This blog was originally supposed to be about gardening, genealogy and family. Not necesarily in that order. Due to my recent obsession with genealogy, gardening has definitely been on the back burner. My roses are a little dreary looking. Weeds are poking out all over the place. No summer veggies have been planted and pumpkins are nowhere to be seen. And pumpkins are my specialty. But alas, there is hope. We sent some seeds to Shinichi and he is growing some giants in my place, in Japan no less!
My veggies are going to have to wait until next season. Shinichi, will you come and help plant our seedlings?
5-12-29 Minami Azabu, Minato-Ku, Tokyo, Japan, 106-0047
No research trip would be complete without a visit to the local family history center. For the second time, we met with Yumiko Sase. She addressed our questions about the immigration indexing project underway in Salt Lake City. We asked about hiring researchers in Japan and about other options for genealogical discoveries, beyond the basic koseki, otera, kakocho and ohaka. On our way out, we met Vicki Maetani, a sansei from Utah currently serving a mission in Japan with her husband, Howard. We discussed research related to Nikkei in Japan and in the US. Elder Maetani is a retired judge, well versed in the issues related to Japanese Americans during and after WWII. What a rewarding way to spend our last day of research during this trip.
Since the beginning of our trip, we wanted to go to the Diplomatic Archives Facility of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and see what we could learn. Would we be able to get in the door? Would access to documents be restricted? Exactly what documents did they have that would be genealogically relevant? And could someone help us read whatever it was that we were looking at?
I really wanted to find Sasanji’s immigration record but knew that would be like finding a needle in a haystack. I have been searching for his arrival in the US for quite some time. There were several possible hits, but nothing solid. So, we hopped in yet another taxi and were dropped in the middle of Azabudai, perplexed as to where the building was even located.
Wandering in the hot sun, we stumbled upon a large brick building that looked promising. No, just the post office. Then we found a sign for the right building with arrows directing us to the entrance. It was closed. Backtracking to the original sign, we boldly walked into the building, feigning gaijin ignorance.
Stopped at the front desk by a timid woman who seemed skeptical about our intentions, we kept at it, filled out the Japanese forms in English, placed our possessions into a locker and were escorted into what appeared to be a research room. It looked familiar. Computers? Check. Microfilm readers? Check? Rows of books that looked like finding aids? Check. Pleasant employee who spoke English? Double check. Filled out more Japanese forms in English then presented our passports. Oops. Left mine in the hotel. Not a good move. But we continued to ask a steady stream of questions. What records were available? Could we get emigration records? Fortunately, I had my laptop ready, complete with database AND copies of the Okazaki koseki.
Yonai-san explained that the immigration/emigration records were housed in the Legal Affairs Department and they would be “difficult” to find. Not sure if that meant we couldn’t search or if the records didn’t exist, or something else entirely. It’s hard to decipher that level of Japanese. He did, however, have microfilm records equivalent to passport applications. And there were no restrictions on access. If we knew the approximate time the ancestors left Japan, where they arrived in the US, the kanji in their names, their addresses and where they applied for a passport/visa, there was a remote chance we could find something. Hmm. Didn’t sound good. He looked in a finding aid to see what microfilm we might begin with. Sasanji may or may not have come to the US in 1898, he may or may not have come through San Francisco, he lived in Okayama-ken and may have applied for a passport there or Kanagawa-ken or Kobe or Yokohama or… oh my! So we decided to start with the applications in 1898 from Okayama and see how quickly we would become glassy-eyed. At least they were in alphabetical order.
And there it was. On 11 April 1898, Sasanji Okazaki was issued passport (or travel) #5462. The name and address matched that on the koseki. Although the date of emigration and the ship were not listed, he was bound for British Canada and planned to farm there. Canada!? I always knew that was a possibility, but now I had evidence. It got even better when we found Sasanji’s son, Ichimaru. The icing on the cake? Not only did we print the images from microfilm, Yonai-san brought the original documents for us to view and photograph. He told us it was a miracle. He really couldn’t believe we found this so quickly and so easily. This really was a golden moment.
