Linda's Orchard

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Month: November, 2012

A few more of my favorite things, plus some “not so’s”

Ten more things I love about Japan…

11. Furniture that fits me like Goldilocks sitting in Baby Bear’s chair…just right!

12. Clothing that fits (even though the exchange rate makes most items cost prohibitive).

13. Peep holes on doors that I can actually see through (is there a pattern here?).

14. The attention to detail in every facet of life.

15. The work ethic, from the high fashion sales girl washing windows to the waiter in a cafe who really enjoys his job.

16. Great customer service.

17. No tipping. Ever. See #16.

18. Hardware stores and mom and pop shops.

19. Traditional arts of tea ceremony, calligraphy, flower arranging.

20. Open air museums.

21. Impossible to stop at 20!

and a few things that drive me crazy…

1. Slurping. Lots of slurping.

2. Kleenex instead of napkins.

3. Squatty potties (though there aren’t too many anymore).

4. Soot from incinerated trash.

5. Creepy men on trains (though many commute trains now have women’s only cars).

6. Natto.

7. Crowds. See #5.

8. The amount of time it takes a group to make a decision.

9. Smoking (though that, too, has changed; there are lots of no-smoking places).

10. Can’t think of one. I really love Japan!

One Last Stop

There was one last stop to make before heading home: The Family History Center in Hiroo. We decided to go there without an appointment, a cold call, so to speak. We knew the address and the hours (M-F, 9-5). Addresses in Japan are interesting; buildings aren’t numbered in order the way western addresses are done. Instead, buildings are numbered in the order they were built. It’s virtually impossibly to find a location based on the address alone, at least in the traditional manner. Hint: be sure to check google maps before venturing out. We rode a taxi to the vicinity, then walked a block to the LDS office where we were greeted by a receptionist who walked us to the Family History Center. This was really just a small office with two volunteers, but the woman who met us was helpful, informative and bilingual. Our goal was twofold. First, to find out if we could get any outbound shipping records for Sasanji Okazaki in 1898, and second, to see what kind of resources they could provide for people doing Japanese genealogy. Regarding shipping records, she explained that they are in the process of  being indexed  by volunteers but that will take time. I suppose we could hire someone in Japan to look through these records, but that would likely be cost prohibitive. In terms of general research, she explained that the office could help with obtaining koseki records for people, either in Japan or in the United States. I asked if other Family History Centers within Japan should be contacted based on proximity to city offices, but was told that such requests would be redirected to the Tokyo LDS office.

The next step in this learning process will  be to give that a try, perhaps asking them to help with one of the many maternal lines that I haven’t yet researched. In the meantime, it’s time to head home.

Where’s Waldo?, or Sunday in Tokyo

Where’s the Gaijin?

With one full day left in Tokyo, we decided to see Harajuku, the mecca for young people. After a bit of shopping, getting swept in a current of teens and watching some children dressed for Shichi Go San at Meiji Jingu, we grabbed lunch from some street vendors near Yoyogi Uehara, then headed to the Ginza for window shopping at Mitsukoshi and people watching along the street, followed by a traditional teppan yaki dinner at the New Otani. Oishi! Tomorrow we will experience our last tidbit of Japanese genealogy when we visit the Family History Library in Hiroo. Not sure exactly what will happen there or even if they can help, but it will be worth the stop before heading to Tokyo Station and then Narita. It’s been a whirlwind of a trip.

With Harajuku Girls

Yaki Soba Vendor Near Yoyogi Koen

Lunch in the Park

High Fashion Meets Japanese Work Ethic

Shichi Go San at Meiji Jingu

Mikimoto Christmas Tree at Ginza

Seasonal Veggies


Sayonara, Tokyo

Just one more cemetery…

Tokugawa Yoshinobu Kamon

As a child, I loved to wander through old cemeteries with my mother. To this day it is hard for me to pass up an opportunity to explore headstones. Yanaka is an old and traditional neighborhood in Tokyo which is home to one amazing and very large cemetery. The last shogun of Japan, Tokugawa Yoshinobu, is buried there along with his wife, two consorts, 23 children and some of his household staff. Tokugawa is genealogically significant in terms of history. When imperial power was reinstated in 1868 and the shogun no longer had control, the subsequent economic repercussions led to significant emigration among the farming population of Japan. Sasanji Okazaki left Japan in 1898 due to financial hardship and had hopes of earning money to provide for his family.

Burial Site of Tokugawa Yoshinobu

What’s in a name?


