It always amuses me when I hear people or pundits discuss “the traditional family” as if there were such a thing. Look guys, there is no such thing as “the traditional family’ historically or anthropologically. Family structures have always been fluid arrangements that reflected social, economic, political and cultural structures under the umbrella of power arrangements, mostly in patriarchal contexts.
“Japan has the world’s second highest adoption rate of more than 80,000 a year but most are adult men in their 20s and 30s.
“Historically, it’s been far more common with families in the western part of Japan where merchant families tried to choose the most capable successor,” says Mariko Fujiwara, a sociologist at Hakuhodo Institute of Life and Living.
If you did not have a capable son to succeed, you would try to find a more capable man to marry one of your daughters, she says.
“But the chances are, you didn’t have as capable a son as you’d want so you’d search through your network to find a more capable man to marry one of your daughters.”
“It was a very pragmatic decision for that family business to survive,” she adds.
Even today, the vast majority of Japanese companies are considered family businesses. They include household names such as car-makers Toyota and Suzuki, camera-maker Canon and soy sauce firm Kikkoman.
Suzuki is famously known to have been led by adopted sons. The current chairman and CEO Osamu Suzuki is the fourth adopted son in a row to run the company.
“Family businesses that are run by sons-in-law are much better in many cases than family businesses run by their own sons,” says Yasuaki Kinoshita who invests in Japanese companies at Nissay Asset Management.
“When I make a decision to invest in a listed company which is still owned by a family, the big negatives are corporate governance and succession.”
At Matsui Securities, its fourth president Michio Matsui was adopted into the family, but this meant ditching his own name.
“I was my parent’s oldest son so I was a bit hesitant to be adopted by another family,” he recalls. “But my biological parents said maybe it was my fate.”
Historically, however, changing names wasn’t a big deal because many simply didn’t have one.
“Only 150 years ago, people didn’t have family names unless you came from a significant social class of Samurai,” sociologist Mariko Fujiwara explains.
“And when you changed your name, it was usually because you were given a new name as an honour or as an award for something that you’d accomplished.” It became aspirational, she adds.”