The Japanese Family in Transition: From the Professional Housewife Ideal to the Dilemmas of Choice

The Japanese Family in Transition: From the Professional Housewife Ideal to the Dilemmas of Choice

by Suzanne Hall Vogel
     
 

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In 1958, Suzanne and Ezra Vogel embedded themselves in a Tokyo suburban community, interviewing six middle-class families regularly for a year. Their research led to Japan’s New Middle Class, a classic work on the sociology of Japan. Now, Suzanne Hall Vogel’s compelling sequel traces the evolution of Japanese society over the ensuing decades through the

Overview

In 1958, Suzanne and Ezra Vogel embedded themselves in a Tokyo suburban community, interviewing six middle-class families regularly for a year. Their research led to Japan’s New Middle Class, a classic work on the sociology of Japan. Now, Suzanne Hall Vogel’s compelling sequel traces the evolution of Japanese society over the ensuing decades through the lives of three of these ordinary yet remarkable women and their daughters and granddaughters.

Vogel contends that the role of the professional housewife constrained Japanese middle-class women in the postwar era—and yet it empowered them as well. Precisely because of fixed gender roles, with women focusing on the home and children while men focused on work, Japanese housewives had remarkable authority and autonomy within their designated realm. Wives and mothers now have more options than their mothers and grandmothers did, but they find themselves unprepared to cope with this new era of choice. These gripping biographies poignantly illustrate the strengths and the vulnerabilities of professional housewives and of families facing social change and economic uncertainty in contemporary Japan.

Editorial Reviews

Anne Allison
Suzanne Vogel writes in refreshingly clean prose with a remarkably deft handling of history and context: family, gender, work patterns, and the shift in labor relations and the economy. The book is smart and timely. And I like the take-away message—that there is something that people and the government can do.
William Kelly
Fifty years after the publication of the classic Japan's New Middle Class, Suzanne Vogel has produced a memorable sequel that focuses not on the salarymen but on their wives. It is a warm and engaging portrait of the changes as well as the continuities in Japanese family life.
Michael Zielenziger
Suzanne Vogel is perfectly placed to offer an important and unique perspective on the changing role of Japanese women. Her compelling portrait of the everyday triumphs and frustrations of Japan’s postwar ‘professional’ housewives offers an important new lens for understanding how the postwar ideal of the ‘perfect household’ and maintaining appearances contributes to the new manifestations of psychological stress we see today.
CHOICE
This book is likely to become a standard reference—even a classic—among scholars and students of postwar Japanese social and cultural life. Written toward the end of the author's long and distinguished career as a Harvard psychotherapist and student of Japan (in close alliance with her former husband, the highly regarded Harvard professor Ezra Vogel), her book displays compassion, deep analysis, sensitivity, and humane wisdom not only about Japanese families, but also about Americans interacting with Japanese. The book is organized around three case studies, each with a quite different story to tell in contrast to the others, with very close family and anecdotal details that lead the reader to think of them not as subjects of case studies so much as personal acquaintances. The Vogel's son Steven, a distinguished scholar of Japanese studies at Berkeley, helped his mother with the editing and preparation for an English-language edition. The writing is clear—often even charming—and accessible to readers without much background in Japanese language and culture, although the book will work best for those with some familiarity with the Japanese language and culture in the past sixty years. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All levels/libraries.
The Japan Times
The Japanese Family in Transition focuses on the good wives and wise mothers of three of the families featured in Japan’s New Middle Class, and is . . . unfailingly interesting. Most of Vogel’s observations about her subjects—not least that they are different from one another—ring true [in her] skillful and unadorned observation.
Social Science Japan Journal
[A] detailed portrait not just of Japanese housewives but also the arc of life courses that stretch from Japan’s colonial empire through the new millennium. Framed by two chapters offering analysis and discussion of larger social trends, the bulk of this book consists of extensive and affecting case stories from three women Vogel first met in 1958. Although these women are housewives, and that status deeply impacts the course of their lives, the book captures a tremendous range of their experiences, reflecting sociohistorical and economic particularities, as well as their own personalities. . . . The three life histories at the center of this book each feel like epic narratives, full of the twists and turns that populate most lives, real and fictional. . . .The Japanese Family in Transition will be extremely helpful for scholars looking for cases to illustrate any of a range of social or family norms in twentieth-century Japan. . . .The volume will be a lasting legacy to [the author] and to the people within.
Asian Studies Review
The author offers a rich social, cultural and historical context for the concept of the family. For example, readers are made aware that the employment of a live-in maid was once popular among the urban middle class, and the development of the rice-cooker changed the housewife’s daily routine. . . .[T]he stories of the women are written in a deeply personal manner likely to prompt reflection on the part of the reader.
Journal of Japanese Studies
Suzanne Vogel's The Japanese Family in Transition: From the Professional Housewife Ideal to the Dilemmas of Choice is a warm, readable book based on her decades-long relationships with six families from suburban Tokyo. . . .[T]his is an engaging book that many will enjoy reading and find deeply resonant. It is written for a generalist audience and would make a good addition to a course on changing gender roles in Japan or on Japanese society at mid-century.
Asian Journal of Social Science
A humanely rendered and often poignant exploration of the place of the professional housewife in Japan over the past half-century. Vogel’s study examines the still salient but rapidly waning influence of the post-War sengyō shufu ideal in Japanese society. Drawing on decades of professional and personal interactions with a group of Japanese women and their respective families, Vogel reveals the considerable variation in individual experiences and divergent household trajectories that are often elided under the label, ‘middle class.’. . . The result is an accessibly written monograph that resonates with contemporary studies of Japanese women and family life, while reflecting the rewards and challenges of long ethnographic engagement.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781442221710
Publisher:
Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
Publication date:
03/16/2013
Series:
Asia/Pacific/Perspectives Series
Pages:
200
Product dimensions:
6.20(w) x 9.10(h) x 0.80(d)

What People are saying about this

Michael Zielenziger
Perhaps no nation has changed more dramatically in the past fifty years than Japan, and Suzanne Vogel is perfectly placed to offer an important and unique perspective on the changing role of Japanese women. Her compelling portrait of the everyday triumphs and frustrations of Japan’s postwar ‘professional’ housewives offers an important new lens for understanding how the postwar ideal of the ‘perfect household’ and maintaining appearances contributes to the new manifestations of psychological stress we see today.
William Kelly
Fifty years after the publication of the classic Japan's New Middle Class, Suzanne Vogel has produced a memorable sequel—an update that focuses not on the salarymen but on their wives. It is a warm and engaging portrait of the changes as well as the continuities in Japanese family life.
Anne Allison
Suzanne Vogel writes in a refreshingly clean prose with a remarkably deft handling of history and context: family, gender, work patterns, and the shift in labor relations and the economy. The sexless couple syndrome is fascinating, and everything she says about working mothers, gender inequity, and the ebbing of the Japanese art of silently sensing the feelings of others strikes me as absolutely right. The book is smart, clean, and timely. There is really nothing like it in English. And I like the take-away message—that there is something that people and the government can do.

Meet the Author

Suzanne Hall Vogel (1931–2012) was a psychotherapist with University Health Services, Harvard University. Steven K. Vogel is professor of political science and chair of the Center for Japanese Studies at the University of California, Berkeley.

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