An ancient city. Once the former imperial capital. Largely unharmed during WWII.
We arrived May 23 via the Shinkansen. Soba for lunch. A visit to the Kiyomizu Temple. Then check-in at Hiiragiya; the second oldest ryokan in Kyoto was established more than three hundred years ago. Simple and unassuming, the high walls and gate hid the treasure inside. Several employees greeted us with deep bows in the genkan, a stone entry. We changed into slippers and followed a kimono-clad attendant to our room then removed our slippers before stepping onto the tatami mat. The smell of clean tatami is a little like freshly cut grass. Surrounded by shoji and glass, we had a garden view from both the main room and the ofuro, or bath. It was hard to believe that we were in the middle of a bustling city. After our ofuro, we donned yukata and were served kaiseki, a multi course traditional meal, and a flight of sake. Miyuki was our attendant for the duration of our stay. After dinner, it was back to the ofuro before collapsing into the heavenly futon. Sweet dreams.
Day 2. Miyuki arrived to put away the futon and serve a traditional Japanese breakfast. Fish, fresh tofu, vegetables, rice, miso soup, tea. Another bath. The ryokan has been in the current owner’s family for six generations. She and Miyuki gave us a personal tour, then suggested some sites to visit in the city.
First stop, Nanzenji, a series of temples nestled in the hills, surrounded by maple trees. Next stop, Okazaki Shrine (we couldn’t resist!); the kanji is the same as for our surname. Locals call this shrine “Usagi Jinja”. After that, a stroll through Gion, best known for it’s Geisha, at least at night. During the day it is mostly a tourist spot. Fresh Kyoto-style udon for lunch, a little shopping, then off to Nijo Jinya, a former inn used by feudal lords. We took a tour and saw secret passages, hidden doors and stairwells, low ceilings with trap doors and tiny hallways which curtailed the use of swords. The building is privately owned by the Ogawa family, decendants of the original owner. Then to Ninomaru Palace adjacent to Nijo Castle.
At the end of a long day, it was back to the ryokan and another ofuro. Another meal served by Miyuki, this time shabu shabu with French chablis. Ofuro in the main bath. Back to the ofuro in our room. Collapse again into the futon for a good night’s sleep. I dreamt of samurai and ninja, sword fights and Heian period clothing, geisha and zen gardens.
Morning arrived too soon, so it was off to the ofuro again. Why not? We are leaving soon. My skin feels so soft from all of the scrubbing, soaking and minerals. Miyuki arrived at 7:30. Green tea. Coffee. Umeboshi. Breakfast is served while church bells ring in the distance. Tofu with natto, crab omlette, oshinko, miso shiro, an array of local fish and vegetables, fruit, tea. And more. After breakfast we are served shiso tea.
But alas, it’s time to return to reality. I love staying in ryokans, but my back and knees are starting to complain about sitting on the floor.
Imagine one civil document that included birth, adoption, marriage, divorce and death information for every member of a household. That’s the beauty of a koseki. The good news lies in the rich biographical information. The bad news? First, due to strict privacy laws, the data is only available to those who can prove their descendancy. Second, language and geography restrict the ease with which most Japanese Americans can access these documents.
Once lineage is established and the first koseki obtained, additional information is available. From the original Okazaki koseki, we were able to learn the maiden names and addresses of Ted’s grandmother and great grandmothers. And then we obtained those koseki. Same for the Miyake side. The process takes time. Koseki are located in the municipality of a particular family group. Each time the household changed, so did the Koseki. Time is needed to translate key pieces of information, but also to travel from one government office to another. Most application forms are available online. Finding a person to help with reading and filling out the forms who is both young enough to be comfortable with computers and old enough to decipher dated writing styles is a challenge. Equipped with translations and addresses, it is possible to locate the original property of the family.
