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Children as Treasures

Children as Treasures

Childhood and the Middle Class in Early Twentieth Century Japan

Mark Jones

ISBN 9780674053342

Publication date: 10/15/2010

Mark Jones examines the making of a new child’s world in Japan between 1890 and 1930 and focuses on the institutions, groups, and individuals that reshaped both the idea of childhood and the daily life of children. Family reformers, scientific child experts, magazine editors, well-educated mothers, and other prewar urban elites constructed a model of childhood—having one’s own room, devoting time to homework, reading children’s literature, playing with toys—that ultimately became the norm for young Japanese in subsequent decades.

This book also places the story of modern childhood within a broader social context—the emergence of a middle class in early twentieth century Japan. The ideal of making the child into a “superior student” (yutosei) appealed to the family seeking upward mobility and to the nation-state that needed disciplined, educated workers able to further Japan’s capitalist and imperialist growth. This view of the middle class as a child-centered, educationally obsessed, socially aspiring stratum survived World War II and prospered into the years beyond.


  • This extremely well researched historical study of the intersection of ideology, politics, and family in modern Japan explores the emergence of a political discourse that supported the construction of a middle class in early-20th-century Japan and details the centrality of child rearing in that discourse...Throughout the book, readers get a clear sense that the Japanese family system is not simply a product of random social forces but was consciously invented to achieve specific political and ideological aims. An excellent work of interest to scholars of Japan, gender studies, and child development.

    —J. W. Traphagan, Choice


  • Mark Jones is Professor of History at Central Connecticut State University.

Book Details

  • 275 pages
  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Asia Center