A Visit With a Japanese Family in 1964 Part 1: East meets West, but Don’t Worry – They’re Westernized!

A Visit with a Japanese Family_15

Organizers of the Tokyo Olympic Games in 1964 were worried about how they were going to accommodate all of the expected 30,000 visitors during the peak. In addition to hotels, youth hostels and even large passenger liners, owners of private homes were asked to make rooms available for foreign visitors. Over 580 private homes alone added an additional 1,445 beds to capacity.

Those who stayed at a Japanese private home likely had a unique and wonderful experience. But there must have been some initial concern by foreigners in crashing at a stranger’s place, particular in the land of the rising sun, where the people were inscrutable and the food moved on its own.

Perhaps the Organizing Committee felt a need to explain the Japanese family to the Westerner. Towards the end of the book, “Tokyo Olympics Official Souvenir 1964”, the publisher, Dentsu, dedicated a few pages to demystifying the Japanese family.

Dentsu’s approach was to apply the tried but true formula of the harmonious meeting of East and West. In this article, we visit the Kato family – a symbol of this pleasing integration:

We’ re on our way to Mr. Kato’s or “Kato-san’s” home. Let me give you some tips before we get there. You’ll find “dual” living arrangements there-Western modes and time-honored Japanese tradition peacefully co-existing under one roof. The Japanese have not dispensed with tatami rooms (straw mat floors), but one room is usually Western style with a rug and furniture. Kimono at home is the rule and Western dress outside, for the office, school and business.  

It’s not just the house and the rooms, but also how the typical Japanese family eats and sleeps.

At mealtime you’ll see the family is as dexterous with fork and knife as with chopsticks (called hashi), but on the other hand they may favor chopsticks even for Western food. Each family member will have his own set of hashi, and guests are provided with disposable ones which are discarded after use. With the same relish, Kato-san and his son drink hot Japanese sake (rice wine) or whiskey on ice. At night some of the family may sleep on futons (feather bedding) and others will sleep in beds. The people of this country are “sensitive pragmatists”­ – there is beauty, versatility and comfort in their homes and lives.

Now Dentsu figured that the visiting Westerner has been programmed by WWII propaganda of how Japanese children and mothers were under the total subjugation of the man of the household, and how entire families were under the total subjugation of the Emperor of Japan. In this article, Westerners were reassured that times have changed, and so have the Japanese, but not entirely:

The Japanese home is no longer ruled by a huffing-puffing patriarch. Husband, “wife and children are a close group. While the chief decision-maker is the bread-winner, wives these days usually hold the purse strings and the women’s voice in domestic affairs is to be with. The Japanese Civil Code attempts to regulate inheritance so that one third of a man’s estate goes to his wife and two­ thirds to his children. It is still common,   however, for an estate, settled in terms of a will, to award the lion’s share of the inheritance to the eldest son, reflecting the traditional value placed upon family line, rather than upon individuals.