Legacy Tree Onsite: Hiroshima, Hometown of Japanese Emigrants
Legacy Tree Genealogists work with researchers from across the globe to access records for our clients. We asked one of our onsite researchers located in Japan to give some insight into researching Japanese emigration in the city of Hiroshima.
Another Face of Hiroshima
When you hear the name “Hiroshima,” what image comes to mind? The Atomic-bomb Dome, the Peace Ceremony on August 6, or maybe the legend of the thousand paper cranes? The building called the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall was located in the city’s central area – ground zero for the atomic bomb that landed on August 6, 1945. The ruined building has been carefully preserved, and is now commonly known as the A-Bomb Dome, and is a symbol of peace in Hiroshima City.
After World War II, the residents were successfully able to renovate and develop Hiroshima City into what it is today. Now Hiroshima has a population of 1,300,000 and welcomes visitors from around the world (note: currently, the city has fewer visitors because of the pandemic. The A-Bomb Dome is also under repair and looks different from the photo above).
Hiroshima, commonly known as Peace City, also has another face. This one might be unfamiliar not only to you but also to most Japanese, including Hiroshima residents. Hiroshima is a hometown of Japanese emigrants. Japan has 47 governmental divisions and among them, Hiroshima Prefecture has sent out the largest number of emigrants into the world. Hiroshima (広島) was at the top during the years 1885-1923. During the years 1924-1932, Okinawa (沖縄) was 1st and Hiroshima was 3rd.
The Start of Japanese Emigration
Japan started its emigration program in 1868 during the Meiji Era and after the samurai government (known as the Tokugawa Shogunate) had collapsed. Before the Meiji Era, ordinary Japanese citizens had been prevented from leaving Japan for over 214 years. This state of affairs was called sakoku (鎖国).
Sakoku, which means “closed country,” was a policy of the Tokugawa Shogunate. It was established to remove the colonial and religious influence of (primarily) Spain and Portugal. It started in the 1630s and ended after 1853 when four American steamships arrived and forced Japan to open its borders. During sakoku, Japan was able to develop its own culture. It was the time of the sword-carrying samurai who walked through Edo (now called Tokyo), and of the ninja, who spied on the lords of Japan. At the same time, Japan lost its opportunity to get involved in the Industrial Revolution. A brief timeline is listed here:
- 1517 – The Protestant Reformation started.
- 1543 – Guns were first introduced to Tanegashima (an island in the southern tip of Japan) by the Portuguese.
- 1549 – Christianity was first introduced to Japan by Spanish missionaries.
- 1637 – Shimabara-Amakusa Ikki (the Shimabara War), a riot by the Christian farmers in the Shimabara area, occurred.
- 1639 – The Tokugawa government started Sakoku, a policy of national isolation.
Why did American steamships come to Japan and demand that the ports be opened? Well, it was not to meet the ninjas. At the time, America was busy catching whales to fuel their oil lamps. They needed ports where they could get water and food supplies on their way to the South Pacific Ocean and Japan was the best location for them. Japan, which had been left behind during the Industrial Revolution, had no choice but to accede to their demands and open the ports. This change became one of the leading causes behind the demise of the Tokugawa Shogunate. The samurai with their swords were gone, along with the ninjas (now you can only see ninjas at some tourist places).
The Meiji government, which was put in place after the Tokugawa Shogunate, was busy catching up to the Western world. As a small agricultural country in Asia, Japan had to work twice as hard to catch up, causing the Meiji government to create many new development projects. One of them was to send local Japanese abroad as emigrants which first started off as a government program, and eventually shifted to a privatized project.
Emigrants were sent out into the world until World War II. After the war, some emigration still continued, but in keeping with the economic growth of Japan, the emigration projects became fewer and eventually disappeared.
The Hiroshima Prefecture Archive
The Hiroshima Prefecture was the most active when it came to emigration. That’s why the Hiroshima Prefectural Archive is the only archive in Japan to have a complete record of their kaigai-ryoken-kafu hyo ( 海外旅券下付表): “overseas visas issued.” The “overseas visas issued” is a sort of passport register of the emigrants at that time. Most of the prefectures in Japan have their own archives, but having such detailed records is uncommon. Any visitors to the Hiroshima Prefectural Archive can dig into the records and find information on any person that emigrated from the country at the time.
Unfortunately, these records are not digitized. To check the records, one must go in person and comb through the thousands of papers stored there. If you don’t read Japanese, it’s recommended to bring someone who can help you, as the records are written in old-style Japanese and are not easy to read, even for a native speaker. However, the archive staff are always happy to help guests with translating the old-style handwriting.
Mr. Akira Nishimura, a researcher at Hiroshima Prefectural Archive, says “sometimes we have visitors from abroad. They come here to find something about their roots. We are always happy to help them.”
Hiroshima Prefectural Archive (広島県立文書館）
Address: Senda-cho 3-7-47, Naka-ku, Hiroshima, Japan 730-0052
Phone number: +81 82 245 8444
Fax: +81 82 245 4541
Email address: [email protected]
Note: English is not available.
Who will find it useful to come to the Hiroshima Prefectural Archive and view the Kaigai Ryoken Kafu-hyo?
Japan uses the koseki system and everyone can access direct ancestral line information through it. For example, if you have the correct full name and the birthplace of your great-grandmother, and have an official document proving that you are her direct descendant, you can access her koseki. There, you’ll find the following information: her parents’ names, her siblings’ names, her birth address, her death address, who she married, and her children’s names.
What information will Kaigai Ryoken Kafu-hyo give you?
Kaigai Ryoken Kafu-hyo are open to the public. One can access the archive with the information below:
- Your ancestor’s name
- The approximate year he or she left Japan
- Their approximate age
Kaigai Ryoken Kafu-hyo has a section for each prefecture. Each prefecture’s records have the names of emigrants with the information below:
- Passport number
- Full name
- Address in Japan
- The date (year, month) when he or she left Japan
- Purpose of going abroad, ex. agriculture, language student, railroad worker, mason
You may be able to find the answers to these questions at the Hiroshima Prefectural Archive using the address of your ancestor:
- What kind of village did he or she live in?
- What was the history of the community he or she lived in?
- What kind of lifestyle did he or she have?
The staff there will advise you on how to find the answers to your questions.
The other archive: Museum of Japanese Emigrants to Hawaii
If you are Hawaiian and looking for information on your Japanese ancestors, please access this museum. They have information solely on emigrants from Japan to Hawaii. Currently, they have digitized records of about 106,000 Japanese emigrants to Hawaii.
Museum of Japanese Emigrants to Hawaii Address:
2144 Nishiyashiro, Suooshima-cho, Oshima-gun,
Yamaguchi prefecture, Japan 742-2103
Phone number: +81 820 74 4082
Email: [email protected]
Hiroshima Prefecture, October 20, 1993
Special thanks to
Mr. Akira Nishimura (researcher at Hiroshima Prefecture Archive)
Ms. Yuko Shimomukai (staff member at Hiroshima Prefecture Archive)
At Legacy Tree, our genealogists are skilled at finding hard-to-obtain records. With researchers all over the globe, there are few places beyond our reach. Contact us today for a free quote!