12 April 2013

An inn run by one family... for 1,300 years

Hōshi is a ryokan (Japanese traditional inn) in Japan.  The hotel has been operated by the same family for forty-six generations (since 717 A.D.)

The fascinating explanation is in comments at the Reddit discussion thread:
It should be noted that Japan has a tradition of adopting adult heirs if it seems like there is nobody in the family that would be suitable/wanting to run the family business. Over 90% of adoptions in japan are of adult males in their 20s and 30s, and japan has one of the highest adoption rates in the world.

Because of this family businesses in japan are more successful than in other countries, which tend to die out due to blood lines or become other kinds of businesses.

Suzuki, Toyota, Kikkoman, and Canon are all family businesses. The current head of Suzuki was adopted, and the heir that will replace him will also be adopted.
and -
It's not a strange concept when you look at history. Some societies that placed a big importance on family (and there are many) allowed for the "adoption" of an adult. It's more about welcoming someone into the family and taking the family name than it is about providing for someone.

For example, the Roman Republic/Empire frequently engaged in adult adoption, even posthumously. Caesar adopted Octavian/Augustus after his own death as a way of having an heir. Quite a few of the Roman emperors were adopted by the previous emperors simply as a way of choosing an heir if there was no suitable or capable son that could take the job.
You learn something every day.


  1. If you're going to pass power down family lines, adopting adult heirs is the only sensible way to do it IMHO.

  2. Yes. Often the adopted heirs of Roman Emperors, who were chosen on merit rather than bloodline, were some of the more effective emperors. The most commonly cited example is that of "The Five Good Emperors" of the Nerva–Antonine dynasty where five times in a row the Emperor had no biological heir and chose one through adoption.

  3. Ryokans aren't "hotels." They're on a smaller scale, and have a more homey atmosphere. "Inn" is a much better equivalent.

  4. What do they do about the gift tax that is due when the business is "handed down" to the adopted child?

    1. I'm not an expert in Japanese inheritance law, but one assumes that an adopted adult child inherits the property upon death just as a biological child would. In the US states that permit adult adoption that is typically how it works. In general a child is a child for inheritance purposes adopted or not.

  5. Another factor is that not all children want to continue in the family business, or there is some impediment that would not indicate that the physical heir would be successful.

  6. There's also tradition of adopting older children to take care of the younger "biological" children.

  7. Interesting "goings-ons" with that tree in the front. I would think most places would cut it down.

    I wonder why such an effort to keep the tree.

  8. I think Freakanomics covered this. Pretty much the best way to doom a business is to keep passing it your genetic kid. The juggernaut Busch Beer almost perished from idiotic inheritants.

    In Japan, suppose you are a lazy son from growing with the wealth your father earned, don't expect to just get the company. The hard-working vice-president or some other person will be adopted in a heartbeat!

  9. I will add one point that seems omitted.
    Often the adoptee is a son in law who married a daughter of the family. So it is really just a son in law taking on his wife's name.

    In Japan the eldest make is expected to take over the families business, house, etc. and take care of the parents. This practice varies due to circumstances, and many old people live alone with their children in Tokyo working in an office, but it is still common for the oldest male to stay in the parents house to raise his family with the wife caring for the in-laws. If there is no male heir, then the oldest daughter takes on this role and is discouraged from marrying an eldest male, since that would obligate her to move into her in-laws house.

    So, if there is no male heir, the daughter's husband is adopted. Sometimes there is a son, but he pursues his own career and a daughter's family takes over the business. This is especially common for older, traditional business that may not be very lucrative.

    (We do not have such a system because we have Uncle Sam, who takes the money from our children to give to the elderly without any obligation of care.)


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