The family has often been seen as a transhistorical institution and in many
times and places has been viewed as the most basic unit of society. In the
context of current concerns about the low birth rate and high longevity in
contemporary Japan, the family is the focus of attention. Although there are
certainly specificities about Japan's current demographic crisis (Mackie,
2013a), a survey of modem Japanese history would reveal that the family has
been in constant transition. The fluidity offamily forms was recently brought
home to me when I had the opportunity to look at some documentary films
from about 30 years ago. In 1980, the Japan Foundation produced a documentary
film about a multi-generational family- the Hanawa family- living
in Nerima Ward in the west of Tokyo (Japan Foundation, 1980). The four
generations of the family included members born under two vastly different
political and social systems: Imperial Japan (1890-1945) and post-war Japan.
The older generations of the family had experienced World War II, the Allied
Occupation of Japan and post-war reconstruction and economic growth.
The documentary was produced on the cusp of the economic boom of the
1980s, known colloquially as the 'bubble years'. The youngest members of
the Hanawa family, toddlers and primary-school children at the time the film
was produced, would have come of age in the years of economic recession
and would have been most likely to become members of the 'lost generation'
of the 1990s (Dasgupta, 2009, pp. 79-95). This documentary provides a sense
of the changing forms of family over the course of the twentieth century. In
order to chronicle the family in early twenty-first-century Japan, however, it
is necessary to investigate a variety of family forms, which increasingly
include transnational connections and which involve encounters with diversity
within the very walls of the family home.