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Update to samurai ancestor search: Seeking Japanese-speaking assistance

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Hopefully this is an appropriate topic and post. Several kind and knowledgeable people responded with suggestions and insight into my search for presumptive samurai ancestors.
Getting info on samurai ancestors | Japan Forum

The results so far have been discouragingly meager, yet promising. I was pleasantly surprised to receive cordial replies, in English, from two departments at the City of Hiroshima, and from what I think is essentially a municipal tourism agency there. Unfortunately, what they could provide was very general and non-specific. However, I was finally able to obtain two photos of my great grandfather's tombstone (hakka?), with clear inscriptions (just his and his wife's names, I'm told), along with the name of the temple. Luckily, there appears to be only one with that name in Hiroshima, a stone's throw from where the koseki indicates his family lived.

Here's where I need someone's very generous assistance. I have the contact info for the temple and need a Japanese-fluent, knowledgeable and tactful person to phone and establish at least first contact with them. I live in California, and it may (or may not) come as a surprise that no one in my immediate family speaks Japanese. The mission is essentially to ask, "was so-and-so, who we think is interred on temple grounds, from a samurai family?" I can provide the koseki (English translation only), the photos, a summary of family members (some of whom may also be there), an informal background narrative, and questions I think might serve as a guideline. I know there is only so much I can expect from the kindness of others, but it is essential to know first whether this route has any potential before investing more time and effort, or money.

Besides language fluency, I seek someone with historical and cultural knowledge, who would have a good idea of the right questions to ask. Realistically, I would be satisfied with a "yes, he was from a samurai family, but if you want to learn more you have to...." This person could then hopefully also provide direction and instructions as how to proceed in the matter.

Thanks for your kind time and attention,
 
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You might have better luck engaging a service to track down this info for you.
家系図作成・先祖調査請負人 サービス内容・料金
あなたの家の巻物家系図
Even if I were based in Hiroshima and could help out, its unlikely (in this age of privacy policies and identity theft) that I as a random third party could get any relevant information from officialdom or from a temple. If you are really keen on finding out more about your ancestors I recommend engaging a service to help you out, as they likely know the places where documents or copies are stored, and what kind of things are necessary to retrieve them - things like powers of attorney, request of information by proxy, etc...
And, as I alluded to in my other post, the word "samurai" probably wouldn't have been used on any documents - and it was a somewhat fluid concept, with people buying/bribing their way into privilege, while others dropped out.
 
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Thanks for your constructive feedback. However, I just seek someone who can make the first call and determine exactly what, if anything, I would need to proceed, or whether this approach is even practical. Since the temple is a public place (they're online and give tours in several languages), I imagine that a simple, polite inquiry as to whether my ancestors reside on their grounds would not be inappropriate or breach confidentiality. I think samurai status could be inferred, if not proven, by several simple methods. Inscriptions indicating that my family had an official surname prior to 1870, or something associating them with the Asano clan, for example, I would think are significant.
 

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I edited your initial post(added the link to your previous thread).

I strongly recommend sending a letter/mail in Japanese instead of calling the temple directly.
 
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I think samurai status could be inferred, if not proven, by several simple methods. Inscriptions indicating that my family had an official surname prior to 1870, or something associating them with the Asano clan, for example, I would think are significant.
Yes, you are right - those would be very good indicators. I was contrasting the inference with what you said in an earlier post about wanting confirmation. I think even the size of the tomb, or the location in the tomb (which other families are close to your family grave/tomb) would help you infer the status. But you couldn't say anything definitively about it unless you have your kakeizu (pedigree, for want of a better word), or some historical documents. But to get back to your email, yes it is plausible that the priests/employees of the temple could identify the grave and tell you how far back it dates in addition to who started it, and that would be very useful information.

(Not to throw even more catnip at you, but there are Nakamuras associated with the Asano clan. Even some Nakamuras associated with the 47-ronin story.)
 
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I appreciate your encouragement and feedback. I heard about 47 ronin connection and would hope to establish some Asano connection. However, acc to City of Hiroshima records, my ancestors are not mentioned in the list of retainers and direct employees at Hiroshima Castle. These would have been very high status samurai, so I am not surprised. I am also disheartened when viewing the Google satellite image (Zenkoji Temple, Nishi Ward). The temple is small and hopefully more receptive to inquiries such as mine. However, I can find no obvious cemetery. Perhaps the atomic blast devastation was total and complete. In any event, thanks for your kind words. It is comforting to know I am not entirely balmy.
 

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Is it really 善光寺[Zenkōji/Zenkouji] in 西区 Nishi Ward, not 善法寺[Zenpōji] in 西区 or 善教寺[Zenkyōji] in 安佐南区 Asaminami Word, for instance? This site says that Zenkōji was originally established as 釈迦牟尼教会[Shakamunikyōkai] in Showa period, and the temple changed the name to Zenkōji in 1956.

