About six months ago, I came across the Flickr stream of a fellow Japanese-American, Koji K., who was adding to his “Occupied Japan” photo set there. Several of his photos (most from 1949) were similar to many of my dad’s photos taken in and near Tokyo during that same time. He got in touch with me and we discovered that both of our Japanese moms grew up within 5 miles of one another. Both our fathers were in the military — his in military intelligence and mine in communications (different branches, however). When I expressed that I was having some difficulty in filling in some gaps in my Japanese family history, Koji agreed to help me translate a letter my uncle wrote that outlined my Japanese grandfather’s ancestry. With help from his father, he translated this helpful narrative, and also provided additional explanations and commentary, that you’ll see below, along with photos and website links — an unexpected bonus!
[Our family] was established in 1569 in a (village) place called Koei, located in the town called “Nankanmachi” (or “Nankancho”) on the outskirts of the Kumamoto Prefecture. The family temple is called “Butsushouji.”
Per the family record in this temple, the family was started by . . . “Jinzaemon” about 400 years ago. Around the time of the Battle of Sekigahara, he moved to Nankan from the present day Fukuoka Prefecture. (A distance of around 70 miles)
Magobee was Jinzaemon’s 8th (generation) descendant (born 1740). Then from “Gengo”, the 9th generation descendant, [our family] took on important regional offices.
According to Gengo’s oldest son “Haruzou” (1806-1876), his second son, “Natsuzo” (1812 – 1860) as well as Natsuzou’s second son, “Kumajirou” (1852-1906), [our family] become famous (well-known) around Nankan as Japan rushed ahead as a modern nation in the Meiji Restoration . . . leaving the Tokugawa era behind.
The three of them . . . became [local leaders] and managed the political situation before the Meiji Restoration. [Our ancestors] received from the Hosokawa Family (a document) that gave them the right to bear a surname and wear a sword. They were a “gentile samurai family.”
Koji: . . . in feudal Japan, the classes were generally samurai and not samurai. Also, lower class citizens (e.g. farmers) were strictly prohibited from carrying swords. If your family were of farming heritage, this document . . . was extremely rare.
While [he] was the [local leader], Haruzou started a private school (about 1840-1895). He educated (trained) many young people. The three of them — Haruzou, Natsuzou and Kumajiro — managed the private school which grew to about 700 young people. At that same time, the people of that district were very grateful to [our ancestors] — so much so that even today, they still hold a festival [in our family's name].
Your great ancestor Natsuzou is Haruzou’s younger brother; he had four boys and one girl. Natsuzou’s last boy, Motomichi, is your great grandfather. Motomichi (1860-1926) was landlord in the Nankan district.
Koji searched for more information about my ancestors’ school and found several sites mentioning the school — which still exists today. Here’s a photo showing the marker outside the school:
Koji: In the first bullet point/paragraph, this author writes about Haruzou and your family’s temple. It describes how to get there and such, down to a barbershop and a general store nearby. It also mentions the school he set up and apparently, if you eventually go, it says one of his scrolls is still hanging inside.
Koji also found information regarding a bridge that Haruzou built in their village:
Again, since some of you read Japanese, here is the link that goes with the bridge photo.
And finally, the bell at the family temple in Nankan Village:
While I already knew that my ancestors were samurai, I didn’t know that they were granted their honorary status by a prominent samurai family. Their status wasn’t due to their having been warriors, but leaders and educators.
There were several other interesting items in my uncle’s letter, and I was intrigued to discover that my grandmother was a teacher at girl’s school when she met my grandfather. Thank you, Koji!