Monday, June 07, 2010

One More Interesting Item on the Prime Minister

The recent spate of reporting on the background of newly-elected Prime Minister Kan Naoto has brought out a lot of stories of which I was unaware. The patented mahjong point counting machine was a pretty neat bit off previously suppressed personal history.

What has been rather surprising is how the English language media has failed so far to discuss Kan's relationship with his wife. Not in so far as foregoing rehashing the supposed affair he had with his media advisor in 1998 -- nobody has a problem going on about that, seemingly.

What everyone has either been ignoring, willfully or not, is that the PM and his wife are related.

Closely related.

First cousins, in fact. If online family trees are correct, Kan Naoto's mother and his wife Nobuko's father are sister and brother.

Whilst first cousin marriage is the most common form of marriage in pre-modern societies and was not at all rare in even urban areas in pre-war Japan, it has become a rarity in this modern, mass education, mobile age. While obviously legal (just barely) it has been driven out by a mass inculcation of the belief that first cousin marriage carries an unacceptable risk of birth defects, should there be children. Indeed, the prime minister and his wife's parents vehemently opposed the two marrying.

That the PM and his wife are so closely related might explain Nobuko-san's salty response to the news of Kan's having had an affair in 1998. Rather than demanding a divorce -- the normal way of handling a public report of an affair -- or suffering in silence, she famously berated him, "Your were careless in covering your flanks (waki ga amai) you a**hole (bakatare)."

Which is something you would tell your first cousin whom you have known all your life (Nobuko-san is a year older than her husband).


Janne Morén said...

One reason the cousin thing isn't covered in Western press may be because such marriages are legal almost everywhere in Europe and America. So while unusual there isn't much of a moral angle to it for most of their readers.

Genetically, it's less of a problem than people seem to believe. Many species tend to aim for partners that are somewhere around first to second cousins (there's a famous experiment on birds using the evocatively-named "Amsterdam Apparatus"). Being too distant is genetically not good either; the optimum is some level of slight kinship. Of course we humans are all so genetically close the math changes a bit (we basically all count as slightly related) but that's a species-specific detail.

Manako said...

According to J Wikipedia two other former PMs also married first cousins: Nobusuke Kishi and Eisaku Sato (the Nobel Peace Prize winner). It's legal (legal is legal, what do you mean "barely" legal?) and common, as kids in Japan grow up knowing they could marry their cousins if they like. What purpose would the Western press pointing that out serve except to expose their cultural ignorance and harping on the stigma it carries on the West? Please do not apply your stigma to different cultures. According to over 10% of marriages worldwide are between 1st and 2nd cousins.

Manako said...

Sorry, the first link didn't work:

MTC said...

Herr Morén -

First cousin marriages are illegal in many U.S. states. Please consult the following list:

Manako -

Please note the qualifications I include in paragraph six of my post.

Anonymous said...

Although the Kishi and Sato brothers did marry their cousins, comparing their incredibly complex family trees and pre-war marriages to the Kan's really doesn't seem to be very relevant. After all, the civil law and status quo was quite different then.

Anonymous said...

What do you mean by "barely legal"? Their marriage is either legal or illegal. In this case it is 100% legal.

Anonymous said...

The University of Washington established back in 2002 that there is no scientific evidence that marrying your first counsin carries risks to offspring...because that's what I'm sure everyone is worried about.

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