THE MOVERS ARRIVED at the Miyaji family's two-story house on the outskirts of Tokyo at 9 a.m. The entire family greeted the men at the front door. "Good morning, thank you for coming today," the family members said, their voices a chorus. Mrs. Ume Uchida, 78, bowed the lowest, from the waist, forming a right angle. Her daughter and son-in-law, Etsuko and Yutaka Miyaji, lowered their shoulders and heads. The Miyajis' children, Tohru and Junko, merely nodded.
Like the different bows given by each generation of the Miyaji family, the attitudes of today's Japanese are less uniform than they once were. Increasingly, the old Japanese values of loyalty, obedience and group harmony are being questioned -- particularly by the under-30 generation and even by some of their parents. These younger Japanese feel the tug of the Western notion that personal fulfillment and self-expression can be more important than keeping the group happy. The result has been conflict and confusion in a society that has placed great value on order.
Some seeds of the conflicts were sown when the Japanese were prompted to make serious changes in their laws during the United States' occupation. From abolishing parents' rights to choose spouses for their children to abolishing the emperor's power and giving it to the people, these changes led to greater individualism and self-expression.
Then came Japan's rapid post-war industrialization, leading the Japanese to become affluent and consumer-oriented -- conditions unknown to most Japanese before the war. With affluence came a new power to stand apart from the group. Young couples, now able to afford apartments of their own, choose to live apart from the husband's family. Families who previously spent their vacations at the husband's company's vacation house -- with his co-workers -- can now aord to go off on their own.
But in Japan today group pressure still exerts a strong influence, causing the young, especially, to make difficult choices. The types of choices they must make and the penalties they face are demonstrated in the lives of the Miyaji family.
Mrs. Miyaji's mother, Mrs. Uchida, is gray-haired, slender and fragile looking. She has a beautiful complexion and a warm smile. Her deep bow to the movers is the same bow she gives everyone, regardless of social status.
Today, Mrs. Uchida wears skirts and blouses. But until the end of the second world war, when she began working in a tape factory, she wore kimonos. "It was hard for me to run to the station in my kimono," she says. "And the sleeves were always getting torn at work. I used to mend them all the time when I came home."
Although Mrs. Uchida is herself quick to point out the practical advantages of skirts and blouses ("When I wore a kimono it was much harder to clean the bathroom") she finds herself wanting to wear a kimono when she goes out. But rarely does she give in to her desires. It takes about 45 minutes to put on a kimono, which she feels would inconvenience her family. So even when her daughter suggests that she wear traditional dress, as Tokyo women do for special occasions, Mrs. Uchida says, "If I wear kimono I have to make them wait, so I hurry up."
Mrs. Uchida is used to accepting frustrations for the common good. During the war, she and her daughter subsisted on rice, radishes, onions and carrots. Mrs. Uchida exchanged went to farmers and exchanged her and her daughter's kimonos for soy sauce and potatoes. "I can't believe how I survived," she says. "I tell my grandchildren they are lucky to be able to eat extravagantly."
Mrs. Uchida also quietly accepted frustrations as a married woman. She lived with her mother-in-law, as was the custom in Japan until recently. Like many mothers-in-law in Japan, hers constantly found fault with the way she performed her household chores. Mrs. Uchida always accepted the criticism -- and tried to mend her ways.
To Mrs. Uchida, the idea of talking back to her mother-in-law was as ridiculous as questioning her country's leaders' decision to go to war. Either would have resulted in arguments -- in disrupting the harmony of the group -- the worst of all possible conditions to people who had to live close together and cooperate to eke out a living.
Today, Mrs. Uchida is still reluctant to protest, even when the actions of others may not be in her best interest. Recently, the rice delivery man knocked on the kitchen door and announced that the price of rice would be going up. Mrs. Uchida was not happy. But what she said, bowing low, was "Thank you very much."
Etsuko Miyaji, her daughter, then entered the kitchen. "The price of rice is going up again?" Mrs. Miyaji demanded, pointing out that it was the third increase in six months. The rice man expressed his apology, o Mrs. Miyaji tried to restore some harmony. "It must be so hard for you to have to tell everyone that," she said. "Would you like to come in for some tea?"
However, there is one case in which Mrs. Uchida puts her own interests ahead of others'. The case involves her cleanliness -- a matter of tremendous importance in Japan, where it is rare to see even a dirty car. In the Japanese bath, all members of the family use the same water after soaping and rinsing themselves outside the tub. But her son-in-law, Yutaka Miyaji, 60, likes to break the rules by jumping into the tub to get warm before soaping and rinsing himself -- thus leaving the water dirty.
