January 21, 2013

Adopt a boss

Jane Austen wrote that "a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife." If she'd been Japanese, she would have written that a man with five daughters and no sons must be in want of a muko-iri (婿入り) or muko-youshi (婿養子) marriage.

The practice of adopting the groom into the bride's family is alive and well in modern Japan.

The Economist reports that muko-iri marriage is a major reason behind the continuing success of some of the world's oldest family-run businesses, such as Suzuki, Matsui Securities, and Suntory.

Last year more than 81,000 people were adopted in Japan, one of the highest rates in the world. But, amazingly, over 90 percent of those adopted were adults. The practice of adopting men in their 20s and 30s is used to rescue biologically ill-fated families and ensure a business heir.

While family firms typically face dynastic decline as control passes from one generation to the next, family firms remain "puzzlingly competitive" in Japan by tapping into the best of both worlds.

Some families will even bypass a biological son for an adopted one. In theory, this gives family businesses access to the same-sized talent pool as a professionally managed firm would have, and may even induce a sturdier work ethic among biological children.

A "promotion" based on a one-off event like a marriage additionally skirts reactionary boardroom cultures that often paralyze Japanese corporations. Five centuries ago, along with de facto polygamy, adoption also helped shoguns avoid the Henry VIII problem.

Although when Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the second of the three great 16th century warlords, unexpectedly produced an heir late in life, he eliminated his adopted sons from the inheritance picture with the half-mad ruthlessness of Shakespeare's Richard III.

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# posted by Blogger Kate Woodbury
1/21/2013 4:05 PM   
Despite the Hollywood love of Austen, Japanese culture seems to have more in common with nineteenth century English culture than American culture does. The practice of adoption was not uncommon in Austen's England--Jane's brother Edward was adopted "up" by the Knights who were wealthy landowners. This turned out to be a good investment because Edward took care of Jane, Cassandra, and Mrs. Austen when Mr. Austen died. Jane et al. were definitely treated as poor relations, but frankly, their living conditions could have been far, far worse.

Maybe this similarity explains the success of such series as the Victorian Emma by Kaoru Mori and the steam-punk Black Butler?
# posted by Blogger Eugene
1/22/2013 2:40 PM   
Thanks to men like Thomas Blake Glover, who armed the rebellion against the disintegrating Tokugawa regime, the Meiji government closely aligned itself with Great Britain. The structures of Victorian society certainly would have struck them as familiar. Well into the 20th century, many of Japan's political elites were full-blown Anglophiles, down to the clothes they wore. This may explain why the preferred formal dress for Japanese politicians remains the morning coat.