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Update to samurai ancestor search: Seeking Japanese-speaking assistance

Stacey

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Thanks again to you both for such valuable info. Yes, I know the kamon is not the crossed feathers, which provides the opportunity for further research. Translating the names and dates is immensely important. Simply stated, the family tree appears to have numerous errors. For example, my ancestor was indeed Tsunejiro, but his father is mistakenly named as Tsunetaro and his wife as Kinu in the tree. Is there any other info on the tombstone besides these names and dates?

Most importantly, can we reasonably derive any samurai connection through this piece of evidence? For example, if it read "erected 1860" and indicated the official family name was Nakamura by that time. I think you get what I am asking.

BTW, Google's photographic capability is terrific and maddening. At the Zenkyoji temple, I can make out a tall tombstone at both ends of the yard which may be that in the picture. The problem is that I apparently cannot zoom in any further for a good look. The Zenpoji yard is surrounded by a stone wall, preventing any real online investigation.
 

Toritoribe

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It is all of the information that is on the tombstone.

Just for confirmation, Tsunejirō is a son of Shinsuke? Is it possible that Tsunetarō is a son of Shinsuke and the father of Tsunejirō? "Wife" in the left end line might show that her hasband is the man who made the tomb. I mean, his name is Tsunetarō, his father is Shinsuke and his sons are Tsunejirō, Kumatarō, Kōtarō and Kitarō.

Some merchants or farmers also had family names in Edo period.

As for the tombstones in the two temples, they seem relatively new to me. Your ancestor's tombstone might not be there (due to atomic bomb or ages).
 

Stacey

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April 4, 1891 Second Son Kumatarō, Third Son Kōtarō
Could you please confirm there is no separate date of death for third son Kotaro?
Thanks
 

Stacey

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Just for confirmation, Tsunejirō is a son of Shinsuke? Is it possible that Tsunetarō is a son of Shinsuke and the father of Tsunejirō? "Wife" in the left end line might show that her hasband is the man who made the tomb. I mean, his name is Tsunetarō, his father is Shinsuke and his sons are Tsunejirō, Kumatarō, Kōtarō and Kitarō.

Just so that we are on the same page, I never heard the name Tsunetaro before seeing someone else's version of our family tree. Are you saying that the name Tsunetaro appears on the headstone? Acc to the Koseki, Shinsuke is the father of Tsunejiro, his eldest son. We are almost certain that Hirozu in the photo is his brother and son #4, who obviously died after 1930 (date unknown).

BTW, I understood that non-samurai families sometimes used non-official surnames in their communities prior to 1870, but weren't allowed to use them publicly or for official purposes, which I would assume would include headstones. I may be wrong and welcome correction.
 

Toritoribe

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Could you please confirm there is no separate date of death for third son Kotaro?

As you can see, there is no date carved above Kōtarō. I interpreted this Kumatarō and Kōtarō died on the same day, but it might mean that the death date is unknown.

Just so that we are on the same page, I never heard the name Tsunetaro before seeing someone else's version of our family tree. Are you saying that the name Tsunetaro appears on the headstone? Acc to the Koseki, Shinsuke is the father of Tsunejiro, his eldest son.
I see. Then, Tsunetarō is just a misreading of Tsunejirō. I thought the title "wife" was a bit unusual.

We are almost certain that Hirozu in the photo is his brother and son #4, who obviously died after 1930 (date unknown).
Does that mean Hirozō is Shinsuke's fourth son? The tomb stone says the fourth son is Kitarō.

BTW, I understood that non-samurai families sometimes used non-official surnames in their communities prior to 1870, but weren't allowed to use them publicly or for official purposes, which I would assume would include headstones. I may be wrong and welcome correction.
Merchants or farmers were able to curve their family names on the tombstones. Thus, the existence of "the tomb of Nakamura family" can't be an evidence of samurai class.
 

Stacey

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As you can see, there is no date carved above Kōtarō. I interpreted this Kumatarō and Kōtarō died on the same day, but it might mean that the death date is unknown.

Can somebody explain the name, but absence of a date? Sounds like too much of a [horrible] coincidence for both to die on the same day. The translation to me suggested that they died in the same year. Knowing when Kotaro died is significant in at least determining whether he emigrated or not, Assuming the brothers were born two years apart, he would've been only ca 23 years old if he died in the same year as Kumataro, who would've been ca 25.


I see. Then, Tsunetarō is just a misreading of Tsunejirō. I thought the title "wife" was a bit unusual.