Miyake Kamon or Family Crest


Surnames are interesting in every culture. In Japan, they are a comparatively recent phenomenon. When imperial power was reinstated in 1868 and Emperor Meiji began his “restoration”, families were required to creat surnames. Meiji also began the family registration process, what is now known as the “koseki”. This was an easy and organized method of taxation. During and following the Meiji Restoration, many families suffered great economic hardship. Some were former samurai, most were farmers and the vast majority couldn’t keep up with the costs of the new era. There are more surnames in Japan than most other cultures, but the early immigrants (to Hawaii, the US, Canada, Brazil, Peru, Mexico, etc.) came from just a handful of farming prefectures; they were the individuals who suffered financially. That is why we often hear the same Japanese surnames over and over in the US, yet when we travel to Japan we discover that there are so many more.

Kanji are the Chinese characters adopted by the Japanese in the 6th C and used in writing, along with Hiragana and Katakana. Names are always written in Kanji and the Japanese take great pride is selecting given names. The meaning of a name (given or surname) is dependent upon the kanji used. Sometimes a name can be read in a variety of ways and only the family really knows for sure. Additionally, writing has evolved over the years, making it difficult to read old names. The best genealogical comparison I can think of is old German. How many of us have had challenges trying to read that? Now add one step, the translator. How does a genealogist confirm the content of a translated name or koseki? Hmmm? How do you apply the concept of confirming a fact with a second source if you can’t read either one?

After finishing up most of what I could accomplish during this trip regarding the Okazaki surname, I began to tackle “Miyake”, Ted’s maternal line. His Miyake’s were from Kurashiki and Yorishima. Apparently this is a VERY common surname in the region. According to one auntie, the family are Heike descendants, the losing warriors in the 12th C battle between the Heike and the Genji. These individuals fled into the hills and became farmers in the region, a tale also told by the Okazaki family. A nearby mountain was called Miyake Zaka; when families were required to create surnames, many in this region chose “Miyake”.

We collected the Miyake koseki last year and during this trip we photographed the family kakocho (death register), prayed at the bustudan and visited the familial cemetery in Yorishima. Japan is literally dotted with small cemeteries. This hillside was no different; there were thousands of ohaka (tombstones) just within this cemetery alone, from the bottom of the hill and up into the forest. It was interesting to note that many of the ohaka had the same kamon (family crest) as ours. Within the confines of our Miyake plot, thirteen ohaka belonged specifically to Ted’s direct ancestors and were written in the kakocho. Those beyond the thirteen known ancestors perplexed me; Auntie explained that many, many generations ago, there likely was a connection. Unfortunately there was no proof; written information that far back only contained the buddhist death name and date, and we had no way of obtaining the kakocho details for the other stones. Many of the stones were so old that the engravings were completely obliterated. Nevertheless, it was a beautiful site overlooking the entire bay.

Cover of Miyake Kakocho

Washing the Miyake Ohaka

Two days later we visited the temple in Kurashiki, Okayama-ken. I casually commented (in English) that an oil painting looked a lot like the village of Yorishima. The guide turned to Ted and said (in Japanese) that he must be a Miyake. So desu, neh! Apparently nearly every family in Yorishima was one of two surnames, Miyake or of one beginning with “Oka”, meaning cape or small bay. Yorishima is a small fishing village on a protected inlet, also called a cape. Among Japanese whose surname begins with “Oka”, it is always prudent to ask about the kanji in their name. Usually those whose kanji is the same as ours also have ancestors from Okayama.

At the Temple in Kurashiki

Ganbare Gaijin Girl, or Why I Love Japan

Japan is so confusing; I guess that’s what is so appealing to me. Nothing is quite what it seems. The culture is subtly nuanced and often difficult for the typical foreigner to understand. But there is much to appreciate in this society, which dates back thousands of years.

Bride and Groom in Kurashiki


Here are my top ten reasons for loving Japan, in no particular order:

1.  The juxtaposition of old and new

2. The appreciation of nature, especially seasons

3. The food (except for natto)

4. The strict sense of behavioral expectations and social order

5. The politeness

6. The mix of Nihongo and English in silly ways that I call “jinglish”

7. The transportation

8. The sense of punctuality (see also #7)

9. Heated toilet seats

10. Wabi Sabi, or finding the beauty in imperfection

11. The, oh wait, I forgot I was going to stop at ten…

Mt. Fuji Taken From the Bullet Train

Koseki and Kakocho and Otera, Oh My!

