Koseki: the Japanese family record

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The Koseki (戸 籍) or family register is a document that serves to recognize Japanese families. This record must contain births, deaths, marriages and other family information.

This document also helps to identify members of the same family and even proves the degree of kinship if someone wants to live in Japan to get a work visa, for example.

Let's now understand better about Koseki and the importance of this document for the Japanese population.

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Koseki: o registro familiar japonês

record structure

Japanese family registration is in accordance with the Family Registration Law, (戸 籍 法), article 13 and must contain the main information:

  • Family name and Christian name;
  • Date of birth;
  • Record date and causes (marriage, death, adoption, etc.);
  • Names of father and mother and the relationship with them;
  • In cases of adoption it must have the names of the adoptive father and mother;
  • If married, state whether the person is a husband or wife;
  • If transferred from another Koseki, the old Koseki (it happens in cases of children who get married and no longer belong to the family's Koseki and take on their own);
  • Registered household (honseki-chi).

This document is usually one page long and as children are born the number of pages increases. Any change made to the document must be registered and authenticated in accordance with the law.

Koseki: o registro familiar japonês

This document only makes an exception for members of the Imperial House of Japan. They don't exactly have a koseki, but an Imperial Lineage Record (皇 統 譜, kotofu ). This measure is in accordance with Article 26 of the Law of the Imperial House.

Koseki has the same representative function of birth, death, marriage and census certificates as here in Brazil.

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The origin of Koseki

Koseki had its beginnings in the sixth century in China, but it functioned as a census called the kōgo no nenjaku (庚午 年 籍). Here in Brazil, it is like the IBGE, responsible for collecting information from families in order to know the profile of Brazilian families. 

The officialization of Koseki only happened after the Meiji period restoration. At the beginning of this period the population was still divided into feudal domains and this made it more difficult for people to organize themselves.

 So it was necessary to be more careful in the census to know where the japanese families and how they were living in order to improve even commercial deals. There was also a mix of foreign people and Japanese citizens.

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After 1910 some reforms were carried out in the Koseki system and in 2003 it was accepted that people who identified with a different gender than what was in the record could make the gender change in the document. 

Koseki: o registro familiar japonês

Can foreigners have Koseki?

The answer is no! This registration is limited to Japanese citizens. When a native marries with someone from another country, for example, he can name the spouse in the document, but the spouse cannot be considered the head of the household. 

After the 2012 reforms, although a foreigner cannot have a Koseki, he can have a residence record known as a jumin-hyo (住民票). This record was initially exclusive to Japanese citizens for provide public services and collect tax revenue, now everyone can have access.

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And if someone has a certain degree of kinship with a Japanese person and needs a work visa, they can apply for Koseki by mail.

It can also happen that Japanese parents have a child abroad, in which case it can be included up to three months of life. And if a person is less than twenty years old and has lived in Japan for more than five years, he can receive the Japanese citizenship.

Koseki: o registro familiar japonês

Curiosities about Koseki

As Japan still adopts a patriarchal tradition in the document, a head of household is required and in most cases they are men. The person who gets the name at the top of the list is called hitto-sha (筆頭者). 

The entire family must be registered with only the father's surname, the rule only changes when the children form their own families. Initially, it was a rule for the wife to take her husband's last name, but since 2015 the wife is allowed to keep her maiden name. If the husband wants to take the wife's last name, usually because it is a name of an important family, he can also but it is not common.

Currently a Koseki is allowed to have the information of only two generations per family, ie usually a couple and their children. 

Koseki has four categories: Koseki Tohon (戸籍謄本), Kotofu (皇統譜), Koseki Shohon (戸籍抄本) and Koseki Joseki Tohon (戸籍除籍謄本). 

 Koseki Tohon is complete koseki with basic citizen information. Kotofu is the record of the imperial lineage. Koseki Shohon is the individual information of a family member and the Koseki Joseki Tohon used to change names after marriage, divorce or the death of a spouse.

Koseki: o registro familiar japonês

The prejudice around Koseki

Until the late seventies, anyone could have access to the information contained in Koseki. Therefore, this information ended up generating prejudice on the part of contractors who demanded Koseki from candidates for jobs.

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 If someone were descended from a burakumin (部落民) possibly could not get the job. This class suffered a lot of rejection in Japan.

Or even school-age children could suffer prejudice for being raised by a single mother. It was only in 1976 that access to family records became restricted.

And there were even people who used Koseki for crime! In September 2010, the Japanese government discovered that 230 thousand elderly people did not have their deaths registered by the relatives in order to receive pensions!