All I can say is that "Tsunetaro" has caused a lot of confusion, and I don't know how he replaced Shinsuke in the family tree created by someone else. It forms the basis of a theory I have though, why none of these brothers are mentioned in "our" family tree, and others of whom we have never heard are.

Does that mean Hirozō is Shinsuke's fourth son? The tomb stone says the fourth son is Kitarō.

Hirozo (thanks for the correct spelling) is the fifth child, obviously not mentioned on the stone because he was still alive when the photo was taken.

Merchants or farmers were able to curve their family names on the tombstones. Thus, the existence of "the tomb of Nakamura family" can't be an evidence of samurai class.

I am sincerely appreciative in that you and Majestic keep me grounded and objective. Again, each part of the puzzle separately does not mean much, but collectively may form a convincing picture. Using the scientific method, I am trying to prove the null hypothesis. In this case, it's "Shinsuke was not a samurai." So far I am unable to do that. I also think I know a little about the Japanese psyche. Among many things, it is a great dishonor to exaggerate or misrepresent your status. Circumstantial evidence seems to be working for me and I continue to hope for more breakthroughs like the photograph.
 

Majestic

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My guess is that the blank space indicates the grave was set up by Kōtarō, and he is the surviving son (having buried his parents and brothers). Since he expects to be interred there too, he has already carved his name on the stone as a sort of declaration (which isn't uncommon). The wife Setsu is somewhat ambiguous. We don't know whose wife she is: is she the wife of Kōtarō, or is she the wife of the Tsunejiro, whom she is buried next to? (A minor diversion.)
There is no other marking, except for the face of the stone which reads 中村家之墓 (Nakamura-ke No Haka). The oldest date on there is Meiji 30 (1897) which is well after the dissolution of the class system.
The confusion over Tsunejiro/Tsunetaro is doing my head in. The possibility you allude to in your post #29 above (that there may indeed be both a Tsunetaro as well as a Tsunejiro) cannot be denied. But it does seem highly unlikely. Let's leave this aside for now until/unless you have some other interesting info on this.
My guess is that the clothes are still too casual for a one-year memorial (一周忌). In Tokyo, a family of means would have had a proper, formal one-year memorial, and would have worn black for this. Nowadays things are much more casual. Hiroshima customs may allow for different levels of formality.
it is a great dishonor to exaggerate or misrepresent your status
It wouldn't be any sort of dishonor whatsoever for a farming family of means, or a wealthy merchant family to be ostentatious in clothes or houses or gravesites or any of this stuff. It wouldn't have been at all out of character or illegal or improper for them to adopt the fashions of the elite classes. Actually it would be been completely in character and practically expected of them to do this. Status is fluid, as I mentioned before. And I think you can say for sure that the family had money, (proper, large gravesite/tomb, proper kimonos for the ladies, proper suits and kimonos for the men). I'm already intrigued by the Nakamura family as it is. Whether they came from bushi, or if they were very clever with their money... to me its just different flavors of cake.
 

Stacey

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My guess is that the blank space indicates the grave was set up by Kōtarō, and he is the surviving son (having buried his parents and brothers). Since he expects to be interred there too, he has already carved his name on the stone as a sort of declaration (which isn't uncommon).

Great explanation which I will accept until or unless shown otherwise. Thanks.


The wife Setsu is somewhat ambiguous.

In real life, Setsu is unequivocally the wife of Tsunejiro.

The confusion over Tsunejiro/Tsunetaro is doing my head in.

Same here. The only reason Tsunetaro is even mentioned is because someone inserted this name where Shinsuke would be for me, in a family tree I didn't create and don't own. I'm beginning to doubt my branch even belongs in it, but I have to keep an open mind.

My guess is that the clothes are still too casual for a one-year memorial (一周忌).

This would've been in 1930. I don't know the customs but I assume it was an "off year" observance or ceremony based on the dates of death.

It wouldn't be any sort of dishonor whatsoever for a farming family of means, or a wealthy merchant family to be ostentatious in clothes or houses or gravesites or any of this stuff.

I was speaking specifically of my grandmother. Despite the comical Harold Lloyds, she always struck me as a woman of ... the Edo Period! Very conscious of class and propriety, strict and unyielding. To be blunt, she would be the last person in the world to represent Shinsuke as a samurai if it wasn't so. I know that's not empirical evidence, but it is sworn testimony.
 

Stacey

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BTW, thanks for your kind words about my family. Only as I get older, more perceptive and grateful, do I fully appreciate the honor and respect they deserve.
 

Stacey

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Also -- correct me if I'm wrong but I heard it's actually more noteworthy nowadays to be descended from a long established merchant family than from a samurai family. Of course, I don't seek that recognition. Also, farmers were next on the totem pole below samurai so belonging to this caste wasn't so bad. The point is that Grandma implicitly said we belonged to neither, and I believe her.
 

