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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.
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.
Earliest known kakocho (Buddhist temple records) were made.
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.
Christianity was introduced by Jesuit priests. Roman Catholic Christianity gained many converts despite disapproval and persecution by the shoguns.
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.
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.
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.
Buddhist shrines began to keep kakocho records.
Religious registers (shumon aratome) came into existence because of a Tokugawa government policy that excluded Christian and foreign influences.
National surveys were scheduled every six years.
Records (Enshrined Patriots’ Lists) were kept of the soldiers who gave their lives in battles during these years.
The U.S. naval officer, Matthew C. Perry, arrived in Japan and forced the opening of trade with the West.
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. |
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.
The Christian church was no longer absolutely prohibited in Japan. Because of this, religious inquisition census records were no longer kept.
A constitutional monarchy and a parliament (diet) were established by the constitution.
Japan was successful in wars with China. Useful gazetteers of Manchuria were written by Japanese people in the Japanese language.
The koseki included all of the members of a household owner’s extended family.
The koseki was changed to include only the householder’s immediate family.
- Japanese History, from Ohio State University
- The Samurai Archives Japanese History Page
- Japanese history and artifacts, from Minneapolis Institute of Arts
- Brief summary of Japanese history from Michigan State University
- "An Introduction to the History of Japan," a Google eBook, published in 1920
- "The Midado's Empire, Vol 1: The History of Japan from 680 B.C. to 1872 A.D.," a Google eBook, published in 1903