I found information about 56 of my ancestors from official , “koseki-touhon”, which I got from some city offices. Japan has “koseki hou”, family registry laws, and it enacts the making of these documents. The law was established in 1871 and from that year, every single Japanese person is registered on the list with their family. Foreigners who live in Japan are not listed; this is only for Japanese citizens. I’ve heard of many countries register citizens as an individual, so this Japanese law might be unique.
The documents include lots of information: , who reported the birth in the city office and when, what is the relationship between the reporting person and the newborn, who got married with who, the marriage date, new address after getting married, death date and time, address of death, who reported the death at the city office and when, and the relationship between the reporting person and deceased. The law was amended a couple of times and the documents’ format was changed, yet many old documents are still left.
Normally, people claim their own or/and their parents information when they get married, when they apply for a passport, when they start to get their old-age pension, when they write their own will, and when they are in the process of succession to property. Many people don’t know city offices keep ancestral information and don’t claim them, even though they have the right to claim these documents.
People can claim it at the city office counter and also using paper-mail. I visited three city offices in Tokyo and found out 56 ancestors’ information, including a woman who was born in 1893, from these documents. Unfortunately, the document for my great-grandfather’s on my father’s side was lost due to fire during WWII. After getting the documents, I faced an issue: It was difficult to read the documents. Old documents were written using an old style Japanese language with cursive hand writing. I asked for some pointers from the city offices’ administrators. They had rich knowledge and informed me about many things. Due to this work, I could make the chart below.
When I want to search more, I can claim documents from the city offices in Fukushima, Niigata, Chiba, and Saitama prefecture. However, if they had already disposed of these documents or lost them for some reason, I cannot take them. In fact, during the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011, the record was endangered by the tsunami. After this happened, the cities took measures, but the data isn’t always safe: Collecting documents sooner is better.
I’m enjoying this research, but some people are against this system as an invasion of privacy. In the 1800’s, Japan had a social hierarchy and the people who belonged to the bottom of the hierarchy could live in limited places. Some parts of Japan (mostly in the countryside) still have a hierarchy unofficially and in reality, the documents foster discrimination. On the whole, I have to say keeping this information is not a good idea at the present time.
Anyway, I can still claim these legally, so I will continue to enjoy this journey of finding my ancestors. I will visit the city offices in Fukushima, Niigata, Chiba, and Saitama prefecture and collect all those official documents and talk to my grandparents about it. I can’t wait to visit Japan next time!