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In the summer of 1949, the Public Opinion and Sociological Research Division of SCAP was commissioned to conduct a series of basic demographic and sociological surveys to help write an enumeration schedule for the 1950 Census of Japan--the first census since the war. I was more or less in charge of the fieldwork, although Pat Whelpton, the associate director of the Scripps Research Center for Population Research in Ohio was responsible for technical details of the study. I had experience in wartime with designing interview schedules for the Office of War Information and Rensis Likert's Program Surveys Division in the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

We performed a series of field projects in various parts of Japan--"we" being two Americans and four Japanese social scientists working for our Division. One of the most interesting of these projects took us to the Island of Shikoku and some of the smaller satellite islands in the Inland Sea, where there existed various historically ancient and traditional forms of community and family organization. We homed in on odd forms of social structure that would require special kinds of enumeration techniques. Two of particular interest were; first, migratory fishing communities--groups of families that wandered from island to island, camping on beaches and occasionally settling down for short periods to mend nets and raise some crops; and second, a number of extremely densely-populated coastal communities where families displayed special problems of size, interaction, and member retention. The third aspect, not related to the census research, was ethnological--reporting on some quite antique ritualized forms of family organization in the agricultural villages on various Seto Naikai (Inland Sea) Islands.

Note: Many of the places and sites mentioned in these letters are illustrated by the photographs in this portfolio. In fact, there are so many that I have not bothered to cite them. The reader is invited to make his own connections between text and pictures. As usual, I wrote journal letters to my wife.

Journal Extracts: Fieldwork in the Remote Islands

September 5, 1949

We leave for a one-week trip on Monday, September 5th. We are going down to Shikoku (the big island that creates the Inland Sea) and travel through the central part of the island on a tour of various types of villages. The object is to test out some definitions of household and family that we have cooked up for the 1950 Japanese census, and also to spot some villages suitable for intensive studies of changes in Japanese family life, which we propose to get started in October. This study is partly related to the census project, partly our own baby. The trip will be fast and intensive, and although the country is beautiful and traditional, we won't be in any one spot long enough to enjoy it. Our only two days of excursion will be a boat ride in the Inland Sea out to one of the larger islands--but even there we will make a survey of a fishing community on the island.

It is difficult to describe this part of the Inland Sea--the pictures that I will send will help but will lack color [at the time the PX was out of color film!]. The sea is bright blue or green, the sky blue, the islands yellow--where exposed rocks and the bright green foliage show. Every island is terraced half way up the hills. Every island has a mountain, or simply is a mountain. The villages, with the gray tile roofs, cluster around flat areas at the shore, or lie on tablelands higher up. Several islets covered with pines rise up out of the sea, and fishing and sailing boats are quietly moving in and out of it all. In the distance, over the water, comes the sound of a fisherman's chant, and that's about all you can hear at high noon when you stand on top of a hill, as I did, looking out over the scene described above. It is beyond description--and one of the world's most beautiful views. And at night the ocean is full of luminescent fish and jellyfish that make the shore a regular fireworks spectacle. You toss in a stone and the splash erupts in blue, green and pinkish luminescence. Combine all this with a graceful Japanese hotel, and you have an impossibly romantic situation. Better still, the hotel is "on limits,"[1]and if you were here you could actually go down there.

September 10, 1949

Shodoshima is one of the few places in Japan--only one other I believe--where they raise olive trees. First groves are just beginning to bear this year. We got some olives and olive oil to take back to Tokyo with us. But more important, we have been doing our regular job of interviewing--going from fisherman to farmer, to single households to double--etc. Walking along the winding, hilly, yellow roads, past paddies, pine groves, and through little burakus, was a fine experience. We made about four or five interviews the first day, but couldn't get out the second day because it rained, damn it. Am writing this the end of the second day (third night).

We started from the little island of Shodoshima, probably the most romantic spot west of the Mediterranean. We took a little tug boat from there, perching ourselves all over the tiny front deck, and watching the wonderful yellow and green islands go sailing by, and putting in at one or two of them to pick up passengers. We finally arrived in Teshima, the island just west of Shodoshima. This was another gemlike island, with a high lava mesa in the center, covered with grazing cattle, and with wonderful little villages in the valleys. About 3500 people altogether. But what was most interesting was the fact that we were the first Americans ever to be on the island! Not just Occupation people, but the first Americans of any kind.

Also of great interest was the fact that Teshima is one of the very few places in Japan without any automobiles or buses. All traveling is done by bicycle. This means that the villages are on the old pattern-- houses set close together with narrow winding lanes running every which way. And more than that--the houses themselves were unlike anything I've seen in Japan thus far. Herb Passin and I were astonished-- the place looked so much like Mexico that it seemed like a dream. Here you had mud-plastered, yellow houses, with thatched roofs and small barred windows, with people with straw sombreros and white cotton clothes, driving cows down the lanes! All you needed were guitars.