9zz137 美能山 善光寺
(all in Japanese)
 
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However, acc to City of Hiroshima records, my ancestors are not mentioned in the list of retainers and direct employees at Hiroshima Castle
Wow - if you've gone this far, you've done well.
Two Nakamuras associated with the Asano of the 47 Ronin story. Nakamura Kansukemasatoki (中村勘助正辰), and Nakamura Seiemon (中村清右衛門)
Neither of these are Hiroshima Nakamuras (as far as I know), but who knows where their descendents ended up.
I was trying to find some old maps of Hiroshima/Misasa, because sometimes old maps have names of significant estates on them. Didn't find anything with your name, but it looks like Misasa was much bigger, and was situated outside of the river as opposed to the current Misasa which is the name of a neighborhood in-between the rivers. Not of any great significance, mind you, but sometimes one small clue leads to another.
https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/e5/Hiroshima_City_Map_1945.jpg
https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/62/Hiroshima_map_circa_1930.PNG
You want to post a pic of the gravestones so we can have a crack at them? Or is that TMI for a public site?
 
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Thanks to both of you for your posts, which are actually related: 1) "Zenkoji" I'm told was written on the back of one of the photos, both of which I've attached. I understand the apparent inconsistency in names/dates (the photo is ca 1930). However, the Zenkoji in Nishi Ward which I found through Google seems to make sense based on Majestic's info. I previously assumed MIsasa-mura was on the "island." If I read his post correctly, it would have extended to the west, right where Zenkoji Nishi Ward stands. However, I would appreciate more info about Zenpoji and Zenkyoji -- I can find nothing on them through Google.

I am hesitant sharing personal family data but the photos may provide a lot of valuable info, directly and indirectly. The scene seems to be an unusually large event. Not sure if this implies some local celebrity, reverence or recognition for my great grandfather. Also not sure about the headstone -- seems impressive but I'm no expert. I would be very happy if someone can provide additional info from the inscription.

I am happy to share the following, rather obscure info in return. Acc to the City of Hiroshima, Misasa-mura (my great-great grandfather's koseki address) was farmland at the end of the Edo Period. However, the respondent seemed emphatic in saying that this is where the samurai moved once displaced from the Castle Town (the area immediately surrounding Hiroshima Castle) at the beginning of the Meiji Period. Perhaps I misread this, or perhaps it is just wishful thinking. In any event, I appreciate everyone's continued help and interest.
 

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From wikipedia: Mon add formality to a kimono. A kimono may have one, three or five mon. The mon themselves can be either formal or informal, depending on the formality of the kimono. Very formal kimono display more mon, frequently in a manner that makes them more conspicuous. In the dress of the ruling class, the mon could be found on both sides of the chest, on each sleeve, and in the middle of the back. While it is true that Uncle Hirozu may be putting on airs, perhaps at least part of what I seek has been under my nose for a while now...
 
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Yes, I have begun going through the thousands hoping to identify it. I don't think it is the Asano crest, which would have been perfect.
 
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Good find regarding your crest (家紋・kamon). I wish I could see it better, it would be an interesting hint indeed. The presence of kamon itself doesn't signify much (even 5 on the kimono... it doesn't mean much at the time this picture was taken, as these could and would have been purchased by anyone). But it is an interesting clue. The size of the tombstone and the number of names inscribed is impressive. Big graves and big tombstones cost money. Asano would probably be crossed feathers. Interestingly enough, crossed feathers is also the crest of the Nakamura family of the 47 Ronin.
中村勘助の生涯と家系図・赤穂浪士討ち入り事件
 
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Please educate me -- would it have been proper to buy or rent and wear a prete a porter kimono with someone else's or a generic mon, especially to a family funeral, in 1930? (I am completely ignorant about this) Historically, wasn't Japan actually trying to revive the bushido tradition as it expanded its military and empire? If legend is true, my family was very strict and traditional (great, great grandfather Shinsuke refused to cut off his topknot). I've also read it is a dishonor to wear the mon of some other family, especially if they outrank you.
 

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Incidentally, I thought it might be 丸に違い鷹の羽[Maru ni chigai taka no ha] Crossed Hawk Feathers in the Circle at first glance.
鷹の羽 - Wikipedia

Indeed, common kamons such like Kiri or Hanabishi are used on rental kimono, and Crossed Hawk Feathers is one of them.
 
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Which brings us around to whether the kamon is that of the Asano. if a rental kimono, that would truly be ironic.
 