How far back can a genealogist go? Civil record keeping didn’t begin until the Meiji period, (about 1870). If you can locate direct descendants currently living on ancestral property you may be able to find new details. The Japanese equivalent of a deed passing land from father to son over many generations may still exist. The family may also possess a kakocho, or Buddhist death record, somewhat like a family bible. A family cemetery may have rich biographical information engraved on the ohaka (gravestones). Older stones may not be legible or only have the kaimyo listed (death name). The last stop would be identifying the local temple. Sometimes finding which temple can be a challenge. Yokoyama-sensei from Temple Daianzi mentioned research he is doing for a family who said they “might be” affiliated with that location. This is not so different from figuring out which church a family may have attended in the US or Europe. And like some traditional European cultures, Japan is a patrilineal society. Land and surnames are passed from father to son. Cemeteries typically only include first-born sons, their wives and children who died before marriage.
The koseki is the first step in finding your Japanese ancestors. Collecting and translating all available koseki, visiting the ancestral farm and cemetery, contacting living desendants, viewing the ohaka, researching documents at the temple? Now that’s what I call a “reasonably exhaustive search.”
Last November, we met Hiroko, Ted’s second cousin. Yesterday she introduced us to her first cousin, Setsuko. The pedigree gets muddled with heir adoptions and marriages among family members. Ted, Hiroko and Setsuko share the same great grandfather, Sasanji Okazaki. But Sasanji’s second son, Namita, married his first cousin (daughter of Sasanji’s sister). Since civil records don’t exist before about 1870, it’s difficult to say how often adoptions and marriage among cousins occurred.
Hiroko and Setsuko took us to the ancestral farm of Namita who was born an Okazaki in the village of Tabara, but adopted into the Kayasuga family in the neighboring village of Katsuo. Second sons are frequently adopted as a means of continuing a surname when there are only daughters, or when the eldest son is unable to continue the line. Namita’s elder brother, Ichimaru, also adopted a “yoshi” from the Maihara family to carry on the Okazaki surname.
Namita had been living and working in California for a few years between about 1914-1918 but returned to Japan with his younger brother who succumbed to Spanish Influenza on that voyage. Namita then married Makio Kayasuga, had a daughter named Matsuko, and then returned to the US where he worked for approximately three years in the laundry business. Namita saved his money and when he came back to his wife and daughter around 1923, he was able to build a beautiful home. His son, Kazumasa was born about 1924 or 1925.
During World War II, while the Okazaki family was interned in the United States, the city of Okayama was nearly obliterated by bombs. The remote mountain villages, however, were spared. Kazumasa recalled many relatives staying in their home. They had space but their farm also provided much needed sustenance at a time when many Japanese were starving.
After the war, the Okazaki’s returned to their ancestral village of Tabara. With no food or money, Namita and the Kayasuga clan helped the Okazaki’s by offering them a bag of rice when they first arrived, something more valuable than money at the time.
Today Kazumasa, son of Namita, lives alone on the farm. Many of the villagers have abandoned their land and homes for economic reasons. But even as an octogenarian, Kazumasa operates his tractor, plants his rice and visits with friends. His daughter, sons and grandchildren visit him often as they all live nearby. The view from the mountaintop is spectacular. Cool breezes provide relief from the humidity. Wildflowers are in full bloom. The fields are ready to be planted with rice. Traveling to Katsuo has really been a step back in time.
Temple Daianzi is nestled against a hill in the Daianzi neighborhood of Okayama city. We arrived promptly for our 10:00 AM appointment with Yokoyama-san. Prepared to politely sip tea and learn that no documents could be found, we were thrilled when the priest handed us a copy of the “Danshin-tocho” which recorded Okazaki deaths dating back to the Tenpo period, roughly 1830- to 1844. It will be interesting to get the paper translated. Unfortunately, some of the individuals are only listed by Kaimyo, or Buddhist names given at death, as opposed to birth names. Regardless, it was an interesting find.