Japan Buddhist Records

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Japan Genealogy Gotoarrow.png Buddhist Records

Buddhist Death Registers (Kakocho)[edit | edit source]

What they are[edit | edit source]

These records are Buddhist death registers kept for the purpose of ancestor veneration. The Japanese name, kakocho, means literally “book of the past.” When a person dies, a Buddhist priest assigns him a ceremonial name, which he records in the kakocho. Three different formats for the kakocho are:

  1. A chronological list arranged by death date.
  2. A list arranged by the day of the month when the ancestor died.
  3. A list arranged so that information is pulled together to represent household units. This third format is not as common, but when available, provides additional family information you can use to reconstruct the family pedigree.

In spite of its reliability, continuous coverage over an extended period of time, its including of a broad spectrum of the population, and the relatively large amounts of records still in existence, the kakocho have been largely ignored by serious scholars until quite recently.


Use these records to[edit | edit source]

These records are used to find the death date and posthumous name of the person. Look for the records of other ancestors whose remains may have been kept at this same temple.

Content[edit | edit source]

These records contain the name, posthumous name, death date, and sometimes the household unit of the person.

The content and format of Buddhist death registers vary depending on the sect and the priest who recorded the death. Most are uniform in format with the emphasis on the ceremonial Buddhist name. They are basically obituary records of deceased members of the temples.

The posthumous name is a ceremonial or Buddhist vow name given to the deceased by a priest. It contains a suffix that identifies the sex of the deceased, and may help in determining whether the deceased was an adult, child, or infant. Death dates are not always complete. Some list only the day of the month or the day and month but not the year.

In more complete kakocho records, further information is given, such as:

  • Common name of the deceased
  • Age at death
  • Family relationships
  • Sometimes cause of death
  • Other pertinent biographical information

How to obtain them[edit | edit source]

Buddhist death registers are located in the majority of more than 41,500 individual Buddhist temples.

You may need to go to the temple where your ancestor was from in Japan to get these records. Less than 2 percent of these records are in the Family History Library’s collection

Religious Inquisition Census Records (Shumoncho)[edit | edit source]

What they are[edit | edit source]

This is a census that was taken periodically to classify people according to their religion and to detect illegal Christians. The government required that everyone register their religious affiliation with the local Buddhist temple or Shinto shrine. Temple priests were required to give this information to local authorities. They do not include samurai. Some kinds of shumoncho are:

  • Religion inquisition records (shumon aratamecho or shumoncho for short)
  • Individual Surveillance Registers (ninbetsucho)
  • Registers of Five-Household Units (goningmicho)

Goningumi registers were compiled to control the population and to deter misconduct within the neighborhood groups. These groups consisted of the five-household unit, which shared responsibility and accountability for each other’s conduct and non-Christians. Time period of the records is 1640—1872.

Use these records to[edit | edit source]

These records are used to find the names of the head of the household and family members. Because they were created before the time when surnames were used, they do not include surnames.

Content[edit | edit source]

  • Describe the make up of the local community
  • Classify families according to their status as farmers, artisans, merchants, and outcasts
  • They do not count samurai or court nobles, and they sometimes omit children and the marginal social groups


  • The name of the head of each house and the names of household members
  • Sex of each household member
  • Relationship to head of household
  • Age at the time of census
  • Sect affiliation
  • Confirmation of temple affiliation
  • Location of the family temple
  • Number of household residents (sometimes listing of servants, animals owned, and property)


  • Give the locality and date of the document created
  • Name of household
  • Names, ages, sexes, and relationship to head of household
  • Status of household members, animals owned, and property and tax notations
  • The amount of taxes paid


  • Give the names of each of the five household heads and the chief of the group
  • Locality, date, the temple seal attesting to religious orthodoxy
  • Sometimes the names of the household members


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How to obtain them[edit | edit source]

About 30 percent of the still existing records are available at the Family History Library. Because they are scattered in archives, private collections, in the homes of descendants of village headmen, and even in some Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines, you must search them out.

Pilgrimage Records (Dankaicho)[edit | edit source]

What they are[edit | edit source]

These are records of persons making pilgrimages to Buddhist temples between the years 1550 to about 1870.

Use these records to[edit | edit source]

These records are used to find the surname of your ancestor in a reliable source. Dankaicho are the only known source for surnames of farmers, who made up 90 percent of the historic population of the Edo period. In the shumoncho these people are identified only by their personal name and village. You can find the names of collateral line relatives in these records. These names are not available on the koseki.


Content[edit | edit source]

  • Date, village, personal name and surname of pilgrims.
  • These records should include the majority of head of households for the time period. Pilgrimage records at the Koyasan Temple in Wakayama prefecture and the Kotohira Shrine in Ehime prefecture are estimated to contain one million names each.

How to obtain them[edit | edit source]

The records can be found in the libraries of ten leading temples and shrines. If you go to Japan to use these records, you may use them at the temple or shrine only after negotiations with the priests, who may require the payment of fees.