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It would be unthinkable to wear a kimono with someone else's mon on it (even if rental). Your picture is not a picture of a funeral, as you can tell because of the young ladies in the brightly colored kimonos, and other informalities. Actually we can say that the seated gentleman has an overcoat with his crest on it, and we can't really see much of his kimono under it. I don't think any of these people are in funeral attire.
It would be entirely possible that a farmer family who recently came into money, would spend it on outward appearances. It could be entirely possible that a merchant family had a kimono with a mon on it, and they handed it down to the next generations. Rental is also an option. Judging from the fine tombstone, however, I would guess that the family had money since late Meiji, so it could be an heirloom overcoat, or could be order made. Note that there is great variation in mon from one part of the country to another. The crossed feathers could be the mon for Nakamura in one area, but it could be the mon for Inoue in another area. Also, the Nakamura name is associated with a number of different crests.
All the other stuff is speculation. The government wasn't trying to revive bushido, but they were trying to drum up martial spirit and patriotism, and ultra-nationalism. The legend of your grandfather is a nice legend, but for me the knowable facts are much more interesting and useful: the family crest, the location of the family, details of the grave, etc... Note that the topknot wasn't outlawed in 1871. It is more correct to say that all forms of hairstyle became legal. But throughout the Edo Period, even merchants were wearing their hair in the topknot. So simply having a topknot in the 1800s wouldn't have meant a lot, and refusing to cut it off in the 1870's would not have been much of a political statement. This is why you have to take the family legends with a grain of salt. I think if you stick with the knowable details you can build a much stronger, more interesting family tree.

Edit: Maybe you already know, but I also meant to say that Shinsuke's name appears on the tombstone - died in Meiji 30 (1897).
 
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I also meant to say I think that is an absolutely fabulous family photograph. Love the clothes, love the kimono with the chapeau, love the Harold Lloyd glasses. From the old man and old woman's overcoats I would have thought it to be cold, but the fan and the man with his jacket off in the background make me wonder what season it is. I also notice the women holding juzu, so maybe it is during the spring equinox when people visit graves (お彼岸).

Majestic @ very obviously bored this 3-day weekend.
 
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Majestic, your comments are insightful and brilliant, as they largely consistent with my own understanding! o_O
1. It would be unthinkable to wear a kimono with someone else's mon on it (even if rental)... Actually we can say that the seated gentleman has an overcoat with his crest on it, and we can't really see much of his kimono under it. I don't think any of these people are in funeral attire.
Yes, it had occurred to me that this was not Tsunejiro's funeral, but prob a service marking his and his ancestor's passing. Thanks for confirming also what I thought was the propriety of wearing some else's mon.
2. Judging from the fine tombstone, however, I would guess that the family had money since late Meiji, so it could be an heirloom overcoat, or could be order made. ... Also, the Nakamura name is associated with a number of different crests. Yes, I had a hard time accepting that Hirozu's attire was rented, more likely an heirloom borrowed from a relative in Hiroshima. As for determining the real crest, it's a pity the photo doesn't show the detail. But I'm hoping for the discovery of a long-hidden and forgotten photo somewhere.
3. I saw a documentary on the Samurai a year or two ago. In the segment about the Meiji Period and the Samurai Rebellion, there was a specific reference to refusing to cut off one's topknot in defiance of the new order. Clearly, my grandmother (d. ca 2000) could not have seen this, and it was so obscure and specific a reference that it stuck in my mind.
4. I am a biomedical research scientist and, believe it or not, avoid speculation and subjectivity. However, my narrative now contains an host of circumstantial evidence. Each taken alone, they mean nothing. However, put together....I know I am on the right track.
5. An immense THANK YOU for confirming my great, great grandfather's name and providing his date of passing. A distant relative created a family tree and seems to have mistakenly identified Shinsuke as Tsunetaro. Are any other names and dates mentioned?
 
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Thanks also for the great compliment about the photograph. I always found Grandma's "Harold Lloyds" rather laughable and embarrassing. All in all, though, a great historical family document.
 

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Yeah, "being commonly used on rental kimono" doesn't always mean "not being the real kamon of the family", and I have to point out that I think it's Plum-blossom or something, not Crossed Hawk Feathers.

Is it certain that the name is Tsunetarō/Tsunetarou? Actually, the name carved on the tombstone is 常次郎 Tsunejirō.

My wild guess is that it's a photo of the first or second anniversary of somebody's death (一周忌[Isshūki] or 三回忌[sankaiki]).

The dates of the deaths on the tombstone
明治三十年六月十一日 父 新助
大正五年六月卄七日 母 ミツ
明治二十四年二月四日 二男 熊太郎 三男 光太郎
大正八年四月三十日 四男 幾多郎
大正十三年十一月九日 長男 常次郎
大正九年五月十七日 妻 セツ

June 11, 1897 Father Shinsuke
June 27, 1916 Mother Mitsu
April 4, 1891 Second Son Kumatarō, Third Son Kōtarō
April 30, 1919 Fourth Son Kitarō
November 9, 1924 First Son Tsunejirō
May 17, 1920 Wife Setsu
 
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