The buraku [2] are of several different types--fishing buraku on the shore, farming buraku above, and a tiny buraku of the eta, or untouchable group--really kind of an occupational lower class, of which more later (official term: tokushu buraku "special hamlet"). About a million of them in Japan. Also on the beach were the houses of the stonecutters--an island industry. They make gravestones, lanterns and other ornamental stonework for Japanese temples, shrines, gardens, out of a native gray granite. Everything was out of the past--it was hard to believe this was the 20th century. Pre-industrial, feudal Japan must have looked something like this, with its occupational specializations on the handcraft level. The first evening there I climbed up a hill and looked down over the hilly, emerald green island, with the silver and tan roofs, the pale yellow houses, the paddy fields, and an orange sunset. I really felt inside of Japan for those two days--inside of at least the old Japan.

We stayed in a private home--no hotels on the island--no tourism--built by a village man who had become wealthy on the main islands as a building contractor. Magnificent, gem-like Japanese house, just below the first terrace of the central plateau of the island. After the usual sake party, Herb, Masako and I escaped from the group and wandered through the magnificent garden and then thru the dark lanes, in the moonlight. It was the first time since I've been here that Herb was naively enthusiastic about Japan--he was just as thrilled as I. He admitted this was the best trip he had ever been on, and he has been in every other corner of the country.

Now aside from all these romantic scenes, what did we learn? Well, I really found out something about Japan this time--more than on any other trip. In the first place I did regular interviews with families, and in the second place, I was accompanied by the Japanese sociologists, who seem to really know this country like no other national social scientists know their country. What I found was that the basic problem of Japanese social structure--or rural social structure at least--is a problem of restrictive forces, which create a basically homogenous structure no matter where you go. What you have is a tight little economy which permits almost no latitude--little freedom of choice on the part of the individual. For example, a farmer may want to add a workshop to his house, and needs it badly, but he cannot because every inch of the land is needed for crops: no room for expansion, which in turn means that the family has to do extra work in order to make up for the lack of adequate work space, which means that certain traditional features of family life are preserved because they are economically necessary. When you do find variability, you find it occurring as a result of alterations in localities of some of these constraining and restraining factors. Thus in one village the old people may retire into a separate house, while in another they have to stay in the old house, with their oldest son taking over the farm. But in both cases the old people give up the farm to the oldest son--the difference being the degree of retirement. The reason for the difference may be the amount of land, or the space available--it will always be some social or economic factor of importance--rarely "just custom." Also at the bottom of all this lies some answers to the problems of Japanese democracy--of freedom and control. You cannot have a democratic society like the U.S. when the range of available choices for movement and life-plans are as restricted as they are here. And necessarily restricted, because of the huge population and the small amount of available cultivable land. It is a situation so fundamentally different in the U.S.--where a farmer can pack and leave, even though he may not better his economic position--that one can hardly compare it. Here they cannot even pack up and leave--there is literally no place to go.

The Japanese family system is a delicately adjusted structure, attuned to the slightest pressure or alteration of the balance of socio-economic forces. It is not just an assemblage of people, but a real economic unit, with every choice a difficult and weighty one, with grave consequences for the future and well being of the group. Industry absorbs great numbers--and thankfully, because with less and less soil available, second sons have less and less chance of establishing their branch families in the same village with their older brother and old folks. The basic labor supply is still the overflow from the farms--though of course urban masses have been becoming increasingly important for the past 25 years.

All of this has fired me with enthusiasm for research, and out of this census project we are getting a project of our own--a study of the whole dynamic system in regard to the family as outlined sketchily above. I am sending the sociologists out on three more field trips in October--will spend three days on one of the parties myself--and eventually we will get a monograph out of the thing which should be an outstanding piece of social analysis [3]. It is the basic problem of Japanese society--the relation of homogenous structure to local variability, and its implications for freedom and individual dignity and of personal choice.

September 13, 1949

After the visit to Kochi City, (the principal city on Shikoku) where we spent some time at the local feudal castle, we were scheduled to do some interviews in the mountain villages. We rented a small pickup truck and drove up into the mountains of central Shikoku, along a road exactly wide enough for the car, with stunning scenery all the way. The road wound along the sides of canyons--or really--valleys--within which flowed a mountain river, bright green in color. The hills or mountains were covered with terraced fields, with pine trees on the sides or crests, everything the usual Japanese bright green--and the whole scene partly blanketed in the mist (kasumi) which figures so extensively in Japanese paintings of all kinds, especially the scroll type (e-makimono) where the mist was used to blur the gap between the separate scenes.

We stayed in a mountain village for two nights and a day--Higashi Toyonaga Mura. This was my first experience of rural, remote southern Japan--the real heart of the country. Things were as usual--the alerting of the whole village to our coming, the deputation of village officials, the welcoming banquet and beer-sake party.

