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Keizu - Japanese Genealogy

The Runker Room

Japan-related Links

Links Gateway

of the

Water Plantain

Japanese families have a kamon or crest that is displayed on ceremonial clothing and lanterns, the family ohaka or grave, and even sometimes necktie clips, cufflinks and the roof tiles of the family home. This is the kamon used by my family.

"Patterns based on the leaf and flowers of the water plantain appear to have become fashionable in the later part of the Heian period, largely because the unusual shape of the leaf struck a popular chord of fancy. From the very beginning of the feudal period, even before the widespread adoption of family crests, many warriors displayed the design on their robes and armor - possibly because one of the plant's alternate names was shogunso, or 'victory plant.' With the adoption of formal crests by the warriors, this vogue increased, and by the end of the Edo period the water plantain was widely used as a family crest."

--from The Elements of Japanese Design by John W. Dower
(Thanks to Kent for this quote)

Is Your Name ...?

Some resourceful people have
already made some headway
in their genealogical searches.
See if their family trees overlap
with yours:


(Thanks to LC, Rie Ogasawara,
Gudy Gapuz-Sato and TERA-S)

On one visit to Japan many years ago my Ojii-san (Grandfather) sat me down on the tatami floor of his home and related our family history. But my young mind was more on kakigouri (shaved ice) that hot, humid August afternoon, and I don't remember much of what he said. Now I wish I had had a tape recorder!

Genealogical Challenges of Nikkei-jin

It seems North American Nikkei-jin (people of Japanese heritage) who want to research their family history face special obstacles, including:

  1. Distance (geographical and cultural)
    Japan is far away in place and mind

    (But it is just a mouse click away on the Internet)

  2. Intergenerational silence
    Many Nikkei who were put in internment camps during World War II are reluctant to talk about the past. Some parents who are more recent immigrants do not want to talk about their former lives in their old country.

    (If you start talking to your parents, uncles, aunts and other relatives, they would probably be happy to share with you all they know.)

  3. Lack of facility with Nihongo
    Most young Nikkei-jin cannot speak, read, write or understand Nihongo (the Japanese language) very well, if at all. What do all those kanji and kana mean?

    (Little knowledge of Nihongo will just slow down your research, not stop it. Find a bilingual person who can serve as an intermediary. Genealogical research may help motivate some of us to study Nihongo more.)

  4. Most genealogical Web resources in English are Eurocentric
    The vast amount of English-language information on the World Wide Web makes the Internet a valuable genealogical research tool for people of European origin. Not so for people of Asian heritage.

    (But there are many things which one can glean from Eurocentric English-language Web sites that can be applied to Nikkei roots research)

  5. Japanese-language genealogical Web resources are few
    Most family records in Japan, if they survived the firebombing of World War II, are still paper based. When no record exists, one must hope that a living person can remember the lineage.

    (But at least there are a few Web sites out there)

(Thanks to Kenbo I. for the words of encouragement)


Japanese American National Museum, Los Angeles CA
Has JA immigration records dating back to the turn of the century
Japanese American Genealogy Home Page
Award-winning, comprehensive resource by Stuart Terashita
Genealogy Site Finder: Japanese
From Includes many links to detailed maps of Japan.
Japanese Genealogy Forum
Give and get genealogy help on this bulletin board
JA Connection: Research Bulletin Board
Part of the National Japanese American Historical Society website
Japan Gen Web
Part of the WorldGenWeb Project. Information on koseki (family registries) and kakocho (death registries), personal webpages.
Japanese Genealogy
A genealogy website in Japan (in Japanese)
Asian Genealogy
From Cyndi's List of Genealogical Resources
Family Tree Maker: Japanese Research
A bit of historical background and a few links Ancestry World Tree
Enter your own family tree in this database and browse other people's.
"Digging For Roots"
Sansei (third-generation) JA writer Gil Asakawa's account of how he was lucky enough to find people in Japan who remember his relatives.
Tracing the Roots: Using a Regional Office of the National Archives
By Rodger Rosenberg, a genealogist who specializes in Jewish and Japanese-American research
Family Search
Database of the Mormon Church is starting to add data from Asia
National Archives of Canada
Canadian Genealogy and History Links
Canadian Virtual War Memorial Genealogy
Nothing specific for Japanese or Asian genealogy, but good links about how to record oral histories
Journal of Online Genealogy