Toritoribe

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My guess is that the blank space indicates the grave was set up by Kōtarō, and he is the surviving son (having buried his parents and brothers).
Well, I don't agree with this. In that case, there is no reason that the eldest son Tsunejirō is set at the end of the lines. If it was done by Tsunejirō's younger brother Kōtarō, it is disrespectful. My guess is that the tomb was made by a descendant of Tsunejirō. This can explain why Tsunejirō was carved at the end (and "wife" would refer to Tsunejirō's wife).

If the two women are not so close to the deceased, casual kimono is not impossible for 一周忌 or 三回忌.

The kanji 常次郎 Tsunejirō can be easily misread as 常太郎 Tsunetarō especially in that photo, since all other brothers have names ~tarō.
 

Majestic

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I heard it's actually more noteworthy nowadays to be descended from a long established merchant family than from a samurai family
I've never heard this. Human nature being what it is, I suspect most people like to think they are somehow related (however distantly or faintly) to nobility.

To flesh this out a bit more, Mrs. Majestic comes from a family where one side has a rare, arguably aristocratic name. The other side of the family has a somewhat common name, but it can be linked to the bushi class. The mon from the side of the family with the common name is slightly rare and is linked to some historical samurai families. The truth is that her family are now farmers, albeit with a pretty big farm. So, similar to many families in Japan, her relatives claim descent from samurai, but the family business is farming. There is no dead giveaway like a set of armor or a collection of swords. Its all quite vague, and I will pass this vague information down to my kids, and they will continue to the long tradition of passing down vague information. Like you, I'm really interested in the genealogy, but I can't see myself going to the relatives to ask if I can poke around their attic for old documents. Its my secret hope that when one of these families cleans out their closets and storage spaces, they will come across some documents and they will remember that I'm interested in this, and they will invite me to take a look at them.

Just looked at Toritoribe-san's post. I guess it adds to the enigma of Shinsuke's sons. One of the problems I had with Tsunejiro is that the kanji 次 (ji) is really unusual for the first born. It doesn't make sense. Maybe there is a story here? (Maybe there was a child born even earlier that passed away sooner, maybe even as a baby).

I reckon the family got together for spring equinox grave-visiting, and it was a typical cold, spring day at first, but it warmed up, hence the jackets coming off, and the fans coming out.
 

Toritoribe

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Just looked at Toritoribe-san's post. I guess it adds to the enigma of Shinsuke's sons. One of the problems I had with Tsunejiro is that the kanji 次 (ji) is really unusual for the first born. It doesn't make sense. Maybe there is a story here? (Maybe there was a child born even earlier that passed away sooner, maybe even as a baby).
I had an uncle whose name was 鉄次郎 Tetsujirō, but actually he was the fourth(more accurately to say, fifth) son of my grandfather. I heard in his funeral ceremony that his elder brother died soon after being born, so 鉄 "iron" was given to his name, but I don't know why he was ~jirō. (just because of the sound, maybe).
 

Stacey

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Thanks for the responses. It's possible that tsunetaro was somehow derived from tsunejiro. However, the family tree in question includes both names. The suggestion that the marker was erected by tsunejiro's descendants is intriguing. Only my grandmother had reached 21 by this time. Is it possible that it was newly erected in 1930 to house the remains of those who had been interred elsewhere? That might explain the ceremony or celebration.
 

Toritoribe

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Yes, it's possible, or more likely, that would be the correct answer. The names and the dates were written by the same person, i.e, they were carved at the same time, not being added after each person died for 30 years.
 

Stacey

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This is important: is the marker "full?" If there isn't any more room, then do we have a list of all of Shinsuke's sons? Kotaro would be there for completeness. That ostensible family tree has four-five more "brothers" which we can't figure out. Thanks again
 

Stacey

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btw I don't fully understand the unusual kanji for tsunejiro, but could it be that there was a tsunetaro before him, say an uncle. If tsunetaro and shinsuke were brothers, that would explain a lot.
 

Toritoribe

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It can be not the full members of the family. If the blank above the third son Kōtarō just shows that the death date is unknown, and the rest brothers/sisters are still alive at that time, it's reasonable that their names are not on the stone. Or, it's also possible that the rest brothers married, had their families and had their own tombs.

Not only the second son has the name ~jirō, as I wrote. Tsunejirō can't be an evidence of the existence of Tsunetarō or 常一郎 Tsuneichirō.
 

