N°9 novembre 2016 : Géographie historique du Japon d'Edo et ses héritages:

Buddhist Temple Death Register in Innoshima Island, West Japan: A case study for a better understanding of the late Edo Period demographic evolution.

Tsunetoshi Mizoguchi

Par Tsunetoshi Mizoguchi (Professor Emeritus - Nagoya University (1)


This paper presents the information recorded in the kakochō or death register of Mukunoura, a village in Innoshima Island, in Hiroshima prefecture. A kakochō is a temple's register of deceased people in which the Buddhist names, dates of death, ages at death, sex, and place of death are recorded. The author tries to examine the number of deaths by year and sex, the places of death, and the likely causes of death. In recent years, the reconstruction of household structure in the Tokugawa period has been greatly improved through intensive analysis of registries of religious affiliation (shūmon aratamechō). However, the number of dead has not been revealed because of the lack of the data in shūmon aratamechō. Therefore, this paper analysing a kakochō representing a quite long period can have an impact on the field of historical demography and modern history in Japan.

Keywords:  Japan, Tokugawa period, Demography, Temple registers


Cet article présente les informations contenues dans le kakochō, (registre des décès) du village de Mukunoura, un village l’île d’Innoshima dans le département de Hiroshima. Les kakochō sont les registres des décès des temples dans lesquels sont indiqués les noms bouddhistes, les dates et âges des décès, le sexe ainsi que le lieu de la mort. L’auteur examine le nombre de décès par an et par sexe, les lieux des décès et leurs causes. Depuis quelques années, la reconstruction de la structure sociale de la période Tokugawa a beaucoup progressé grâce aux nombreuses recherches sur les registres d’affiliations religieuses  (shūmon aratamechō), toutefois, le nombre des décès n’a pas véritablement pu être réévalué à cause du manque de données dans les registres. C’est pourquoi cette recherche analysant un kakochō sur une période relativement longue contribue à une meilleure connaissance de l’histoire démographique de la période moderne du Japon.

Mots-clefs: Japon, Période Tokugawa, Démographie, Registres des temples

In recent years, research on kakochō (temples’ registers of deceased people in which the Buddhist names, dates of death, ages at death, sex, and place of death are recorded) has produced valuable results in the fields of public hygiene studies, geographical studies, Japanese historical studies, and historical population studies. This paper presents the information recorded in the kakochō of Mukunoura village in Innoshima Island, in Hiroshima prefecture, west Japan (2). But, before analyzing the Mukunoura kakochō, I would like to review the major results of research in this special field in Japan.

In the field of public hygiene studies, A Study of the kakochō of ō Temple in Hida by Keizo Suda (1973) analyzes the causes of death of 20,000 residents from the Tokugawa Period to the present based on the kakochō of a temple in Hida. The average age of death for both males and females throughout the 100-year period from 1771 to 1870, an age in which smallpox raged, was just under 30 (Suda 1973). One study discussing natural disasters from the perspective of geographical studies is Historical Disasters in Japan: Evidence from Temple kakochō in the Late Tokugawa Period by Kazuo Kikuchi (1980). Based on a comparison of kakochō from 189 temples across Japan, the study comes to interesting conclusions, demonstrating that cholera spread by sea from Nagasaki and diffused in concentric circles from Kanagawa. The study also demonstrates that in the Tenmei famine (1782-1788), male deaths exceeded female deaths and deaths of the elderly exceeded deaths of the young, whereas greater numbers of women and children died in unexpected disasters such as earthquakes, fires, floods, and tsunami (Kikuchi 1980).

Edo Period Famines as Seen in Temple kakochō: An Analysis of Trends in Fatalities Using GIS (2005) from a seminar by Masao Takagi of Ritsumeikan University is a study that quantitatively analyzes the kakochō of 267 temples in the Tohoku region in relation to famines. The numbers of deaths from the temples in each prefecture are plotted in graphs, and the study demonstrates that the generally accepted view that "male deaths exceed female deaths in famines" did not necessarily apply in Akita Prefecture. The study does not discuss the reasons for this, but is calling attention to the importance of regional differences in the numbers of deaths from famines (Takagi, 2005). Isao Kikuchi, whose life's work is researching the social history of famines in the Tohoku region, points out in his work, A Social History of Famine (1994), that "methods of estimating the numbers of deaths from famines based on temple kakochō are effective, but we must remember that many fatalities are not listed in kakochō," an observation we should bear in mind (Kikuchi 1994).

