know what was going on before that. But in my family, at least , they don’t appear to have been marrying their cousins in the 19th century.

    Nova Scotia had some immigration from Scotland in the 17th century. But it is not noted for being particularly corrupt. (Quebec takes that prize). Canada does quite well on the Transparency International corruption scale–ranking about 10th or so last tie I checked i beli eve. We’d do better without Quebec.

    Reply

  7. Question: was there any push within Japanese society prior to the 19th century for changing the marriage customs? I find it very interesting how quick they changed in the 19th century. Perry ‘opens’ Japan in the mid 19th century and before the close of the 19th century (roughly 40 years) Japan had enough exposure and observation of Western norms to radically change their way of life down to the formation of families. Seems like a peculiar reaction that could only be achieved through the aristocratic rule of 19th century Japan and the way of life practiced by 19th century Westerners.

    Reply

  8. @sobl1 – “I find it very interesting how quick they changed in the 19th century…. Seems like a peculiar reaction that could only be achieved through the aristocratic rule of 19th century Japan and the way of life practiced by 19th century Westerners.”

    i think the rapid change speaks to the nature of east asians, esp. the japanese: highly conforming. when the herd changes direction in east asian, they all move very quickly in the new direction. it’s not that westerners don’t herd (eg. political correctness), just more slowly, i think (except maybe for the germanics).

    Reply

  9. @melykin – “…near Thurso….”

    well, that’s way up there, isn’t it?! (^_^)

    seems like the normans did indeed make it all the way to caithness, though, although who knows how much influence they had on the general society there — whether they managed to influence marriage patterns or not. what i said in my last comment about the normans and their influence in scotland was wild speculation on my part, btw.

    @melykin – “Nova Scotia had some immigration from Scotland in the 17th century. But it is not noted for being particularly corrupt. (Quebec takes that prize).”

    absolutely. quebec is the big problem, corruption-wise. but there is a bit of a problem with patronage in nova scotia, though — not at all comparable to quebec, but it is there apparently.

    Reply

Leave a Reply to hbd chick Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s