State Indoctrination of Filial Piety
in Tokugawa Japan
Sons and Daughters in the Official Records
of Filial Piety
The household (ie), a corporate unit comprising ancestors, family members, and descendants, constituted the basic socioeconomic unit in early modern Japan, also called the Tokugawa period (1600–1868). This principle held true for the shogun at the apex of government (who distinguished himself from his kin by using Tokugawa as his surname), the daimyo who ruled their domains at the shogun's behest but without his interference, and the warriors (samurai) who served them and ran their administrations from the cities and castle towns, as well as the commoners— peasants, merchants, and artisans. In practice, the organization of the household varied from class to class; for example, concubinage was common among the rulers but rare among commoners. But this does not detract from the importance of the household for all.
The household constrained the choices open to both men and women, because this was a society in which status and residence were fixed from one generation to the next. No movement from peasant to samurai or from rural areas to urban was permitted, at least in theory. Marriage in the case of rulers and ruled was supposed to be for the sake of the household, with scant regard for individual inclinations. Women, and men too, spent their lives under the supervision and control of the patriarchal system, symbolized in ceremonies performed for the ancestral spirits by the male head of household (although he might well have been adopted if no direct descendants were available) and in the virtue of filial piety, the obedience and respect owed to parents.
Given the importance of the ie, it is not surprising that the ruling authorities considered its maintenance over time crucial to governance and the stability of the realm. In their vision of the ideal world, all the families in existence in 1600 would continue to perpetuate themselves at the same political, social, and economic level indefinitely. In reality, however, during the course of the commercial developments of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, some houses, especially among the