Linda's Orchard

The contents of this blog may not be reproduced without written permission. ©Linda's Orchard

Category: Japanese Genealogy

Adventures in Vancouver: Nikkei Place

Nikkei Place

Nikkei Place

The Nikkei National Museum and Cultural Center is located in Burnaby, Canada, just outside Vancouver. British Columbia has a long history of Japanese immigrants dating back to 1877 when Manzo Nagano first arrived. As in the United States, Nikkei residing in the military exclusion zone of western Canada during World War II were forced to evacuate to interior locations. But there were differences, too. Before the war, the Japanese in Canada  could own land, could marry Caucasians and could become naturalized citizens, though they were not allowed to vote. The  government records were also very different in Canada compared to the US.

Funded in part by redress money, the center serves the entire Nikkei community, from new immigrants and Japanese ex-pats to yonsei, gosei and so on. There is an attached Japanese market and senior housing. There are language classes, judo and kendo classes, a small museum and gift shop, a research room and archival holdings. Best of all, there are Nikkei Family History Workshops led by research archivist, Linda Kawamoto Reid.  A former nurse turned archivist, Linda was kind enough to give me a personal tour of the resource area and also time to do some personal research before the class.

Though I have a good working knowledge of records available for Japanese American research, I was at a loss as to how to search Japanese Canadian records. The pre-World War II Nikkei population in Canada was only about 22,000, as compared to approximately 120,000 in the western US. Racism was rampant in both countries. Ms. Reid explained to the group how to find their records in BC, at the Canadian National Archives and in Japan. She described the 1940 National Registration for all Canadians, the 1941 Enemy Alien Registration, lists of incarcerated individuals by camp, and the case files for those who owned property, businesses, boats and the like. She showed us books of family histories, and lists of residents created in 1920 and 1929 which included names, towns, prefectures of origin, and family members, all in both English and Kanji. I haven’t found anything quite like that in the US. Beyond the local and national records, Linda also taught the class how to access their koseki in Japan.

The class was organized and well planned. The instructor presented a wealth of examples for us to review after the presentation. She explained complex laws and cultural nuances, immigration records, and the plethora of Nikkei documentation unique to Canada. The handouts were invaluable. I am so glad to have attended this class and to have met another researcher interested in Nikkei records.

Linda Kawamoto Reid and Linda Okazaki

Linda Kawamoto Reid and Linda Okazaki

Nihonmachi and the National Archives

National Archives and Records Administration: Pacific Alaska Region

National Archives and Records Administration                     Pacific Alaska Region

For a genealogist, no trip to Seattle would be complete without a visit to the Pacific Alaska Region branch of the National Archives. I spent a full morning scrolling through dozens of rolls of microfilmed immigration records and also had the chance to visit with fellow California Genealogical Society member Trish Nicola. She is a NARA volunteer who specializes in records pertaining to the Chinese Exclusion Act.

Linda Okazaki and Trish Nicola

Linda Okazaki and Trish Nicola

For anyone interested in Japanese American history, the Nihonmachi district of Seattle is a must. This vibrant Japanese community originated in  the late 1800’s. Following World War II, the neighborhood fell into disrepair as the Nikkei were evacuated, first to assembly centers and then to WRA camps. Now the area is experiencing a revival. Shops and restaurants abound. What’s especially interesting is the way the community blends old and new. Stores mix modern clothing and Japanese antiques, long standing restaurants employ new Japanese immigrants, museums house historical artifacts and contemporary art. Even the Panama Hotel, made famous in the book, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, is open for business both as a hotel and tea shop. Everything feels interesting and alive.

Urban Revival in Nihonmachi

Urban Revival in Nihonmachi

Panama Hotel

Panama Hotel

Bittersweet Memories

Hiroko Iida, Harold Kobayashi, Maru Hiratzka

Hiroko Iida, Eizo Kobayashi, Maru Hiratzka

On 19 February 1942, FDR signed Executive Order 9066 which set the stage for tens of thousands of Nikkei to be incarcerated without due process. Smaller numbers of Italians, Germans and Japanese South Americans were also held. Canada followed suit with a similar scenario.

This past Sunday, I attended a “Day of Remembrance”  service at the Berkeley Methodist United Church. Eizo Kobayashi spoke of his memories as a young boy from West Oakland, detained with his mother and brothers, first at Tanforan Assembly Center and then in Topaz, Utah. His Issei father remained in a California hospital while suffering from tuberculosis. Eizo’s stories were vivid and poignant. He spoke of the stench of horse manure in their dwelling, a refurbished horse stall at the Tanforan race track. He described the three day train ride to Utah, told of the regular dust storms and how he and his brothers stuffed gunny sacks with hay to serve as mattresses atop their cots. His family lost their home, their business, their possessions, and in some ways, their father. For a young boy, it was also an adventure. For his mother, it was a tragedy.

