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Short tailors and sickly Buddhist priests: birth order and household effects on class and health in Japan, 1893–1943

Abstract

Il apparaît, à travers l'étude des jeunes gens âgés de vingt ans recrutés par l'armée japonaise, que ces garçons reçoivent, en milieu rural, une éducation du même genre, mais qu'ils exercent des métiers divers. On constate par conséquent une très faible mobilité sociale par l'éducation, mais les ménages montrent d'une grande stabilité et se reproduisent en répartissant en leur sein les risques professionnels et done économiques entre leurs membres. Dans la communauté, le statut d'un ménage influence les résultats de l'éducation, mais c'est le rang de naissance dans la famille qui détermine véritablement le choix de l'activité professionnelle. Le rang de naissance et le secteur d'activité ont pu influencer l'état de santé des individus: les garçons premiers nes jouissent plutôt d'une bonne santé et d'une haute taille, en comparaison des puînés et des enfants illégitimes. Les petites tailles sont l'apanage des artisans, sans doute du fait de leur statut économique inférieur, du caractère répétitif et sédentaire de leur travail, ou du fait que les cadets, qui ont tendance à être plus petits, deviennent artisans.

Il apparaît, à travers l'étude des jeunes gens âgés de vingt ans recrutés par l'armée japonaise, que ces garçons reçoivent, en milieu rural, une éducation du même genre, mais qu'ils exercent des métiers divers. On constate par conséquent une très faible mobilité sociale par l'éducation, mais les ménages montrent d'une grande stabilité et se reproduisent en répartissant en leur sein les risques professionnels et done économiques entre leurs membres. Dans la communauté, le statut d'un ménage influence les résultats de l'éducation, mais c'est le rang de naissance dans la famille qui détermine véritablement le choix de l'activité professionnelle. Le rang de naissance et le secteur d'activité ont pu influencer l'état de santé des individus: les garçons premiers nes jouissent plutôt d'une bonne santé et d'une haute taille, en comparaison des puînés et des enfants illégitimes. Les petites tailles sont l'apanage des artisans, sans doute du fait de leur statut économique inférieur, du caractère répétitif et sédentaire de leur travail, ou du fait que les cadets, qui ont tendance à être plus petits, deviennent artisans.

Diese Untersuchung über 20jährige jugendliche Rekruten für die Armee deutet darauf hin, daß in Japan im frühen 20. Jahrhundert Geschwister, die im selben Haushalt aufwuchsen, tendenziell dieselbe Erziehung genossen, aber danach in unterschiedliche Berufe gingen. Infolgedessen hatte die Erziehung nur geringen Einfluß auf die soziale Mobilität, was zu stabilen Haushalten führte, die sich durch die Streuung beruflicher – und damit ökonomischer – Risiken zwischen ihren Mitgliedern fortpflanzen ließen. Der soziale Status des Haushalts innerhalb der Gemeinde, in dem jemand aufwuchs, beeinflußte dessen Bildungschancen, während die Geburtenfolge innerhalb des Haushalts von größerer Bedeutung für die Berufswahl war. Dabei wirkten sich Geburtenfolge und Beruf wohl auch auf die Gesundheit aus. Erstgeborene Söhne waren tendenziell groß und von guter gesundheitlicher Verfassung, im Unterschied zu ihren nachgeborenen oder unehelichen Brüdern. Geringe Körpergröße gait als typisches Merkmal von Handwerkern, möglicherweise wegen ihres geringen sozialökonomischen Status und der Monotonie ihrer sitzenden Arbeitsweise, oder auch einfach auf Grund der Tatsache, daß viele später geborene Söhne, die eben tendenziell von kleinerer Statur waren, ins Handwerk gingen.

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ENDNOTES

1 Akira Hayami is the pioneer in this field; see Cornell L. L. and Hayami Akira, ‘The shūmon aratame chō: Japan's population registers’, Journal of Family History 11 (1986), 311–28.

2 Interest in this topic has been spurred by international conferences such as the one entitled ‘Dimensions of inequalities among siblings’ held in Siena in July 1991, papers from which were published in the December 1992 issue of Continuity and Change.

