Man Babies: Japanese Adult Adoption

All of you out there are probably all familiar with the concept of adoption. A child is given up by his or her biological parents for whatever reason, and another family welcomes the child into the fold and raises his or her as their own. You might know somebody who was adopted (I do), or may have even been adopted yourself.

But Japan has applied its own unique twist the concept of adoption: adopting adults. In fact, most adoptions in Japan are adult adoptions. Why are adults adopting other adults?

Japanese families usually adopt adults – specifically, males – into the family for two reasons: because of males’ ability to pass on family names; and because of a male’s priority in inheritance.

All in the Family

Japan, like many cultures, passes a family name through male heirs. So when a family has only female children, that family’s name is basically at risk of disappearing. But Japan has sidestepped this problem with adult adoption.

A newborn baby“…And we shall call him Hashi Jr..”

If a woman marries a man, that woman’s family can adopt that man and he will take on that family’s name. So for instance, my relatives in Japan don’t have any male children. So, when one of my cousins got herself a husband, he took on the family name and their little boy carries on the name.

Family Business

But adult adoption can also happen financial reasons. Another common reason for adult adoption is to pass on the family business to a non-biological heir.

Sometimes, the heir apparent to a business (say, the son of a Suzuki or Honda) might not look like the best businessperson in the world, but boss wants to keep the company in the family. In that case, the boss can adopt a promising executive to bring the him into the family and set him up to inherit the business. The adopted person doesn’t even necessarily have to be married into the family.

A businessmanThere have been studies that say that adopted heirs are often more successful in a family business than biological heirs. Researchers have noticed that biological heirs to company can bring down the company’s value and might even drive it into the ground. But with the competition of an adopted sibling, a biological heir may work harder and feel more pressured to perform well. Kind of twisted, but apparently effective.

The All-Knowing Koseki

All these issues of adoption, lineage, and inheritance can be tied back to the uniquely Japanese institution of the family registry, or koseki. The koseki is a huge part of Japanese culture, as it really shapes what the Japanese family looks like.

The koseki, which has been around in one form or another for about 1,500 years, is a basic record of a family in Japan. A family’s koseki records family member’s births, death, marriages and adoptions. So when an adult is adopted into another family, they’re added into that family’s koseki and stricken from his or her original koseki. Kind of strange to be crossed off of your own family record but as an adopted adult in Japan, that’s how it works.

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What do you think about adult adoption? Is this a clever workaround for inheritance, or kind of strange? Let me know in the comments!

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  • http://twitter.com/hello_peep Jessie Ann

    I’ve also heard of gay couples  adopting one another in Japan, since they can’t get married. Thats actually the only time i’ve heard of adult adoption, so thank you for doing this article. Its very fascinating XD

  • Hailey

    Huh…that’s…interesting…lol I love Japan

  • Miss N’Donna

    Oh, Japan…you’re so interesting.  Thank you for the interesting article!

  • http://www.facebook.com/SmokeMankiller Jennifer Grimes

    Is it difficult to adopt Japanese children? Are boys very difficult to adopt?

  • http://www.callistospatches.com Callisto

    This actually surprises me. I recall reading somewhere (vague, sorry) that traditional adoption is sort of frowned upon in Japan. That the wives feel it is their duty to provide a child for their husband, and if she adopts a baby instead, that makes her less of a woman and wife and is shameful to her. I remember that making me really sad when I read it, because I have some strong feelings about adoption and I just couldn’t wrap my mind around the concept of adoption being something shameful. I may or may not have gotten slightly butthurt about it, but I got over it.

    Can anyone confirm if that is really the mindset in Japan, or if it is dying out with time? Or possibly that what I read was indeed a sweeping generalization that was completely inaccurate?

  • http://www.callistospatches.com Callisto

    This actually surprises me. I recall reading somewhere (vague, sorry) that traditional adoption is sort of frowned upon in Japan. That the wives feel it is their duty to provide a child for their husband, and if she adopts a baby instead, that makes her less of a woman and wife and is shameful to her. I remember that making me really sad when I read it, because I have some strong feelings about adoption and I just couldn’t wrap my mind around the concept of adoption being something shameful. I may or may not have gotten slightly butthurt about it, but I got over it.

    Can anyone confirm if that is really the mindset in Japan, or if it is dying out with time? Or possibly that what I read was indeed a sweeping generalization that was completely inaccurate?

  • http://twitter.com/NagasakiOsada Sadie Heilemann

    I didn’t realize this sort of adoption was still so prevalent in Japan. I knew it was a common practice in the Edo era; interesting article, thanks!

  • http://twitter.com/NagasakiOsada Sadie Heilemann

    I didn’t realize this sort of adoption was still so prevalent in Japan. I knew it was a common practice in the Edo era; interesting article, thanks!

  • Shannon

    Great article, thank you. Love learning these things about Japan that I almost certainly wouldn’t hear about anywhere else!

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  • http://twitter.com/NishiLain LC

    An example of this will be Mineko Iwasaki. She was adopted by the Iwasaki family to be their “atotori” (heir), and later, when she got married, her family adopted her husband, to preserve the name of the family.

  • Wレインボー

    Double adoption! Soon, everyone will adopted into the Iwasaki family, thus achieving world peace.

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  • Kiriain

    Well, adult adoption isn’t really “traditional”, is it?

  • Kiriain

    I think I’ll tell people about this. Maybe it’ll be something cool to share at a party so the conversation doesn’t get awkward. Thanks for the info!

  • Az

    It is in Japan.

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  • http://profiles.google.com/jonadab.theunsightlyone Jonadab the Unsightly One

    > If a woman marries a man, that woman’s family can adopt that man

    So she marries her adopted brother, like Ptolemy and Cleopatra Syra?  And this marrying-my-brother thing doesn’t give everyone a severe case of the heebie jeebies?

    The idea of adopting a favored executive into the family business sort of makes sense, though.  I find it mildly disturbing, but I can’t really pin down why.  For some reason it makes me think of the mafia, but again I’m not sure why.  As far as nepotism goes it’s not any worse than (or perhaps not even as bad as) handing the family business down to a biological heir, which has been common practice since time out of mind, so I can’t really think of any sound ethical reason to object to it.

  • Anewlowe.wordpress.com

    Exactly what I was thinking about the brother sister thing. Isn’t that illegal? And kind of creepy?

  • susanne

    Is this an alternative way to become more easily citizen of Japan?
    That means probably less obligations than getting married to a citizen?
    No wonder, that other rather encapsulated countries don’t practice adult adption…

  • Clement Gervaise

    Very interesting.. I’ve come accross this phenomenon at times.. It’s called “Mukoyoushi”, there’s an article on wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mukoy%C5%8Dshi

  • Alanocturna_0

    in a documentary i saw (which i dont remember the name), they say that the son of the current masamune swordsmith his an theatrical actor, so he dosent craft swords, but there is this brasilian guy Roberto, who has been training whit masamune, he become really good and aparently he will be the sucesor of currentr masumene, i guess masanume will adopt him.
    PS: crapy english => im mexican

  • http://www.tofugu.com/ Hashi

    Yeah, I think that’s Japanland! I’m actually just reading the book now.

  • http://www.tofugu.com/ Hashi

    Awesome! I probably should’ve included the term in my post haha

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  • Mark Racine