The village was set along a kind of ledge on one side of a deep gorge, on the bottom of which ran a river. The village was only a few houses wide, but ran up the gorge for a mile or more, Japanese rural villages are radically different than ours--you have a mura, which is legal unit comprising a number of buraku, which are separate hamlets. Spread over a quite a wide territory. H. Toyonaga was scattered over the nearby mountains and up the gorge--many separate buraku. We stayed in the largest one, the one with the hotel and mura office.

The procedure followed here was used in all subsequent stops. The sociologists would arrange to have village officials distribute a batch of questionnaires to fill out, and then go out and do intensive interviews on their own. Masako Inugai and I would go out in the nearby burakus and make interviews-- rather rambling and general, since I was getting educated. The official topic is aspects of family and household, with special reference to the problem of the double household resulting from an elder son's permitting his parents to live in the house with him and his family. While we are tackling this as well as other aspects of the problem, we also rambled around the whole topic of life in rural Japan. We can't do many interviews, of course, since doing it through an interpreter takes so much time and is always, even in the most receptive situations, somewhat formal. We are developing the technique, however, and it is surprising how much information can be gotten. I am getting pretty good at using and following the Japanese key words and expressions, which prompt responses.

While in H. Toyonaga, we interviewed a repatriate [a family from Manchoukuo, brought back to Japan] who runs a store, a woman who rents with her husband, one room for her and her three kids and her husband (and doesn't complain); a lusty farm woman, living with her son; and a wonderful old farmer, retired, in his house, now his son's. What a place--high up on the mountain, overlooking the intersection between two green gorges, a thousand feet below! The old man, who had been born in that very buraku, and will die there, actually discussed the "responsibilities of freedom"! This is one example of a general phenomenon--the great literacy and sophistication of the Japanese farmer, or "peasant." It is as true-- sometimes more so--of the remote regions as well as the more urbanized areas. Somehow these people keep in touch with ideas and current events--or even if not the latter at least their way of thinking is sophisticated within local context. They do not think in the oversimplified causal categories of western or at least U.S. rural people--they see things as the outcome of complex variables acting together. They weigh events and factors carefully and rationally. More of this later.

We left the village as we arrived--in a tiny truck and with the whole population watching. Another lovely and breathtaking trip for a few miles to a railroad station, where we eventually caught a train back to Takamatsu, and from there a boat to this island.

By this time I have learned a lot more about Japan--developed an acute sense of difference between these rural areas and Tokyo. The persistent basic homogeneity is all around--but at the same time the differences are readily apparent. All this is traditional Japan, where the automobile is not so important, the people are more gracious (and also less spontaneous), life is much simpler, and change unheard of. I am also succumbing, all over again, to the spell of their country--something has to be done to get you over-- bring you back or something! It's too much to miss. But maybe the Occupation isn't the framework in which to do it.

Will close this section. We go to Teshima, another island west of here, tomorrow--then home from there. Will have to wait to mail this in Tokyo. Will write the final installment over the weekend (15- 16) in Tokyo. Telling you about Teshima, what I learned on the trip and other matters.


1. Occupation personnel were theoretically restricted to areas designated as "on limits." Those not accessible were "off limits."

2. Buraku - "hamlet"; or division of a mura (that is, "village")

3. Well, I did get a sort of monograph finished later, in the mid-1950s, with Michio Nagai as co-author, at Ohio State University: "Summary and Analysis of T. Kawashima's The Familial Structure of Japanese Society", Columbus, Ohio: Ohio State University Research Foundation, 1953.

a train station with signs in English and Japanese

216. Takamatsu Station, Shikoku
The city of Takamatsu was--and is--a major urban center for the north coast of the island of Shikoku--the big island in the Seto Naikai--the "Inland Sea" of the archipelago of Japan. The railroad on the island served many small towns, but this town was the principal center for the Occupation's Military Government--hence, the GIs--as they did everywhere in Japan--left their mark: the sign "Pennsylvania Turnpike" was not strictly relevant for railroads, but who cared? The lower sign, "RTO" refers to "Rail Transportation Office," passenger division. This station building--long gone by the 1990s--was a fine example of what we came to call "Japanese Victorian" architecture. In the 1940s and 1950s Japan had many of these old buildings, built in the Meiji and Taisho Era: from the 1880s to the turn of the 20th century and representing Japan's first episode of Westernization-Modernization.

exterior of a castle

217. The Kochi Castle: Main Tower
The castle at Kochi City, on the southeast coast of Shikoku, the large island in the Inland Sea of Japan. This castle is a downsized version of the much larger ones like the Himeji, on the main island. Kochi castle, somewhat down at the heels at the time of our stay on Shikoku in 1949, was the headquarters of the local GIs and their Military Government. They begged us--as representatives of SCAP (Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers) that is, the "Occupation," to intercede at GHQ for a transfer to a more urbanized part of Japan.