3 Fukutake Tadashi, The Japanese social structure, trans. Dore Ronald P., 2nd edn. (Tokyo, 1989), 41–2.

4 Saga Junichi, Memories of silk and straw: a self-portrait of small-town Japan, trans. Evans Garry (New York, 1990), 178–9.

5 Fukutake , The Japanese social structure, 20.

6 Birth-order data were available for males only. I hope that a similar study on females might someday be conducted.

7 Trewartha Glenn, Japan: a physical, cultural, and regional geography (Madison, Wisconsin, 1945), 97, 194.

8 I am grateful to Osamu Saitō for bringing this article to my attention.

9 Sōmuchō tōkei kyoku (General Affairs Office Statistical Bureau), Nihon chōki tōkei sōran (Historical statistics of Japan), vol. 5 (Tokyo, 1978), 212–31.

10 One village historian I worked with in another prefecture was a graduate of prewar middle and normal school and had worked as an elementary school teacher. Others spoke of him as an iri-to (elite). Whereas the standard number of kanji characters of the Japanese language required for the modern educated reader of Japanese newspapers is 3,000, this former elementary school teacher claimed to know 50,000.

11 I asked a Japanese graduate student, Mr Y, to assist me with the reading comprehension examinations. They were written in a form of Japanese used in the prewar era which differs in conjugation and syntax from the Japanese language in current usage. Mr Y is in the Ph.D programme in the Department of History at the University of Chicago and received his bachelor's and master's degrees in Japanese literature from Tokyo University. Tokyo University is considered to be the most elite institution of higher education in Japan, entrance to which is notorious for its extreme competitiveness. Even without allowing for the prewar Japanese, even Mr Y experienced some trouble untangling the meaning of the examinations for Levels 4 and 5.

12 Only 480 of the 600 are listed here because educational level was not given for the other 120. Because the sample size is small, conclusions drawn from statistical analyses of the numbers are made with reserve. Nevertheless, the data linking birth order, education, and health are unusually rich and are virtually complete for this village and time period.

13 I thank Kipp Martin for this suggestion. Since the probability of having another household member with the same educational level increases with household size, this analysis assumes that household size is evenly distributed over the educational categories. There is no strong evidence to suggest the contrary – for example, that university-educated households were much larger on average than middle- and normal-school educated households – especially since ‘household’ here refers to everyone who lived at a particular address over the thirty-year period which the data span. The point is that we know more about a recruit's educational level if we know something about the educational level of another household member, especially at the ends of the educational spectrum.

14 It is unfortunate that the records do not distinguish among important categories of farmers such as jinushi (landlord), jisaku (owner-farmer), ji-kosaku (owner-tenant farmer), and kosaku (tenant farmer). Knowledge of landholding status would provide more useful information about socioeconomic status.

15 Preservation of the household was not an institution limited to Japan. Eldest and younger sons of the nobility in sixteenth-century Italy, for example, were expected to contribute to the ‘splendour of the family’. Eldest sons contributed through the dowry of their wives and younger sons through the proceeds of their ecclesiastical career. See Ago Renata, ‘Ecclesiastical careers and the destiny of cadets’, Continuity and Change 7 (3) (1992), 271–82.

16 Although the sickliest category in the study in Table 1 was that of Buddhist priests, there is no confirmation of this in the individual records in HSIG. The one Shinto priest in the individual records was a first-born son with no health rating given.

17 See Fogel Robert, ‘Economic growth, population theory, and physiology: the bearing of long-term processes on the making of economic policy’ (paper prepared for presentation as the Prize Lecture in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel, 9 12 1993); Floud Roderick, Wachter Kenneth, and Gregory Annabel, Height, health and history (Cambridge, 1990); and Eveleth Phyllis and Tanner J. M., Worldwide variation in human growth, 2nd edn (Cambridge, 1990).

18 Craft occupations include tailor, net-maker, lacquerer, dyer, mat-maker, cabinet-maker, woodworker, brewer, plasterer, carpenter, housefitter, stonemason, swordsmith, candle-maker, tabi-maker (the tabi is the Japanese sock), umbrella-maker, blacksmith, cooper and confectioner.

* Department of Sociology, University of Chicago.

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Continuity and Change
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