Japan History

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The history of Japan and its people gives you background so you can understand what records are available for certain time periods.

Brief History of Japan

with emphasis on events that affect records:

500 AD

Japanese society and government came under the strong cultural influence of China and Buddhism in the sixth century. The writing system for names and the religious records that were made date from this time period.

800 AD

The authority of the imperial government declined. Kana writing began to be used in records.

1192 AD

A feudal system developed with the rise of a warrior class called the samurai, and military rule was established under shoguns. For the next 700 years Japan was ruled by warriors.

1200 AD

Earliest known kakocho (Buddhist temple records) were made.

1500 AD

The centralized shogun power declined. The period was marked by civil wars, during which the feudal lords and the Buddhist monasteries built up local power. Census records were made because the feudal lords began counting the inhabitants of their domains.

1549 AD

Christianity was introduced by Jesuit priests. Roman Catholic Christianity gained many converts despite disapproval and persecution by the shoguns.

1600 AD

The country was unified under the Tokugawa clan, who established a centralized, efficient, but repressive shogunate in Tokyo. A lot of records were made at this time.

1639 AD

Japan closed its ports to all foreigners and Christianity was suppressed. This gave rise to the religious census records. Japan isolated itself and its culture turned inward.

1644 AD

The shogunate conducted a census (ninbetsu aratame’ of its own domains [tenryo]). These censuses were usually prepared by village and town officials upon instruction from district and town administrators.

1670 AD

Buddhist shrines began to keep kakocho records.

1671 AD

Religious registers (shumon aratome) came into existence because of a Tokugawa government policy that excluded Christian and foreign influences.

1726 AD

National surveys were scheduled every six years.

1945 AD

Records (Enshrined Patriots’ Lists) were kept of the soldiers who gave their lives in battles during these years.

1853 AD

The U.S. naval officer, Matthew C. Perry, arrived in Japan and forced the opening of trade with the West.

1867 AD The last shogun resigned and control of the government passed to the boy emperor, Meiji. A new government was established under the leadership of former samurai. Adopting the techniques of Western civilization, Japan modernized rapidly into an industrial state and military power.
Wikipedia has more about this subject: Meiji Restoration

1872 AD

A family registration law that produced a nationwide compilation of records called the jinshin koseki was begun, and was completed in 1873. This record exists, but at present it is not available to the public.

1873 AD

The Christian church was no longer absolutely prohibited in Japan. Because of this, religious inquisition census records were no longer kept.

1889 AD

A constitutional monarchy and a parliament (diet) were established by the constitution.

1894 AD

Japan was successful in wars with China. Useful gazetteers of Manchuria were written by Japanese people in the Japanese language.

1898 AD

The koseki included all of the members of a household owner’s extended family.

1948 AD

The koseki was changed to include only the householder’s immediate family.

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