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.
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.
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.
There 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.