It is traditional in Japan for the father to take the first bath -- at least on Sundays, when he is home. So Mrs. Uchida faced a dilemma: whether to take the first bath or a dirty one. Uncharacteristically, she decided in favor of herself, although she always apologizes afterwards to Mr. Miyaji, whoays he couldn't care less whether his bath is first or last. "Of course I like a clean bath," Mrs. Uchida says. "That's the only selfish thing I permit myself."
In a classroom at Tokyo Women's Christian University, Mrs. Uchida's daughter is teaching an extracurricular class in flower arranging to 20 young women.
Mrs. Miyaji, 53, explains the philosophy behind an arrangement of purple chrysanthemums and willows. It is a concept based on Japan's Shinto religion: harmony, with each flower having symbolic value and a proper, pre-determined place in the arrangement -- and the universe.
Mrs. Miyaji walks from desk to desk, examining the arrangements her students have made. She stops at a desk where the flowers seem particularly droopy, takes the student's seat, cuts the willows' stems and anchors them more firmly. "Some flowers are not supposed to bend," she tells the students. "Willows are one of them."
Mrs. Miyaji is sometimes criticized, in a subtle way, at workshops forflower-arrangement teachers, because she freely criticizes her students' arrangements. "Unlike the other instructors I say 'no' straight," Mrs. Miyaji said after class. "When I say 'yes,' I really mean it, unlike the other instructors who comment judging from the student's face" -- indicating what the student wants to hear.
In her fearless, direct expressions of yes and no, Mrs. Miyaji is atypical of Japanese in both her and her mother's generations. She is typical, however, of a growing number of young people in Japan who give clear, direct expression to their thoughts and feelings.
"In Japan if you say things straight you're liable to hurt someone's feelings," Mrs. Miyaji says. "Most people leave things vague to avoid conflict."
Indeed, it is possible to converse for days in Japan without hearing the word no -- "Iie."
Mrs. Miyaji, who was a teen-ager during the war, says her willingness to express herself developed partly from her wartime experiences. Not only did she face near-starvation and fear of dying under U.S. firebombs, but toward the end of the war, her father died of tuberculosis, leaving her and her mother wondering how they would earn a living. "I think I suffered from lots of hardships so I have nerve," she says.
After the war, she found that she had nothing to gain by meekly going along with others. Unlike her mother, who silently endures frustration for the common good, Mrs. Miyaji struggles for personal happiness, using her frankness as the tool to obtain it.
In 1949, for example, she applied for her first job -- at a bank. When a few months passed, she called the bank's manager. In a moment of candor, he told her why she hadn't been hired: her father was no longer alive. Mrs. Miyaji says she immediately understood his thinking, which was common wisdom in Japan: youngsters from fatherless families tended to be unpredictable -- a quality scorned throughout Japan, but especially by institutions likebanks that rested their reputations on stability.
By conventional standards, Etsuko should have told the manager she understood, she was sorry to have troubled him, bowed very low, and walked away. Etsuko, however, was too hungry to have patience with rules.
"But I'm not like that," she said politely but firmly.
The manager thought a while. Then, apparently believing her, he agreed to hire her.
At the bank, Etsuko met her future husband, Yutaka Miyaji, who recently had graduated from one of Japan's most prestigious universities. Yutaka had fought in the war, had seen his friends killed and had seen Tokyo -- and his house -- burned to the ground. Now he felt lucky to work for a big company, the symbol of stability and prestige in Japan. His employment for life was guaranteed; that made him all the more loyal. Like most of the men in his generation, he worked 11-hour days -- to his wife's consternation -- even though he was only required to work eight. Like most others, he worked six days a week -- a shedule he still maintains.
Back then, Mr. Miyaji sometimes felt bound by convention and feelings of obligation, so he admired Etsuko Uchida for her practical, businesslike nature. "When I decided to get married I thought that kind of personality would cover up my weak point," he says, adding that he can't admit that to his wife.
But when Mr. Miyaji asked Etsuko Uchida to marry him, she hesitated. Typically, she got right to the point. "I don't want to leave my mother alone," she said. "Could she live with us?" In Japan, it was traditional for couples to live with the husband's mother -- not the wife's. But Mr. Miyaji was willing to let Etsuko challenge tradition. "I think she made a very natural request," he says. "I quite understood."
