Japanese words: Family

family The Japanese word for family is kazoku.

kazokuWe’ve just begun our third year in Japan and in those twenty-five months, I’ve observed many more similarities between Japanese and North American families than I have differences. This has been true everywhere we have lived.

Some things I’ve noticed:

It’s quite rare to hear a Japanese baby or toddler crying. Shortly after we moved to Yokohama, DP and I shared an elevator with a dad and his two year-old son. The little boy lifted his arms towards his father. His dad, who had not been looking at his son, reached down and lifted the boy up into his arms in one fluid movement. The whole transaction was made without sound, sight or touch… as if this parent and child were communicating telepathically.

When you live in a city as crowded as Tokyo, your private life is lived, at least in part, publicly. This is especially true on trains. I spotted the family above on a train to Tokyo and was touched by the quiet intimacy of this moment.

Tokyo Kazoku
tokyo family
One of the first times I encountered the word “kazoku” in a way that stuck, we were at the cinema and saw the poster (above) for a film called Tokyo Kazoku. Tokyo Family.

Intrigued by this family portrait and wanting to know more about their story, I convinced DP to see it with me even though the film was in Japanese without subtitles. We did a pretty good job of sorting out the story of an older couple who come to Tokyo to visit three adult children who have very little time for their parents. Later, during dinner, A little iPhone research revealed that this film was a remake of a 1953 film called Tokyo Story directed by Yasujirō Ozu, and that it was one of Roger Ebert’s favourite movies. Both films have a great deal to teach us about Japan but, more importantly, they illuminate some universal (and complicated) truths about the joys and obligations of belonging to a family.

The Japanese word for family is kazoku.


  1. I love Tokyo Story. I haven’t seen Tokyo Family so I can’t say much about it, but if you get a chance, do check out Tokyo Story. I saw it when I was doing my personal project of watching and reviewing one classic film a week, and was very touched by the story.

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