A Review of "Modern Patriarchy and Formation of the Japanese Nation State" by Ueno Chizoku


In her treatise on the modern Japanese patriarchy and it’s role in the development of the modern Japanese Nation State, Ueno Chizoku examines stages of development and influence throughout the course of Japanese history. She begins with the thesis that the ie, the conventional concept of the Japanese household, is not a natural remnant from the feudal era, but a deliberate invention of the Meiji government. I thought she built her argument well from evidence that this system was drawn from Confucian ethics and the household models of the samurai elite in an effort to draw a correlation between a patriarchal family structure and the relationship the emperor had with his subjects. After exploring this historical angle and its various proofs, Ueno delves into the modern dynamic of ie.

Ueno posits that by drafting and legalizing this concept of the Japanese household, the Meiji government divided the world into the public and the private domains- the state, and the family. Forced to reconcile state and family values, the Meiji government constructed an ideology that made the two seem compatible, with loyalty to state greater than “filial piety.” Ueno sees two main reasons that prevent the average Japanese from seeing this concept: one theoretical, one ideological. Since the elite most thoroughly adopted and supported this ie model, their customs have been the most historically attainable. Since private and public domains were separated in this model, Ueno suggests that gender bias enters the equation as women become “the indispensable but invisible other half of the public sphere.” They epitomized the private domain, as Ueno suggests, becoming romanticized refuges and sanctuaries from the rigors of the public counterpart, and I tend to agree. When modern Japanese feminists encroach on the boundaries of this refuge, the average Japanese psychology rebels, but where some feminist writers are destructively reactionary, Ueno maintains a very clear and logical path of progression from point to point.

Ueno also claims that this ideology, by its very nature, precludes any questions about its own origin. On a theoretical level, she examines several bases for modern family structures, then concludes that for examining the ie, it is not family structures that matter, but family mentalities. I thought it interesting that the mentality that Ueno says most epitomizes the Japanese family structure is that of the “romantic relationship,” which she then deconstructs in her third section. In “demystifying” this romance, she systematically examines romance as a perpetuator of the dominant patriarchal system. Either couples make utilitarian matches, or “love marriages,” which do not actually significantly change the rate of endogamy or hypergamy in the population. Even in love matches, as Ueno describes from the work of Terry Eagleton, the Japanese woman is subconsciously using the idea of romantic rebellion to free herself from the dictatorship of the father in order to submit herself to the domination of the husband. She also quotes Foucalt to describe this process, in what he called “subjectification, that is to say, complete subjugation of the individual to a norm by means of internalisation.” Ueno convinced me that the entire effort of the construction of ie has been to make the family utterly unquestionable.

I felt that Ueno’s essay was exceptionally enlightening, in both the material and the context it sprung from. I was especially intrigued and impressed by the way in which she synthesized of a variety of fairly disparate elements to form a cohesive argument that sheds much needed light on the subject of Japanese patriarchy and the role of women in the various stages of Japanese history.


  • Ueno, Chizoku. “Modern Patriarchy and the Formation of the Japanese Nation State.” Multicultural Japan: From Paleolithic to Postmodern. Ed. by Donald Denoon et al. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2001. 213-223.

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