Etsuko Uchida and Yutaka Miyaji were married on April 10, 1955 in a Shinto ceremony at the Meiji Shrine Banquet Hall. Etsuko wore a flowered kimono with hat. Her husband, on the other hand, spurned the montsuki -- the silk garment for Japanese grooms -- wearing nstead a Western morning suit. Like a fair number of Japanese parents in her own generation -- mostly of the professional class -- Mrs. Miyaji has encouraged her children to seek personal satisfaction, even if it meant breaking accepted norms of behavior. Unlike the stereotype of the Japanese mother, Mrs. Miyaji did not push her son to study constantly after school and on weekends to gain acceptance to one of Japan's top universities -- even though entrance to such a university would have virtually guaranteed her son a prestigious job.
Partly as a result, Tohru used his after-school hours to play the guitar in a rock band and play soccer as well as study. One of his teachers advised the Miyajis to make him study more. The Miyajis refused. "We understood what he was doing," Mrs. Miyaji said. "Some students get accepted by the best universities but lose the more important part of their lives."
Unlike his grandmother, Tohru Miyaji 28, is less comfortable bowing. Like others of his generation, he does not bow to anyone his age or younger. He bows deeply only to his boss and to the elderly. To those somewhat older, he gives a perfunctory dip of the head.
Tohru grew up with both the old Japanese institutions and the new Western ones. When he was a boy, he bathed at a local public bath with his family members and neighbors -- until his family moved into a modern apartment with its own tub. Until he was 7, he and his family lived in a company apartment -- a Japanese institution in which a company rents a dwelling to its employes for a nominal fee. At home, while eating, he sat on cushions on the tatami mat floor, his legs folded under him; while studying, he sat on a chair, at a desk. In school, he studied English for 12 years.
On the streets of Tokyo, he was accustomed to seeing McDonald's and Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurants next to sushi shops. Western-style bakeries, with their frosted cakes and creamy pastries, were never far frm coffee shops offering such Japanese desserts as gelatin cubes and bean paste. And in his mother's flower arrangements, he suddenly saw a new flower -- the rose -- to go with new Western-style rooms in many Japanese homes.
In some ways, Tohru is a young man who is caught between the modern and old Japan, between Western ideas of personal freedom and self-determination and Japanese values of obedience, loyalty and harmony. The conflict -- which has caused him some pain -- shows itself most clearly in his problems in work and love.
After graduating from Gakshuin University, Tohru was hired by Nippon Trust Banking and Company Ltd., a big company. It was a very prestigious job, since the Japanese tend to have greater esteem for the clerk of a big company than the executive of a small one. But Tohru did not like his job. He found banking boring, he didn't like not having any control over the position he'd have in five years, and he had no opportunity to use his English, which he speaks flawlessly. He wanted to change jobs -- a rebellious act in Japan. The only problem, he felt, was getting his parents' blessing.
He told his mother first. Late at night, after his father had gone to sleep, he crept outside his mother's room. "Mom, are you still awake?" he whispered. She was.
Mrs. Miyaji, who had disliked her own banking job, was sympathetic. "If you don't like that job quit it -- but you have to make the same money at a new job," she said. But first, she said, she would have to convince his father.
Mr. Miyaji had a different reaction. "I was quite shocked," he said through an interpreter during an interview. "I was completely against it." He quoted Tohru a proverb that translates roughly as "A rolling stone gathers no moss." Mrs. Miyaji, sympathetic to her husband's feelings, reminded Tohru, "This is not America, this is Japan."
But during the next three months, Mrs. Miyaji convinced her husband that it was unfair to expect Tohru to spend is life at a job he didn't enjoy. Mr. Miyaji is now philosophical about Tohru's career change. "In Tohru's generation they change jobs so the job suits themselves," he says. "In my generation we changed ourselves to adapt to the job."
Today Tohru is a clerk at Tokyo Lease Corp., a small company that rents furniture and appliances. Although the job satisfies his desire to speak English, since many of his customers are foreigners, he does not find challenge in showing customers his company's showroom, in arranging for furniture delivery or in writing bills. He wants to change jobs again. But each of the several Japanese companies to which he applied recently turned him down. One of the prospective employers hinted that Tohru's willingness to change jobs a second time suggests he is unstable -- and not a suitable prospective employe.
Tohru is now planning to apply to several universities in the United States for a master's degree in business administration. He is hoping that the degree and the experence of living in the U.S. will lead to a job with a Japanese company in the U.S., Australia or England.
One of Tohru's related conflicts is over finding the proper spouse. He dates several women but none seem suitable for marriage. One, who Tohru describes as a "traditional Japanese girl," seems to take real pleasure in the company of his parents and grandmother -- something that Tohru admires. But she agrees with everything he says, never offers her ideas on what she'd like to do when they go out and does not offer her reactions to the movies they see or the dinners they eat. In short, she strives for perfect harmony. "In Japan, when you don't say anything it means agreement," Tohru says. "But I find myself needing some reaction from her. Maybe I'm getting Americanized," he adds, a look of horror crossing his face.
