The National Museum of Ethnology (Minpaku) is a research center for ethnology and cultural anthropology.

The Anthropology of the Home: New Approaches to the Study of Kinship

Joint Research Coordinator KOIKE Makoto

Reserch Theme List


The objective of this research group is to establish the theme of the home to reconstitute approaches to research on kinship within anthropology. By adding researchers from a number of related fields, such as sociology and ethnology, in order to examine the themes of the family and kinship, we hope to develop innovative anthropology. This research will not be limited to static kinship research with the objects of study being primarily structure, functions and norms, but also will emphasize inheritance, continuity, and other processes involving families and focus on individual strategies for the survival of a family. Unlike past anthropological approaches, which have focused on clan and lineage, we plan to subsume concepts, such as voluntary association, families, and marriage, and pay attention to families with corporate characteristics. We do not intend to become bogged down in membership rights or blood relationships as such, but we would like to give birth to a broad view of kinship research. The home has become influenced by such things as trends in global politics, economics, and science and technology. In the today's world the formation of and changes to families have become the focus. The contemporary significance of this research is clear, including for example in regards to the relationship between the development in recent years of reproductive techniques and continuity of families as an object of research.

Research Results

This joint research commenced in October 2005, and a total of 15 research meetings were held. Based on the results of the fieldwork of each of the joint research members and special lecturers, primarily experts in the field of anthropology, but also drawn from the fields of sociology and ethnology, we announced our research on the multifarious shapes of the home in Japan, East Asia, Southeast Asia, Oceania, Europe and Africa. We engaged in repeated discussions about the validity of the very concept of the home.
As a result, we clarified the necessity for distinguishing between two types of home—namely the home as a corporate unit and the home as a physical place. For the home as a corporate unit, based on the arguments of Levi-Strauss, we adopted three attributes (Merkmal) on which to focus the discussion: corporate characteristics (possession of names, wealth, titles, etc.), desire for continuity and flexibility in lines (legitimacy through kinship or marriage relations). The number of societies studied in which these concepts of the family alone hold true are limited. In contemporary societies, especially Japan, it is clear that the approach of studying issues concerning homes needs to be adopted. Alternatively, with the home as physical place, there has to be ownership of a place (house), and things are considered in terms of individuals who gather into physical proximity or closeness. By including consideration of the home as physical place, we encountered something totally alien from the traditional concept of the home, but we thought that it was a concept of the home that can be applied to the diversity of contemporary homes. When we think of the various kinds of collectives now existing, it is clear that that there is overlap between these two kinds of homes. There is a necessity to distinguish between the two kinds in research. For both the home as a corporate unit and as a physical place, more important than preexisting relations in terms of blood or kinship relationships are dependency-related created relationships (not premised on permanency among constituent members) of political/economic interest ties, especially for the home as a corporate unit, and lifestyle-related sharing (food, dwelling) especially for the home as a physical place.
Another point that surfaced for important discussion within the research group was the theme of graves for the burial of the dead (homes in the other world) and their relationships to human groups in this world.