How can I obtain
or koseki shouhon?
by Mail or in Person?
While rules and governing officials' decisions may vary from city to city and village to village, the city hall we questioned here in Hokkaido, Japan offered the following information about access to family registries. (If you've had success securing a copy of your family registry and know of cities in which procuring a copy of one's family registry is reasonably easy, please send us your hints and tips! We'd be grateful and you'd be helping others! Check out The Posting Page!)
Procuring Your Family Registry by Mail:
You may try to request a copy of your family registry by mail. You will be required to state clearly in your letter of request why you wish to have the registry and what your relationship is to the individual whose registry you are seeking. (Here, on Arrie's Home Page - Koseki request form, you can download a request form. Fill it out and give it a try. Someone seems to have had success with it. Jeff Morita was kind enough to share his experience of attempting to retrieve records from Japan! Check out his experience here!)
The appropriate municipal officials will review your request as well as your reason for requesting the registry. If your reason is deemed inappropriate by the municipal official concerned, your request for a copy of the registry will, unfortunately, be dismissed. The person we spoke with at our local city hall stated that collecting information for genealogical purposes is not congruous with the gravity or weight of the family registry's contents and therefore does not warrant release of a copy of the document. (Just a cold breeze blowing through. Don't mind it.) Other city halls may be more lenient but at ours one seems to stand a likelier chance of learning to whistle through their elbow than obtaining a family registry for genealogical purposes by mail.
1. If you have any relatives still in Japan (no matter how distant or how long it's been since your family has had contact with them), they may already have a copy of the family registry in their home. They'd probably be more than happy to make a copy and send it to you. Write to them before trying to request a copy from municipal offices. Ask them about it! Save yourself the time and trouble! Your relatives would likely be thrilled to hear from you! If you don't really know your relatives, have only heard snippets of names and towns, use the information you have available to you and give a letter a go. I can vouch that most Japanese postal people will make a sincere attempt to deliver a letter before returning it to its country of origin.
2. Write the city, town, or village hall from which you wish to obtain records. Ask them what their rules are. If you or someone you know can write the letter in Japanese it would help city officials immensely, you'll probably get some brownie points for it (we're not above brownie points), you'll speed up the request process, and the concerned officials would, I'm sure, be grateful. You might try looking up the addresses to municipal offices on the Internet. Many city offices have a web page dedicated to informing others about the town itself or tourism in the area. Every city, village, or town in Japan is located within a prefecture (same as a state or province). If the city doesn't host a page with municipal addresses, perhaps the prefecture in which the city is located hosts such a homepage. Try that too! If you can't seem to find anything using your country's search engines, go to your search engine's Japan site (Yahoo! Japan for example) and give the search another go.
3. If your family came from a small town you might fare better in your research. Village halls might (might!) be more flexible. Even if they are not, a very neighborly atmosphere still exists among small town residents. A village official who might not be able to supply you with a koseki may just possibly feel disposed to refer you to another resource (such as a temple or an individual with the same name you're researching) in the village.
4. If your request by mail is declined, send off another letter telling them you'd like to pick up your koseki in person. Ask them what specific documents you'll need to bring with you to obtain your koseki. (If someone can let us in on what documents are required and what reasons for wanting a copy of a koseki are considered "acceptable", please let us know!) I've been told by one Japanese person that apart from filling out the appropriate form (most Japanese seem to know the appropriate reason to fill in for wanting a copy of the registry) and paying the required fee (about 500¥ or around $6.00), resident Japanese need only have their name stamp (inkan) to obtain a copy of these records. If you have any relatives left in Japan contact them and ask them if they'll accompany you to city hall to pick up the register. Practice your bows, pull out your suitcase, and get set to do Japan!
Procuring Your Family Registry in Person:
All this bureaucracy gives you a perfect reason to come to Japan! Come oooon! The food's good, you can't get lost because the people are so darn helpful, and there's loads to learn!
You stand a pretty good chance of being able to collect a copy of your records if you apply for them in person. Again, write ahead to see exactly what documents they'll require of you. (If someone can let us in on what documents are required, by all means, please let us know!) If you show up at city hall in your bonnie best, can prove your relationship and ties to the individual whose registry you are seeking, fill out the appropriate forms with an appropriate reason for wanting the registry, and pay the applicable fee, it seems you have a far, far better chance of securing your family registry (at least in this town).
1. Again, if you have any relatives still in Japan they may already have a copy of the family registry in their home. They'd likely be more than happy to make a copy and send it off to you. Contact them first!
2. Again, writing to the appropriate municipal office to find out what sort of documents they require would be your next step. Lots of Japanese cities host pages on the Internet which contain addresses to city offices. Larger cities often have international relations divisions which might be able to offer advice to you in your native language. Check them out!
3. If you have relatives still in Japan contact one of them to ask if they'll accompany you to city hall the day that you expect to collect your koseki. (Springing for your relative's lunch afterward would be a great gesture of appreciation and a great way to celebrate your genealogical find!)