Tohru is happier with another woman friend who, though Japanese, has many Western values -- perhaps because she lived in England for a few years. Like Tohru, this woman speaks English perfectly and has changed jobs in a search for greater challenge and personal happiness. Like Tohru, she is outgoing and unafraid to state her opinion -- even if it seems like a contrary one. Despite Tohru's great affection for this friend, he will not propose marriage. He says she would be too occupied with her friends, colleagues and job to spend a lot of time with his family -- a condition that would make him unhappy.
Meanwhile, Tohru feels pressure to get married. He points out that he is past the average marriage age for men in Japan -- 27. He also points out that his mother wants to see "the faces of her grandchildren." He says he'd like to oblige her soon -- if only he could find the right woman or settle his conflicts about the women he knows.
Despite Tohru's easy familiarity with English, soccer and American and British rock music, and despite his willingness to spurn the Japanese lifetime employment system, many of is attitudes are strongly rooted in Japanese values. He is unwilling to answer employment ads in the English-language Japan Times placed by American companies. In traditional Japanese fashion, he feels as though he needs a trusted intermediary -- like a Japanese employment agency -- to make a proper introduction and weed out bad prospects.
He is open to living in his parents' house after he gets married, although 65 percent of families in Japan now live apart from parents and grandparents, according to the 1975 census. He takes for granted that he will support his parents when they get old, and that he and his future wife will care for them personally through illness in their old age. Finally, he bristles if anyone -- even an unsuspecting foreigner -- calls him by his first name, a familiarity reserved only for his parents and his grandmother. His sister calls him Onichan, first brother, in the traditional Japanese manner.
Christmas Eve, 1983. Tohru, his sister, his mother and grandmother are sitting around the kotatsu, the low table with a built-in electric heater, while watching a news program on television. A segment of the newscast shows Japanese teen-agers walking past the McDonald's in the Omotesando section of Tokyo. All wear jeans. In a violation of Japanese etiquette, which decrees that eating in public is barbarian, the teen-agers munch on hamburgers and crepes as they stroll. One couple, in another violation of polite Japanese behavior, walks as a unit, arm in arm.
"Oh, ridiculous," murmurs Mrs. Uchida.
"Oh, no," says Mrs. Miyaji.
"Why?" asks Tohru who thinks -- as does his sister -- that the entire scene is "very natural."
"We are not America," says Mrs. Miyaji.
Later, Tohru tells an acquaintance, "I understand how they feel. I really understand."
Junko, who is 23, works as a clerk in the personnel department of a Tokyo department store. She has a fairly traditional goal for a young woman: she wants to get married and have a family. She is willing to work as well as raise children if her husband does not earn much money. But she would prefer not to work -- a fairly popular sentiment among women her age in Japan.
Even though Junko wants to follow a traditional path, she is having some difficulty. Like her brother, she cannot find the right person to marry. As she sees it, the problem is that she is frank and talkative -- qualities that the men she meets don't seem to appreciate in women.
"A lot of women look vulnerable and just listen to the man's story," she says. "I know women should be that way but I feel very uncomfortable doing that. It's not natural for me. I tried to be that way but now I express myself more. I think that's why I'm still alone."
When she gets married, she wants to wear a white wedding gown and veil instead of a kimono. "Western wedding dresses are more comfortable," she says. "Kimonos are too tight."
In Japan, where earthquakes are common, it is not unusual to build a house with wood expected to last only one generation. When the building material starts to deteriorate, families sometimes simply tear down the house and rebuild it. So in January, in this tradition, two days after the Miyaji family offered their different bows to the movers, workmen tore their house down. Using sledge hammers and a wrecking ball, they destroyed the rooms where the family members had slept on futon and eaten their meals, sitting on cushions on the floor.
In February, on the same lot, another crew of workmen began building a new wood house. In June, the Miyaji family moved into it. Sometimes, they will eat dinner in their new Western-style dining room, with its oval table and chairs. Other times, they will eat as they always have, around a low table while sitting on the tatami mat floor. Central heating will warm most of the rooms, making it unnecessary for the family members to sit around the one electric kotatsu -- although they nevertheless will install a kotatsu in their new house. Junko will sleep on a bed; the other family members will sleep, as they always have, on futon.
But all the family members will take their shoes off at the door.