The Culture of Fatherhood in Japanese Comic Strips: A Historical Analysis

By Yasumoto, Saori; LaRossa, Ralph | Journal of Comparative Family Studies, Summer 2010 | Go to article overview

The Culture of Fatherhood in Japanese Comic Strips: A Historical Analysis


Yasumoto, Saori, LaRossa, Ralph, Journal of Comparative Family Studies


INTRODUCTION

"Fatherhood, history reminds us, is a cultural invention." So said John Demos in a 1982 essay that offered an overview of the history of fatherhood in America and that has since become required reading among fatherhood scholars (Demos, 1982, p. 444; see also Rotundo, 1985). Endeavoring to demonstrate how fatherhood is created (or re-created) over time, Demos focused not so much on everyday actions as on cultural representations, and made a case for how legal and religious tracts, child rearing manuals, magazine articles, television shows, theatrical plays, and comic strips cognitively framed men and their relationships with their children. In this respect, Demos gave greater attention to the culture of fatherhood than to the conduct of fatherhood, while at the same time advancing the proposition that the two are intricately intertwined. (On the culture and conduct of fatherhood, see LaRossa, 1988, 1997. On the general theoretical relationship between culture and conduct, see Stokes & Hewitt, 1976; Swidler, 1986.)

The careful examination of a variety of cultural representations has yielded insights into how the culture of fatherhood ebbs and flows in the wake of economic and other social forces, and how these forces reciprocally are affected by manifestations of culture. In the decades since Demos's article was published, research on the culture of fatherhood has proliferated (recent works include Devlin, 2005; LaRossa, 2004, 2005; Quinn, 2006; Wall & Arnold, 2007). Almost all of this research however, has centered on North America. Studies of the culture of fatherhood in other parts of the world are noticeably lacking. (For an exception, see Book & Penttinen, 1997, who studied representations of fathers in Finish women's magazines.)

The purpose of this article is to broaden the current understanding of the culture of fatherhood, by looking to East Asia and, specifically, to Japan, where a spotlight has been shown on the minimal amount of time fathers spend with their children (e.g., see National Women's Education Center of Japan, 2007). What Japanese fathers should be doing (an indicator of culture), but are not (a statement about their conduct), has become a major area of concern, at least among certain groups (Fuess, 1 997). In the minds of some, for example, the low fertility rate in Japan is attributable to men's virtual absence in child care and rearing (Boling, 1998). And the Japanese government now makes it a matter of policy to actively promote father involvement, initiating a nationwide campaign in 1 999 that had as its slogan, "A man who doesn't raise his children can't be called a father" (Ishii-Kuntz, Makino, Kato & Tsuchiya, 2004; see also IshiiKuntz, 2003; Kagayama, 1999).

There is anecdotal evidence to suggest that the culture of fatherhood in Japan has changed. Scholars have pointed to instances of how Japanese fathers are negatively characterized (e.g., see Shwalb, Nakazawa, Yamamoto & Hyun, 2004), with mention made of sarcastic popular expressions (e.g., dame oyaji, translated as "useless dads") or of Japanese television fathers portrayed as aloof. The implication is that these kinds of characterizations are more widespread today than they were before. Public opinion surveys also have revealed changes in the personal attitudes of the Japanese toward men's and women's roles, with people becoming more egalitarian in their thinking (Shwalb, Kawai, Shoji & Tsunetsugu, 1997; Suzuki, 1991). As revealing as these reports are, however, a systematic analysis of the culture of fatherhood in Japan has yet to be carried out (Gatzen, 2001). Without such an analysis, it is difficult to get a true sense of the norms, values, beliefs, and expressive symbols under which Japanese fathers have been-and are now-operating. Without such an analysis, it is impossible to chart historical trends.

Given the concern about the state of Japanese fatherhood and the fact that a historical understanding of fatherhood is indispensable for developing fatherhood policy and research, there is a genuine need for studies that carefully examine, over time, the culture of fatherhood in Japan. …

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