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«Tadashi INOUE 1. THE FAMILY AS A UNIT THAT EATS TOGETHER Since the Second World War - and especially since 1960 - the Japanese economy has undergone ...»

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Since the Second World War - and especially since 1960 - the Japanese

economy has undergone remarkable growth resulting in a richer and more

affluent lifestyle for all Japanese. On the other side of the coin, however, the Japanese family has been, and continues to be, severely shaken. The grouping known as the family is by no means a self-evident institution any more. We can cite two major reasons for this.

The first is that many functions of the family unit now exist outside the family. Formerly, the family unit exercised all manner of functions consti- tuting a "tiny, self-contained cosmos" for its members. Today, however, economically productive functions have shifted completely to the office or factory, thereby transforming the family into a solely consuming unit.

The protective function of the family, the job of defending its members from natural dangers and social threats, has been surrendered to the police and local communes. In the same way, educational functions are now the domain of schools, religious functions are exercised by institutionalized religious groups, recreational functions are handled by the leisure in- dustry, and the list goes on. Many of the functions once considered inher- ent and inseparable from the family unit, have shifted in fact to outside groups.

Internally, from the perspective of individual family nlembers, these functional shifts have acted to greatly reduce the relative psychological importance of the family unit. The question that comes up is whether or not the family is still an indispensable institution worth preserving, as it once was, with one's life. Even the Japanese housewife, traditional pillar of the family institution, has begun to waver in her resolve.

The second reason for the changing role of the family unit has to do with its downsizing. According to the National Census, the average pre- war household size of five persons has been whittled down to three per- sons at present (see Figure 1). The percentage of single person households 139 Tadashi INOUE is on the increase, as well. In 1970 ittopped 10% and by 1990 it had topped 20%. The size of the family is rapidly decreasing.

6,------------·------------------------, 1920 25 30 35 1940 50 55 1960 65 70 75 80 1985 90 Figure I: Trends in the average number per person per household Source: National Census The changes being observed are by no means strictly quantitative, either.

Qualitative changes are also extremely prominent. For instance, in prewar Japan it was quite normal for families to have unrelated (i.e., not blood related) persons, including servants, living with them. This phenomenon is all but completely gone now in Japan. The family has been pared down to a small unit of strictly blood-related persons. In fact, the reduction process is so dramatic that the definition of family threatens to converge with that of the individual.

Can the family continue to exist as we know it? Can it continue to function as the fundamental unit of social life?

In light of the above, it's no wonder that we have begun today to reevaluate the significance of "the family as a group that takes meals together". This is because the only place where the members of the family gather together daily is at the dining table.

If we identify the dining room (or space) as the stage on which the daily drama of the family unfolds, then the most important prop on that stage is none other than the dining table. The members of the family sit around the table and share a meal. It's a relaxing time in which family members have a chance to reconfirm their connection to each other. In other words, the meal taken around the table is tantamount to a ritual necessary for mutual reconfirmation of family identity.

In the title of her 1979 novel, The House without a Dining Table, author Enchi Fumiko adroitly suggests the plight and the sentiments of the disjointed family. The dining table is the prop around which the family, 'the 140 Changes in Family Relations unit which eats together,' can be produced and, as such, it is the symbol of "farnilial togetherness."

As we will discuss below, over the course of the last century, the Japanese dining table has undergone three major changes in form. Corresponding to these changes in the dining table, the table manners connected with the foods and meals arranged on the dining table have changed significantly, as well. It is here that the changes in human relations inside the family are tellingly reflected.

The way that family members behave when they gather around the dining table should be the best indicator of the nature and enlOtional content of family relations. In spite of this fact, however, the view of the family as the unit that eats together has been continually neglected in the field of conventional family research.

The purpose of this study is to elucidate some of the changes in family relations that have occurred in postwar Japan, drawing some comparisons with the prewar period in the process. To achieve our purpose, we will focus on changes as they have occurred in the family dining space, and, above all, in the Japanese dining table.


Japanese generally divide the foods at the table into two main categories:

staple (shushoku) and side dishes (okazu). Historically, the staple food, of course, has been rice. The importance of rice in the Japanese diet is revealed by the fact that the word for rice in Japanese, gohan, is synonymous with 'food' or 'meal'.

The term 'side dish' (okazu) encompasses all other food at the table. In Japan of the 1930's, rice was at the heart of every meal. A child who quickly consumed side dishes yet ate sparingly of rice was known as okazukkui ('side dish hog') and such behavior was viewed as reprehensible and even "immoral" (Tsurumi 1984).

In the midst of the Second World War, food was exceedingly difficult to obtain. Rice distribution was handled by a national management board and strictly rationed. For many Japanese, white rice was rarely if ever seen at the dining table. Rice, now unavailable, had to be substituted with things like suiton (soup with wheat flour dumplings) and steamed potatoes or taro.

For some time after the end of the war, food remained in short supply and hunger was a"reality for most Japanese. This was especially true in the war-scarred cities where starvation and destitution were at their very worst. In the fall of 1947 there was the shocking case of a Tokyo District

141 TadashiINOUE

Court judge who died suddenly of lnalnutrition. It turned out that he had been subsisting only on the food rations he received.

Within ten years of the war's end, food supplies had improved greatly and the family diet began to undergo tremendous changes. First of all, the white rice that people had only been able to dream about during the war, was once again available for everyone. Ironically, just as rice was once again being restored as the staple food, the move away from rice as the main staple began.

