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

Alternative Models of Reproduction and Family: A Cultural and Historical Study

Joint Research Coordinator MATSUOKA Etsuko

Reserch Theme List


family policy, woman-centered reproduction, rights-based approach to reproduction


Reproduction in the micro sense begins with childbirth and in the macro sense has the meaning of social re-production. Since reproduction more or less corresponds to the formation of families, thinking of it in those terms leads us to consider it in terms of sustainable re-production of families and society. This research aims to propose alternative models for future orientations for re-production and the family. At present, Japan is transitioning from its former inclination, the typical family to the present situation in which this traditional family is falling apart. Various phenomena are arising such as deviation between the Civil Code and the present relations of parents and children, the recognition of parent-child relations created through reproduction-assisting medical techniques, same-sex couples raising children, and an international division of labor as far as the tasks related to reproduction (including child-rearing, nursing care, and housework) are concerned. These phenomena do not adhere to the traditional image of the family. As far as micro reproduction in terms of giving birth is concerned, the quality (female satisfaction and quality of maternity care) and volume (fewer children born) are seeing a situation that has no prospect of continuing. This research will use culture and history as a relative axis to propose alternative models for reproduction and the family, with the objective of constructing a society that respects individual human rights.

Research Results

In contrast to production, family and reproduction are the means by which societies reproduce themselves. But while family and reproduction are essential to a society’s continued existence, they take on many different forms.
We began by discussing alternatives to the nuclear family based on blood ties and the marriage of a heterosexual couple. We considered issues encountered by people involved in stepfamilies or international adoptions窶敗ituations that deviate from the conventional, normative nuclear family. Starting from Uesugi Tomiyuki’s theory that the fundamental relationship of parent to child is one-to-one, we advocated the necessity of considering multiparent relationships like those created by adoption or surrogate mothers. We also discussed the role of care providers who cross international borders to facilitate the reproduction of families. Wako Asato has shown that there is a close connection between this phenomenon and the shortage of care providers. Kayako Ueno described the realities behind care providers “choosing” to become emigrant workers, a survival strategy for women who find themselves in a weak position in the face of globalization. Barbara Katz Rothman replied with a critique of the tendency to discuss aspects of reproduction, including single mothers, abortion, and medical care as a question of “choice.”
Consideration of the realities of family planning in China, Okinawa, Indonesia and Africa revealed the presence of various actors who do or do not intervene in reproduction. The notion that new reproductive technologies, more varied means of birth control, anesthesia, and Caeserean section give women greater control over reproduction has proven to be an illusion. With these advances women find their power weakened in relation to the medical and pharmaceutical industries.
Also, while family and reproduction are described as the means by which the nation reproduces itself, actual practices are becoming more diverse, influenced by globalization and individualization. As global trends shift from homogenization to greater diversification, it will become even more imperative to protect the fundamental principle of human rights, regardless of the growing variety of forms that family and reproduction take.