Japanese family system ruined my engagement

This is about Japanese family system “ie” and how it relates to marriage.

Anyone who studies Japanese studies or something regarding Japan might come across this idea of traditional family system, so-called “ie”

As Kuwayama says, “Ie does not simply refer to the family or household: rather, it stands for the entire country of Japan as a metaphor for the organising principle of a company, or a Japanese heritage?- In this sense, ie constitutes a broad ‘discursive’ sphere, different aspects in the same rubric.”

You may think, so what?

Let me share my story here,

I was engaged to a guy who I met at university 8 years ago. We had been dating for approximately 5 years since then, and even though we broke up for 2 years, we were back to be together. So, this engagement meant a lot.

Then, I don’t know what exactly the necessary process of getting married in other countries is like, but by following social conventions, each of us met each family and obtained permissions for this marriage. This is the first step.

Second step? is “both families meeting”. 6 people- two parents and kids.

On that night, I was told that my parents are not going to accept any longer.

Why? Because they don’t like his mother. Because they felt his mother’s attitude was offensive indicating she is not welcoming me as a member of his family. Apparently my parents were devastated by that.

Therefore, according to my parents, marriage is not about individuals, but family-family thing. As there is a fatal problem in his family, in this case-his mother-, we, as those who really think my happiness, cannot accept this marriage.

Alright, his mother’s attitude might be wrong. I could see that.

But don’t you think that there might be another way rather than just dumping this into the dark? Do they ever think what their daughter wants rather than what they want?

Family is important. No doubt. No one wants to do something which makes family unhappy, which in any way makes me unhappy.

This happened quite recently, I am still quietly stunned and shocked, so I do recognise my story is messy.

However, anyhow, this might be a great opportunity to think about the Japanese traditional family system and social norms of marriage. And by writing down what I AM feeling now on time, you may be able to see how it changes. Some people might be in a much more serious situation in many ways, and my case might be just a “cockmamie” story.

I don’t know participant observation as an anthropologist could work on myself, but let’s give it a go.


KUWAYAMA, T. 2001. The Discourse of Ie (Family) in Japan’s Cultural Identity and Nationalism : A Critique. Japanese review of cultural anthropology, 2.
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