Other Resources

U.S. Military Records
Japanese Americans with a U.S. military connection (e.g. children of war brides) can go through U.S. military records. They have family information including addresses. Veterans and family members can request marriage documents. All the Army documents are stored in Kansas City, and they are available through the Freedom of Information Act.
(Thanks to Gil Asakawa for this)

Japan Foreign Ministry Archives (Gaiko Shiryokan)
One of THE sources for doing genealogical, emigration and prewar Nikkei research. On file are old passport records, passport applications sent from overseas to call relatives over to the United States, and birth and death announcements sent from overseas via the local Japanese consulates. There are also the reports of many interesting studies of the various prewar Nikkei communities around the world. The Spanish and Swiss Embassies (caretakers of Japanese interests in the United States during WW2) submitted reports on the wartime internment camp conditions faced by JA Nikkeijin.
(Thanks to Kenbo I. for this)

U.S. Maritime Museum in Honolulu Hawai'i
People whose relatives migrated from Asia through Hawai'i might try the U.S. Maritime Museum there. They have records of arrivals and departures by ship dating back to the late 1800's at least as well as copies of visas, birth papers, and other documents.
(Thanks to Sandra O. for this)

View (then please sign?) my guestbook

How difficult is it?

The Japanese Genealogy Forum is a message board for those researching Japanese family histories. Here is a sampling of messages posted there and elsewhere:

"I am interested in the my mother-in-law's surname. She hasn't heard from her family in many years, I don't know exactly how to spell the name."

"I've been looking for my grandmother. My search hasn't been too good though. I can never find any info about my last name. It seems as though it doesn't exist!"

"I am looking for information about my great-grandmother. I don't know a lot about her or my great-grandfather. She was born in Osaka, Japan, and my great-grandfather was born in Mie-ken, Japan. They both died in Kyoto, Japan. Any information would be greatly appreciated. Thank you."

"My mother-in-law married my father-in-law in 1956 in Tokyo, Japan. He was from Maine, USA and in the military at the time. I would like to learn more (if not directly correspond with) my husband's family in Japan."

"I am looking for an Okinawan woman who was single and gave birth to a part-Okinawan son on May 21, 1927 on Oahu in Hawaii. I am his daughter, and would like to trace my heritage."

"How do I go about searching for a Japanese surname? I haven't had any luck on the Internet. There really isn't anything for the Asian surnames."

"I have to do a stupid project about my family history and my only source is my dad. All the rest of my relitives (sic) are in Japan, none of my Japanese relitives immigrated to America (where I live)."

"I am looking for my Mother's family. She is 88 years old and has lost all contact with her Japanese ancestors. Help!"

"I am looking for my cousin. My uncle was in Japan during the Vietnam War. He got married there and had a son. He didn't bring them back to the U.S. with him. This is for my grandparents. They would love to see the grandson they never met."

"My mother's family disowned her for marrying my father, an Airman in the U.S. Air Force. I guess her love for my father was stronger than the bond she had with her own kin. I was born on a base in Japan, then we left to move to the States. My mother died 8 months later. From time to time I often wonder what became of our relatives. Do they wonder? I just a hope that one day I could tell them about us."

"My nisei uncle had an old postcard from Japan he couldn't read. My Japanese husband translated it and we discovered a cousin in Japan and a whole new branch of the family in Hawai'i and Chicago. It was quite a shock to suddenly have 27 new cousins."

"We had an old Japanese passport but had to ask a friend's 94-year-old mother to read the kanji from the turn of the century. She died recently, so we just barely made it. Old kanji are hard if not impossible for the younger generation of Japanese to read."

"I have notes written in Japanese by my uncle, my mother's brother; unfortunately, Mom, a war bride, died in 1994 before these could be checked. She was my interpreter, you see, since I speak so little Japanese, you might as well say I speak none ... I have a bunch of photos, mostly unidentified, and a few with Japanese writing on the back. One day, I will find another interpreter, and find out what it all means."


Sadly, most of these are "orphan" posts with "No Responses".


Page first posted on 29 June 1999. Last updated on 10 June 2000.