Mike Cash

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I've spent quite a bit of time wandering around Japanese cemeteries, examining old tombstones, etc.

I don't know if it was mentioned earlier and I missed it, but that tombstone is without a doubt a relatively new one. In the days of the people listed on it, the custom was generally to have either individual tombstones or perhaps a married couple on one stone. Collecting all the family into a single tomb and listing the names either on the stone itself or a separate slab to one side is pretty much a postwar development. What typically happens is that when a family has their area refurbished they will erect a new collective tombstone for the whole family and move into it existing graves/tombs, typically collecting the old stones behind the new one, or perhaps arranged around it somehow.

If you had other shots of the tomb, you would almost certainly see on it an inscription showing which family member ramrodded the construction of the new tomb, and hence a good person to contact for info and he both has the info/records and obviously gives a damn.
 

Stacey

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Very valuable observations and suggestions, which I will record and assimilate into my efforts. I suspect this will pretty much close the thread, not because it hasn't yielded an immense amount of practical information and great assistance. Quite the contrary....
 

Stacey

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BTW, as usual, each new potential route is both encouraging and disheartening. The thought that there might be older, disused markers in the immediate area suggests add'l info. The reality though is that what survived the atomic blast is probably very meager. Grandma was the one who "gave a damn" and unfortunately isn't around any more.
 

Stacey

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Hello, I'm back and hope you can help. I was surprised to obtain an uncropped version of the "haka photo" which may yield some new info or clues. Questions:

1. Anything new that was previously overlooked, which may provide some samurai connection?
2. What do the little signs on poles say and mean? (an enlargement of one is also attached)
3. Do the flags, pennants, other decoration mean anything unusual and/or specific?
4. I assume the visible side of the stone marker is "full." Would we expect the names to continue on the other side? (A surviving brother, Hiroso, is seated and we do not see his name)
5. Are we looking at the front of the marker? Would the identical Nakamura identifier appear on the "back?" (Helps orient site in researching current temple and location)
6. There is what appears to be a substantial structure directly behind the vertical marker. Is this the actual vault that holds the remains? I can't believe the occupants' "back door neighbor" would be up so close. Does this structure mean anything?
7. Of what significance is the stone lantern(?) behind the seated woman? Entrance to the cemetery? (Again, helps orient site in search for current physical location)
8. Seems a rather elaborate and expensive ceremony. Was something like this unusual back then (1930)?

Thanks again for your help. All feedback and comments are welcome.
 

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Toritoribe

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1)
No.

2)
Seems like town names and family names. The closed-up one is サイキ "Saiki" which might represent "Saeki". The middle one would be 真田 "Sanada", and the upper left corner one might be 伯, the second kanji of 佐伯 Saeki

3)
Unusual. It's a custom of Obon or Higan that is/was specific in the region, I suppose.

4)
It's not uncommon that surviving brothers' names are not carved. As I wrote previously, if they married and had their family, they would erect their own tombs.

5)
中村家之墓 (the left side in the picture) is the front.

6)
Seems like just a wall/fence. It's not unusual to erect a tomb in those places.

7)
There is a candle stick inside it (since it's a lantern, of course). There must be the same lantern behind the girl in the school uniform or the tall man.

8)
See #3.
 

Stacey

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Thanks. Pls clarify -- In regards to

2. Town or family names. Does this mean that it is a community celebration, that the place is decorated for an Obon or Higan celebration, and not for the specific dedication of the Nakamura marker?

4. Could there be names carved on the other side of the marker? Is there some reason why it would be carved only on one side, and not continued on the other? If yes, does this imply that the list of people interred here is finished? Hiroso is younger than the others, what if he changed his mind and he and his wife wanted to be interred here later?

7. You have good eyes -- I cannot see the candle. Would a pair of these lanterns be the entrance to the cemetery?

Regards
 

Toritoribe

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2)
Yeah, I think so.

4)
Judging from the order of the names of the brothers, I suppose those are the full list of the people whose ashes were placed in the tomb at that time. If other brothers or descendants want to be placed there, their names would be carved on the left side of the tombstone.

The name of the person who erected the tomb might be on the back or left side. Or, it's also possible to be carved on the lanterns depending on the region or sect, like my region.

7)
I can't see it, either. I meant it's a very common custom for all people to put a candle in it. I should have written "there must be a a candle stick", though.
There is no "entrance". It's just the front of a tomb.


By the way, a long vowel and short vowel or voiced consonant and voiceless consonant must be distinguished in Japanese, respectively. こたろう and こうたろう are completely different names, for instance. I think you meant ひろぞう Hirozō / Hirozou by Hiroso.
 
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