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Before World War II most Japanese lived in extended families of three or more generations. Family relationships were governed by a rigid hierarchical system, and parental authority was strong. The process of democratisation after the war, however, transformed every aspect of Japanese family life. Especially important was the revision of the Civil Code in 1947, which gave women equal legal status with men in all phases of life, thereby abolishing the old patriarchal character of the family.

The typical Japanese nuclear family today is a product of a number of inter-related postwar-period trends, such as the sharp reduction in the average number of children per family, the increase in life expectancy, and the concentration of the population in urban areas where small dwellings are the norm.


Most residences in pre-war Japan were wooden structures with tiled roofs and virtually all the rooms had tatami mats on the floor. Residential structures today commonly have western-style rooms with wooden floors and, in urban areas, many people live in high-rise mulitiple-family dwellings. A 1998 study found that single-family-owned homes have an average of 122.74 square metres of floor space. Most houses will have both Japanese-style and Western-style rooms.

Ageing population

Japan's population is ageing at a rate faster than any other nation in the world. As a result, the number of older people is growing, and those over 65 accounted for about 17.5% of the population in the 2000 census. Another reason for the growth in the proportion of older people is because life expectancy has grown to 84 for women and 78 for men. It is predicted that by the year 2050 one in every three Japanese alive will be aged 65 or older.This situation is causing serious problems for society and is placing an increasingly heavy burden on the medical care and pension systems. In the years ahead a shrinking working population will have to bear the growing cost of this burden. The government is currently making attempts to restructure the social security system.


Every Japanese child recieves 9 years of compulsory education - 6 years at elementary school and 3 years at middle school. 97 per cent of all Japanese go on to further education in high school (3 years). 49 per cent of high school graduates advance on to higher education at universities and junior colleges. The school year begins in April.

Related sites:
Japan Fact Sheet
Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT)


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