Family Centered on “House and House Occupation (家業)”

Among the aristocracy and the upper stratum of bushi (warrior class), the “house” centered lineage started between the 8th and 10th centuries about the time when Minamoto no Tōru (源融) (822–895) was born.  This basic unit of social organization slowly spread to the ordinary population and by the fifteenth century it was characteristic of most households.

The late medieval period was based on a system of functionally differentiated status categories:  the bushi, peasant, artisan, and merchant classes.  A society organized around family units, each pursuing a hereditary “house occupation” (kagyō 家業).  The house was not identical with a consanguineous family unit; it incorporated as members unrelated persons such as employees (hōkōnin 奉公人) and it was possible for an adopted heir who had no blood relationship to the other members to succeed as its head.  Concept of the adopted heir (yōshi 養子) became readily accepted.  The grouping was more of an artificial functional entity that engaged in a familial enterprise or was entitled to a familial source of income.

Continuity of the kagyō was foremost and continuity of bloodline was secondary.  It would serve well if both applied, but if there had to be a choice, continuity of the kagyō was selected.

The number of members that a house could accommodate depended upon the family enterprise and the total income.  Those excluded from one house also had the possibility of affiliating with another as an employee, servant, or adopted heir.  

Bushi had fewer opportunities for economic advancement than the peasants and townsmen.  Stipends and fiefs that constituted the bushi’s familial income were rigidly fixed according to hereditary criteria and did not allow much room for expansion of the house or division into separate branches.  However, because society no longer assumed that birth into a particular lineage or social status was a prerequisite to making a living, those rōnin, second and third sons excluded from the bushi society could be adopted into the house of a peasant or townsman.  

The transformation of cultural activities into enterprises engaged in by the individual houses influenced the thought of this period1.

If one looks at kagyō, house occupation in the light of current day corporations, one begins to see the similarities.  CEO’s and Presidents of corporations are not usually picked from within.  Whoever fits the requirement is given the job.  In the case of house occupation in order to ensure continuity, an heir had to be designated early so they could learn the trade.  Upon untimely deaths or in the case of no issues, heirs were adopted usually from the extended family or in some cases the unrelated employees.

1.  “The Cambridge History of Japan, Volume 4, Early Modern Japan”, pp373-375, Edited by John Whitney Hall, Cambridge University Press,1991.

©June 2021 by hisiamone