Continuity and Change

Two kinds of stem-family system? Traditional Japan and Europe compared

a1 Institute of Economic Research, Hitosubashi University


In 1935 John Embree, an American student of Radcliffe-Brown, entered Suye mura, a village in the Kyushu island of Japan. He was to live in that village for a year and a half to conduct a field survey for his Ph.D. dissertation. During his stay there he determined that ‘The primary social unit in buraku [hamlet] life is the household’, and that ‘This household includes the small family, perhaps a retired grandfather or grandmother, and one or two servants to help in the household and farm labor.’ Since by the ‘small family’ he meant a group of ‘master, wife, eldest son (own or adopted), eldest son's wife, any unmarried children of the master, and eldest son's children (own or adopted)’, what he described is a stem family household.

Being a Radcliffe-Brownian anthropologist, Embree was more interested in the functions of various forms of interaction between households than in statistical analysis of the size and composition of the households of the village. His published monograph includes no table showing a classification of the households there, nor does it contain any information from which we can calculate, for example, the mean number of a particular kin group living within the households of Suye. Nonetheless, his account merits attention for two reasons.