Following the service, the congregation shared displays of their own memorabilia. Maru Hiratzka brought a small  wooden chest, hand crafted during the camp years by her uncle, Jimmy Osuga. Harold Hiyashi proudly displayed his mementos from before, during and after the war. Other Nissei shared their stories, too, so that we would not forget.

Harold Hiyashi

Harold Hiyashi

Nobutaro Who?

Who was Nobutaro Okazaki? He was born about 1879, emigrated to Vancouver, BC in 1898 where he worked as a coal miner. He married, had two sons, and divorced. What’s most important is that he was from the village of Tabara, Okayama, Japan, the tiny hamlet from where my husband’s family originated. As of this date, there are precisely 7 families in the village with that surname and reportedly 6 of those are related.

How is a genealogist expected to figure this out? Koseki records are only available to those who can prove direct descent. Last week I contacted several potential descendants in Canada and the US but so far have not had any response.  Even if I could compare koseki content with some descendants, the data might not go back far enough in time. And y-dna studies aren’t an immediate choice because of the frequency of heir adoptions.

Perhaps there is a written history of the town. Certainly there must be a written history of the prefecture, but translation would be cost prohibitive. Interviews with the eldest residents  in Tabara might be my best option.

Looks like I need to get back to Japan.

APG PMC 2014

APG PMC, or the Association of Professional Genealogists Professional Management Conference. What a mouthful. Sounds overwhelming and intimidating. In actuality, this was my first PMC and I found it to be incredibly informative. Speakers were knowledgeable, attendees were enthusiastic and everyone was approachable. I’m eager to start growing my own clientele, particularly Nikkei seeking their federal records.

Tokyo Family History Center

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.

Family History Center in Tokyo

Family History Center in Tokyo

A Reasonably Exhaustive Search. In Japan.

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.

Deed Held by Maihara Family

Deed Held by Maihara Family

Kayasuga Ancestral Home at Katsuo

Kayasuga Ancestral Home at Katsuo

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.”

I’m Confused. Are You My Cousin?

Lunch with Setsuko and Hiroko

Lunch with Setsuko and Hiroko

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.

Ted and Great Uncle Kazumasa

Ted and Great Uncle Kazumasa

Setsuko, Hiroko and Linda in Front of the Home Built by Namita

Setsuko, Hiroko and Linda in Front of the Namita’s Home

Mountaintop View

Mountaintop View

Ohaka of Namita and Makio

Ohaka of Namita and Makio

Temple Daianzi

Yokoyama Sensei and His Wife

Yokoyama Sensei and His Wife

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.

The Enigma of Sasanji

L-R: Ichimaru and Sasanji Okazaki, San Francisco, circa 1912

L-R: Ichimaru and Sasanji Okazaki, circa 1912

Sasanji Okazaki has perplexed me for some time. Based on references from two passenger records and the 1930 census as well as family lore, he probably arrived in San Francisco from Japan in 1898. But I need proof! Of course, he could have arrived later. Given the birth of his youngest child on 20 June 1898, it’s unlikely that he left Japan much earlier than that. He could have come through Canada, Washington, Los Angeles or even Mexico. Unfortunately, the passenger records are incomplete. Those that do exist for San Francisco arrivals are difficult to read and first names are typically abbreviated to the first initial. Japan does have un-indexed passenger and immigration records, but it would cost a fortune to have someone pore through those documents and then have them translated. For the moment, I am waiting to hear back from the USCIS to see if he or one of his family members is indexed. I do have a Resident Permit number (R.p.) and an Alien Registration number (A.R.) which may aid in that search. What complicates things further is that Sasanji returned to Japan before WWII. It appears that he always intended to return to his homeland as his wife never left the farm and the property remains in the Okazaki family to this day. This means that there is no A-file for him and there are no WRA or INS internment camp records. There also are no land or voter records, as U.S. law prohibited Japanese immigrants from land ownership or citizenship. I have been able to follow some of his address changes by the immigration records of his three sons, but he hasn’t turned up in any directories that I’ve searched. Sasanji Okazaki was born 20 September 1875 to Yujiro Okazaki and Sumi (maiden name not known); he married Kiwa Kobayashi on 14 May 1892; he died 13 January 1941.