Fumiko Miyahara’s family genealogy scroll was written by her great-great-grandfather Rikichi Miyahara (1838-1890). A bureaucrat and administrator, his kanji written in sumi ink is uniform and precise. Photo courtesy: Fumiko Miyahara.
Earlier this year, the Miyahara family genealogy scroll—which my cousins and I had thought was lost—resurfaced in Japan. It was in my second cousin’s home (my father and her father are cousins) in my hometown of Kurume, Fukuoka Prefecture.
To my delight, this second cousin sent me 20 digital photos of the scroll so I could read the entire document. The written portion was almost 2.5 m in length with a height of about 20 cm. Shortly after, a copy of the scroll as of the late 1970s surfaced, possibly because the family started to talk about it more.
I say “as of the late 1970s” for the copy because a family genealogy is a living document. People would continue to add new generations to the scroll. The original had an addition written in by my second cousin’s mother. The original scroll has blank spaces for just that purpose.
The scroll begins with (in English translation): “It is said that our ancestors were the Kawasaki Family, who was a retainer of the House of Ryuzoji. The story that we are descendants of this family has been passed on in the House of Hanbei, who was the heir of So-uemon.”
The House of Ryuzoji was one of the three mighty warlords of Kyushu during the Warring States Period (1467 – 1615), occupying the northwestern part of Kyushu (current Saga, Nagasaki, and western Fukuoka Prefectures).
Then it moves on to the information about So-uemon Miyahara, who died on May 27, 1704. Each generation is represented by the head of the household or heir, generally the eldest son. If there was no son, a male was adopted into the family to become the heir. Not only the family property but also the positions within the Han/domain government were inherited through the male line. Not having a son meant the family losing that position.
Several descriptions are along the lines of: “So and so worked diligently for the Han for 27 years without missing a day and retired on such and such day.” And this person died three days later. Talk about “employment for life!”
The scroll has information on where each household head lived, what he did, what kind of positions he held in the feudal Han/domain government, the date of his death, who his wife was (including her father’s name and address), and all children’s names, who the daughters married, and dates of death, even if the child died as an infant. If we take So-uemon Miyahara as the first generation, my brother becomes the 11th generation of this Miyahara family.
Among the treasure of information, we were delighted to discover that we finally knew the year when a branch of the Miyahara family moved to the area where we grew up. It was the third generation Miyahara of the scroll, Zen-uemon Miyahara. “The second son of So-uemon Jr. His child’s name was Zenshiro. He moved to Nishi-Kurume, Mizuma County, in the 6th year of Hohreki (1756) and changed his given name to Zen-uemon. He was the founder of our Main House.”
The writer of the scroll appears to be my great-great-grandfather Rikichi Miyahara (1838–1890), who lived through the historic change of the end of the Edo Period and feudalism and the beginning of the Meiji era. In one day, the feudal government, where he and his ancestors inherited positions from one generation to the next, was abolished. Rikichi simply wrote: “In June of the 5th year of Meiji (1872), official positions (of his Han/feudal domain) were abolished.”
Overnight, the samurai of Japan became unemployed unless they belonged to the Hans that fought to end the Tokugawa Shogunate and were awarded positions in the new Meiji governments. My guess is that this was when Rikichi started to research, gather the information, and write a genealogy of his Miyahara family, covering roughly 200 years. Probably, he keenly felt the need to write down the history of his clan. So much was changing and disappearing. It appears he still collected rent on the farmland the family had been tasked to administer during the feudal system. It was not until after the Second World War with the Agrarian Reform, when the majority of farmland was given to the tenants who farmed those lands.
The late 1800s was also when the Japanese began emigrating to places in South and North America, like Canada, Hawaii, and Peru, seeking a better life. While the world around him was swirling like a storm, my great-great-grandfather chose to sit at the desk and meticulously write down his family history. Maybe because he, as his forefathers, was a bureaucrat and administrator, his handwriting in sumi ink is impressive and neat, almost the print form—perfect for record-keeping. The kanji (Chinese characters) used are old, and the writing style is old, but each stroke in kanji is clear, which immensely helped me to decipher the writing.
So, the first thing I worked on was to translate it into modern Japanese for easier reading by new generations. Then, I translated it into English so my Canadian-born children could read it.
In part two, Fumiko shares her efforts to research and add her grandfather and father’s generations to the Miyahara genealogy and about exploring koseki.