Incidentally, based on the Supply and Demand Index published by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (Norinsuisanshi5), the only foodstuffs whose per capita consumption is actually going down are rice and tubers (potatoes, taro, sweet potatoes, etc.). At the same time, consumption of side dishes such as meat, eggs and milk products are increas-ing prodigiously (see Table 1.). In other words, Japanese have begun consuming less rice (staple food) and more side dishes. Generally speaking, we've become a nation of okazukkui ('side dish hogs').

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71 1960 315 273 61 14 76 83 17 61 41 12 1-----Table 1: Trends in the per capita consumption of important food groups (per person per day) Source: Norinsuisansho [Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries]: Shokuryo jukyuhyo [Foodstuffs Supply and Demand Table] Among Japanese, the two traditional categories of staple and side dish are still a reality. However, the old and time-honored power relations attached to staple and side dish have changed radically. Furthermore, considering the fact that meals with bread have increased, we can conclude that Japanese have gradually given up the iron-clad notion that "staple food equals rice."

Second, foods that formerly were only available on special occasions are now available to everyone at regular meals. Every day has become a feast day, so to speak, a continual special occasion meal.

In traditional Japan, every family clearly differentiated between special occasion and regular meals. The menu for regular meals taken in the family was fairly fixed. Providing there was no special occasion or change of season, people generally ate pretty much the same things at meal times.

This explains the specialness and excitement associated with meals taken on special occasions and foods that came to be closely identified with the 142 Changes in Family Relations different seasons. Green house agriculture and frozen foods have changed all this. You can now get any food you want during any season.

As the lineup of foods at the dining table has become more varied and elaborate, it has reached the point where family menu decisions have become confusing. The family's daily fare has become a constant source of anxiety for housewives. Furthermore, as instant foods requiring almost no preparation have become popular, housewives have felt a compensating need to spend time on cooking and make things from scratch. This development has sparked a need to bring cooking information from outside into the household. In this sense, the title of the NHK television program, "Today's Meal," which has been on the air since November 1957 is truly symbolic of this trend. This analysis certainly helps explain the longstanding popularity of books, magazines and television programs about cooking.

Third, opportunities to dine outside the family have increased tremendously. Formerly, dining out was a privilege reserved mainly for urban men. That is to say, the patrons of high class restaurants and exclusive Japanese-style dining establishments (ryotei) were limited to the economically affluent class of people who owned businesses and factories.

They were followed in the postwar period by those employees of large companies with expense accounts for entertaining clients. Laborers and students did their eating out in humbler small restaurants. Recently, however, the emergence of women as restaurant goers has been notable throughout Japan. Groups of housewives dining out together are now an extremely common scene. With the popularization of the family car throughout the country, scenes of families dining out together have also become typical.

In general the whole Japanese view of dining has changed from "the meal as a means of satisfying one's hunger" to "the meal as a form of enjoyment." Or, as another author has put it, there has been a shift from "mealtime as an expression of abstinence and denial" to "rnealtime as an expression of pleasure" (Ishige 1989). In former times, it was only a very small group at the top of the social ladder that had the means to enjoy meals and mealtimes. Today, however, anyone with a desire to do so, can approach meals and mealtimes with a sense of pleasure and enjoyment.

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During the period in which this system was prevalent, each member of the family received his meal on what was called a hakozen (literally 'box tray'). The hakozen is a box with a cover measuring 30cm in width, 30cm in depth and 20cm in height. Inside it contains a full set of eating utensils for one person: rice bowl, soup bowl, small plate(s) for side dishes and chopsticks. When in use, the cover is turned over to form a small tray table upon which the utensils are arranged.

The second form is the chabudai ('tea table'). Depending on the region and the family, this piece of furniture was known by several different names including handai ('meal stand') and shippokudai ('meal stand'). For our purposes here, the chabudai will represent this whole class of tables.

The chabudai is a small group dining table customarily placed on the tatami mat flooring of a Japanese-style room. It may be either circular or rectangular in shape. Normally it is outfitted with four short legs which can often be folded to facilitate storage.

The third form is the western-style table designed to be used with chairs. To accommodate the growing number of families who prefer to take their meals at a western-style table seated on chairs, the flooring of the dining room has had to change accordingly from tatami mats to hardwood or tile.

The chabudai is said to have become prevalent during the first two decades of this century mainly in the families of urban office employees. It later became a popular piece of furniture in agricultural and fishing villages, as well. The popularization of the western-style table and chairs is said to have coincided with the sale of three room apartments (including a separate kitchen/ dining room) by the Japan Public Housing Corporation in 1955. However, according to an interview survey we conducted with elderly informants (1983), the transition period frorn meimeizen (separate trays) to chabudai and from chabudai to western-style table and chairs was not necessarily the same for everyone (compare Ishige and Inoue 1991).

If we examine the rise and fall in the popularity of the three forms of dining table in Japan over time, what kind of curves do we come up with?

Figure 2 shows the computer generated curves recording the gradual transition from one form of dining table to another based on the results of our interview surveys. The horizontal axis is the time line and the vertical axis indicates the distribution of the form of dining table at any given time among the 284 respondents. Although the numerical data should be viewed as approximate, Figure 2 points up some very interesting facts.

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1928 1936 1944 1952 1960 1968 1976 1920 1980

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