close-up of that same castle's roof

218. Kochi Castle Roof Lines
Roof lines of the Kochi castle. These "castles" were all built beginning in the 17th century on a vague model of the European castle, made familiar in translations and artwork in books entering Japan in the pre-Tokugawa era. After the Tokugawa took power, they cut off contact--although material kept slipping into Japan through the little opening in the Dutch trading enclave on an island in the Nagasaki harbor. (Japan was never as isolated as people made it out to be.)

entranceway and small entrance

219. Kochi Castle Grand Entrance
The formal or ceremonial and military entrance to the Kochi castle.

steps leading up to a large building

220. Kochi Castle Residential Quarters
The living quarters attached to the Kochi castle, where the GIs from the Occupation Military Government lived. Maids and laundresses were hired locally. The clothes on the line include both male and female garments.

the rocky shore of an island

221. Inland Sea Landscape: Shodoshima 1
A view of a bay on the small island of Shodoshima, in the Inland Sea and part of the Prefecture of Shikoku. Note the grazing paths on the headland on the other side, caused by cows, goats, and people herding them. The foreground and cliff are granite that in other locations was quarried.

view from high-ground of the land and lagoon

222. On the Island of Shodoshima: 2
The island and the lagoon--the main island of Shikoku is in the distance. This view also shows an agricultural settlement.

a different view of the lagoon

223. The Shodoshima Lagoon: 3
Another view of Shodoshima and the lagoon.

a seated man mending his fishing equipment

224. Repairs
A farmer-fisherman mending his gear. We spent a week or so on Shodoshima in order to study a distinctive migratory fishing community that had its headquarters on the shore part of the year. These people had no fixed abode, but moved their boats and nets from one small island to another as the fishing dictated. They represented--as did other of these traditional occupational groups--a kind of sect, with their own rituals and folklore.

people fishing on the shore

225. The Stone Carver's Beach on Shodoshima
The structures in the background were used by the stone carving industry, which produced architectural articles to be shipped to the mainland. Some of the stone blocks are visible in the foreground.

people on the shore

226. Shodoshima Fisherman's Camp
This is another part of the beach at Shodoshima, with the temporary shacks of the migratory fishermen buraku community.

mother, father, and child on a row boat

227. Migratory Fisherman Family
One of the small boats used by the migratory fisherfolk.

a rural farmhouse with clothes hung out to dry outside

228. Farmhouse on Teshima
This is a typical 100-year old farmhouse on the island of Teshima, just west of Shodoshima. We thought these structures closely resembled Mexican rural houses.

a narrow lane leading into the village

229. A Lane on Teshima
A "street"--really a footpath--on Teshima. The island had no automobiles, and was devoted to gardening, fishing, and some rice production. This is, indeed, the landscape of a village devoid of automobile traffic.

a narrow lane between buildings

230. Another Lane
A lane in Teshima, with dwellling houses on either side. Note the traditional treatment of the roofs-- ceramic tiled roofs had become relatively rare in Japan by the 1990s.

the village and its buildings

231. Mimase: A Bay Village 1
A view from the cliff face of Mimase Mura , the most densely populated seacoast village on Shikoku and in Japan--at the time we studied it. The street starts at our feet, so to speak, and ends about 100 yards away, at the seawall of the bay. A modern fishing trawler is just visible.

fishing equipment leaning against a fence

232. Inside Mimase: 2
This shows the open storage of fishing gear along the fenceline. Cliffside in the rear: the photographer is standing about twenty feet from the seawall edge.

2 people walking along the shore

233. Mimase's Seawall: 3
The seawall of the densely populated cliffside village of Mimase. As you can see, the village occupied one side--the cliff side--of an inlet or bay on the south coast of the island of Shikoku. Fishing boats would moor against the wall, and nets would be put to dry.

interior view of 3 interconnected homes

234. Mimase: Three Dwellings in One
The interior of the village of Mimase: the seawall to your back, and the houses start against the cliff wall. Three separate families live in the area pictured. We were concerned in this study to provide data for the coming 1950 census using the techniques people in these densely populated areas used to maintain privacy and family autonomy in such crowded conditions. We found that there was no secret: the people simply used techniques of avoidance and courtesy found elsewhere in Japan and other parts of Asia where people have to live on top of one another.

naked children standing in front of a theatre performer on the street

235. Mimase: The Kami Shibai
The Kami Shibai-- "paper show: or "ice cream theater." An institution especially found in rural Japan, now gone. The children belong to Mimase in previous pictures and they go naked all summer long because they jump in and out of the bay from the very edge of the seawall. The scene here is taken from the very edge of the seawall, looking inland, with the roofs of the densely-packed houses in the background. (The katakana syllabic letters on the box spell out the name of a popular ice cream bar.)