Dennis Prue

Dennis Prue

Dennis has been researching family trees for more than 30 years. His expertise has been invaluable in helping to break through brick walls.


This Old Tree, September/October 2016

This month’s column is how the Japanese view the family.

Japan has always been a class system society. The first is the Imperial family; second the Warrior and Artisans class and thirdly the Farmer/Peasants class.

In the 1860’s and early 1870’s there were many social and economic changes during the Meiji period. Starting in 1868, the Farmer class was granted the right to have legal surnames and to officially have a Kosekis Registry. This is the state record of family and thereby proof of Japanese citizenship. The other major change that came with rights of surname was mandatory conscription for all men for a period of 5 years. Before 1873 this was reserved for Warrior Class only. The Industrial age was displacing rural farmers as land was being used to grow rice for the Imperial Army.

The Kosekis registry had a counterpart called the Joseki Registry. The Joseki recorded the people removed from the Kosekis books. A woman would be listed in her birth family Kosekis until she married and then her record was removed from her birth family and recorded in her husband’s family book. Women kept their maiden names or they took their husband’s surname if he was the head of the family. The families often lived in a compound setting of several generations of family together. Each family may have had their own apartment or house, but only one male was considered the head of the family. The headship was passed from the head to a son. The eldest son was not automatically appointed the head of household. The Joseki also names family members who left the country. If a male line died out or if the males had moved out of the country, a woman could be the head of family until she arranged for a male to be adopted as the new heir. Once adopted, the new male was the head of family.

The head of family got all the property but other married sons or brothers still had to work to provide for their individual households. If a son was adopted by another branch of the same family, he would stay in the family book but if adopted by another family he was removed and no mention of him or his descendants was ever recorded.

The military conscription was for all males between ages of 17 to 40. In peacetime, service could be delayed. But in times of war postponement of service was not allowed. A few exceptions did exist. An heir or an only grandson, but only if the head of family was 60 years of age or older, or if a son had already been drafted and had died during active service. Heads of household, teachers, prisoners, medically disabled and those living abroad were exempt from service.

The other difference was Japanese treatment of illegitimate children. Legitimate children were considered family in the first degree. Illegitimate were family but in a second degree of relationship. Illegitimate children could freely be adopted if within the family and they stayed in the Kosekis book. If adopted out of birth family, their names would be removed. A third type of relation was the illegitimate child that the father recognized would be consider as being a place between the 1st degree legitimate child and that of 2nd degree illegitimate children. Kind of like being a 1.5 degree relative. Marriage, divorce and adoption were all done by mutual consent. Adoption could be dissolutions also by mutual consent. To make any of these legal in the eyes of Government, you had to have been registered and recorded in the family Kosekis registry. Japanese citizenship was based on a person being born in Japan or if their father was born in Japan.

This was a key question as many poor Japanese farmers and their families moved as temporary workers to Hawaii and California. This also kept the men from having to serve in the Imperial Army or Navy. They usually went for 3 year terms of employment. Many families moved between Japan and Hawaii and later California. It was not unusual to have children in all three places. Children born in Hawaii or California were considered Japanese citizens only if their father was born in Japan. If a son was born in the USA and also had children in the USA, they were not considered a Japanese citizen. The Kosekis registry is still used in Japan.

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This Old Tree, September/October 2016 by Dennis Prue is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 United States License.
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