Until WWII, Japanese elite families were organized into the ie (家), where a patriarch exerted dominance across his own nuclear and extended family. The idea was that all family members would support the patriarch, and he would take care of the best interests of everyone in the ie. Obviously, this is not totally unfamiliar from American notions of mythic fatherhood, a la Leave it to Beaver and Father Knows Best. The catch is that American notions of fatherhood have been challenged by the women’s liberation movement (consider the dopey dad of the Berenstein Bears), whereas the majority of Japanese still adhere to very conservative gender roles, and continue to believe that proper Japanese fathers deserve ultimate familial power and moral authority.
In this context, it is unsurprising that many Japanese are unsettled by the collapse of traditional family structures. After WWII, many Japanese families left for the cities, and exited traditional ie systems to live instead as individual nuclear families in the urban centers of modern Japan. Not only have ies been stretched geographically, but it is hard to see how the ie has continuing relevance in modern, industrial, and increasingly individualist Japan. Therefore our prayer for Japan comes from Romans 8, that they will not yearn for the bygone era of the ie, but will cry out for “Abba, Father,” as children of God—and thus, our siblings!—as co-heirs with Christ, sharing in His glory.
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