The ie, traditionally, was the formal ordering of the Japanese family--it contained set roles for the family head, successors, children, and even the deceased.  The different roles and generations of the ie "were characterized by Confucian principles of loyalty and benevolence"--the younger generations saw their duty to the house "as loyalty to their parents for benevolence received." (Hendry 25)  An individual in the family was thought of as owing the family for raising and caring for him or her, and so giving back to the family was how they repaid their debt--and continued the cycle by improving the next generations.  In this way, "The continuing entity was more important than any individual member, and individual members were expected to find their raison d'etre in the maintenance and the continuity of the ie." (Hendry 24)  So, family members were judged primarily on their ability to carry their share of the load.  Sometimes, if outsiders who married into the family were found to be "unsuitable" due to their inability to "carry on with their expected duties", they were removed from the ie and returned to their own house.  (Hendry 26)

The ie was abolished as a legal unit during the Allied Occupation following World War II, as it was seen as a relic of the feudalism the Occupation was trying to stamp out. The legacy of ie, however, lives on today--as Hendry notes, "the notion of the ie continues to be held quite happily in many parts of Japan." (Hendry 27-29)  First, regardless of legal basis, "members of a family living under one roof will conceptualize their unit as a continuing ie" in many parts of Japan. (Hendry 31)  While the legal system implemented in the Civil Code set strict guidelines for partitioning up inheritances, for example, often "non-inheriting children will sign away their rights for the sake of the ie, if one of their number agrees to take on the responsibility of the family home."  (Hendry 36)  Thus, a new head for the ie is informally chosen from the remaining family members, effectively circumventing the law.
 

References

Hendry, Joy.  Understanding Japanese Society (second edition).  New York: Routledge, 1996.

IE is also a standard two-letter abbreviation for Ireland, and .ie is the TLD for Ireland. IRL is the standard three-letter abbreviation, and 372 is the ISO 3166 3-digit numeric country code.

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