Temple Dai Anji

After visiting relatives, walking through the ancestral home and cemetery, making copies of the kakocho and obtaining the paternal koseki (family register), I needed to reevaluate my research plan for the Okazaki line. Next stop, grandmother’s family koseki. After that, a visit to the otera (temple), and possibly a drive through the village where Ted’s paternal grandmother was born.

Obtaining the koseki turned out to be relatively easy this time around. We needed to identify the city where the family was registered (in this case, Okayama), bring appropriate documentation of lineage (the Okazaki koseki, birth certificates, passports), and cross our fingers. Each prefecture has a different process and its own forms, but only those who are direct descendants can obtain the documents. Everything is in Japanese, requires writing in Japanese, and in most situations the clerks will not speak any English. Between Ted being the direct descendant with proof, his maternal aunt being able to read and write Japanese, and me being the one with the genealogical information, we accomplished our goal through teamwork. Of course, the pages still need to be translated.

Obtaining the Maihara Koseki in Okayama

During our visit with the relatives on the farm in Tabara, we learned the location of the otera and scheduled an appointment with the priest. Driving through the narrow streets on the way to temple Dai Anji was a bit like Mister Toad’s Wild Ride. The rental car was a Prius, but still too big for comfort. We met Yokoyama-san and his wife at 10:00. Unexpectedly, he was wearing jeans and a sweatshirt rather than his robes. He was apologetic but I found the experience to be refreshing. Yokoyama-san explained that the temple was rebuilt about 17 years ago and the original temple was about 90-100 years old. We prayed in front of the altar, paying our respects to the Okazaki ancestors, then enjoyed tea, sweets and conversation with the priest and his wife. They were so pleasant and welcoming and we shared stories of our grown children. We discussed our interest in learning as much as possible about the Okazaki family. Yokoyama-san explained that the scrolls with the names do exist and that he would research them for us. He also told us that the information we already had was quite extensive and that there may not be more to learn. Regardless, he was enthusiastic about researching the matter, though it would be a time consuming and tedious process, probably not unlike scrolling through microfilm or pages upon pages of church records. The visit was productive and enjoyable for all of us.

Hamako Maihara was Ted’s paternal grandmother. Now that we have her father’s koseki, we hope to drive through the ancestral village of Ota. Visiting with descendants will need to wait until the next trip to Japan.

Altar at Temple Dai Anji

Yokoyama-san and His Wife

All Work and No Play Makes Jack a Dull Boy

The trip so far has been very productive in terms of genealogical research and we still have two more days to gather information in the Okayama region. But no trip would be complete without some sightseeing and hands-on activities. From making Bizen Yaki cups to fighting off samurai warriors to having tea in a traditional garden, there is much to see and do in this country which so easily blends the old with the new.

Hands On Pottery Class at Okayama Castle

At Okayama Castle

Tea and Sweets at Kiribo Pottery Studio

Mother and Son Celebrate Shichi Go San

Meeting New Cousins

Sometimes when researching long deceased ancestors, we have the opportunity to meet previously unknown living descendants. Once in a great while the encounter turns into something wonderful. Such was the case with Hiroko Kumashiro. A lifelong resident of Okayama, Hiroko was trained in the traditional Japanese arts of flower arranging and tea ceremony. Her grandfather and Ted’s grandfather were brothers, making Ted and Hiroko second cousins. To complicate matters further, Hiroko’s maternal grandfather and grandmother were first cousins (their parents were siblings Sasanji and Tami Okazaki). Regardless of the connection, Ted had never heard of Hiroko before she graciously invited us into her home. The front part of the building was where she conducted her business as a wholesale antiques dealer and ikebana instructor. Behind this old storefront was her residence where we sat at the kitchen table and exchanged photos and family stories, after which Hiroko served traditional sugar sweets and matcha which she whisked right at the table. Somehow our lack of a common language became irrelevant and the afternoon was a unique combination of culture and family like none I have ever experienced.

Sharing Photos and Notes

Linda and Hiroko at her shop

A Visit to the Ancestral Farm and Cemetery

No genealogical research is complete without a trip to the ancestral homeland. On 1 November 2012, we had the opportunity to visit the original Okazaki family farm in Tabara Village. The experience was both sentimental and genealogically rewarding. It will take some time to reflect upon my time in Tabara, so a narrative will need to wait. For now, the pictures capture the essence of the day.

Inside Cover of Okazaki Kakocho



Original Well


Front Entrance to the Farmhouse with Old Wisteria Vines


Pouring Water Over the Okazaki Ancestral Grave Stones


With Hosts Motomu and Shizuko Okazaki