Meshwork: Friendships and Marriage in Contemporary Urban Japan

Saturday, 21 July 2018: 14:50
Oral Presentation
Laura DALES, The University of Western Australia, Australia
Shifts in demography and the social landscape in Japan indicate that while marriage continues to feature in the life course of most Japanese women and men, singlehood is an increasingly common, and increasingly long-term experience for Japanese adults. Accordingly, the relationships that individuals form outside marriage warrant further scholarly attention as significant sites of intimacy and meaning-making, and as sources of satisfaction and well-being.

Scholarly work on friendship in the west suggests gendered differences in expectations, perceptions and processes in forming relationships (eg McRobbie 1977; Allan 1996; Redman et al 2002). In the Japanese context, hierarchy-based relationships (senpai / kôhai ) and work-centred social interactions have been identified as significant sites of homosociality for men, and housewife and hobby groups for women (eg Dasgupta 2004: 270; Rosenberger 2001).

Friendship, being more than just a dyadic relationship, is constituted around, between and through other social engagements, and binds individuals together in what Ingold terms meshwork: “entangled lines of life, growth and movement” (2011:63). In meshwork, the lines of friendship knot with those of other intimate (and non-intimate) relations. While these knots may be structurally supportive – so that particular relations might enable others– they also hold tensions in relation to the marital and kin (inter alia) relationships of both individuals. Thus the perception and performance of friendship is inextricable from gendered norms and ideals of life course that may challenge or reinscribe the centrality of marriage and reproduction.

In this paper I draw on interviews and recent ethnographic fieldwork in urban Japan to examine the connections between friendship and other relations as perceived by Japanese women and men. In doing so, I aim to sketch the effect of shifts in marriage trends on the discursive, affective and practical functions of friendship for both women and men, within and beyond marriage.