Despite the fact that certain problems hinder the accuracy of population studies, kakochō have high value as historical documents; as observed by Hiroshi Kito in 2000 Years of Japanese Population History : "kakochō stand alongside shūmon aratamechō [population registers] in forming the two pillars of historical materials on population history in the Edo period" (Kito, 1983) . As demonstrated by the previously described study by Isao Kikuchi, kakochō can be applied to studies of disasters as well.

To mention one of the newest developments, Hiroshi Kawaguchi et al. have developed a "kakochō analysis system" that can be viewed by computer users, and the system is becoming widespread as the researchers build a basic structure for researching kakochō. Approximately 31,000 people interred in the district of Tama, Musashi province in Kantō are registered in the Kawaguchi system, which is set up to allow researchers to investigate 51 different population characteristics, such as the number of people interred, breakdowns of deaths by age, seasonality of deaths, and causes of death (Kawaguchi, 2007). When Kawaguchi used the system himself in a pilot study of people who died in places other than their homes, he revealed that from the early 17th century onward, the places of death of the interred spread to include not only Kantō but also the Chūbu, Kansai, Shikoku, and Kyūshū districts.

With these studies, the reconstruction of household structure in the Tokugawa period has been greatly improved through the intensive analysis of registries of religious affiliation. These analyses include those done by Akira Hayami (1973) and scholars in the field of historical demography. However, the number of dead has not been revealed because of the lack of the data in registers. Therefore, my paper analysing kakochō will have an impact on the field of historical demography and early modern history in Japan.


I. The Kakochō of Mukunoura, Innoshima

Having summarized prior studies, I would now like to discuss the kakochō of Innoshima as well as the unique features of this study. First, because the majority of prior studies on kakochō focused on areas in the northern half of Japan, studying kakochō from a small island in Hiroshima prefecture can result in valuable information being gained about another part of the country, which can then serve as a basis for comparisons. The 189 temples from across Japan in Kikuchi's list consisted of one temple in Hokkaidō, 64 temples in Tōhoku, 46 temples in Kanto, 35 temples in Chūbu, 12 temples in Chūgoku, 4 temples in Shikoku, and 27 temples in Kyūshū. In the Chūgoku region, there was only one temple in Hiroshima Prefecture, where Innoshima is located. This kakochō is particularly valuable because it concerns an island. There were only six temples on isolated islands on Kikuchi's temple list, two on Hachijō Island and four on Miyake Island in the Pacific Ocean, both of which belong to the Tokyo prefecture.

Also, with regard to the content of this kakochō, it is notable for covering a long period of time from 1829 to 1863, indicating whether the deceased was younger or older than fifteen when the age was not listed, making it possible to guess when the deceased died of drowning on the basis of the Buddhist name, and allowing for the determination of the places of birth of the deceased as well as the identification of individuals who died in places other than their homes.

Table 1 shows the first year of Mukunoura kakochō. It presents a database of the information from the kakochō with these characteristics, sorted by: the date of death, the Buddhist name, the name, family position, place of birth, and place of death, distinction between those who died before the age of 15 (boys and girls) and those who died at age of 15 and above (women and men), and religious position. The listings are arranged by order of death, but not necessarily in order of date. This is probably because some entries were made in the blank spaces of pages for later dates when the notification was delayed. It is apparent that these are additions because the handwriting as well as the darkness of the ink clearly differs.

Document 1 :  The death people on the first year (1829) of Mukunoura kakochō  

II. The size of Mukunoura Village and its death rate

            During the Tokugawa Period, Mukunoura was prospering greatly from the marine cargo trade. According to the History of Mukunoura Schools (1992), during a period of roughly 100 years beginning just before the Hōreki Era (1751-64) and ending in the Kōka Era (1844-48), “Mukunoura had large junks (sengokubune), which were rare in Japan” and “700-800 people were engaged in the trade, with records listing 180 households and 720 people.” Also, the trade was so prosperous that “the main industry was shipping and only women worked in agriculture, and people from neighboring villages came to do labor.” However, Mukunoura’s marine cargo trade went into decline during the Kōka Era, and subsequently the junks disappeared completely. The same work states that a maritime disaster in 1842 was one of the reasons for the decline (Mukunoura 1992). Eighteen years later, in 1860, there was another large maritime disaster, and there is no doubt that the succession of maritime disasters greatly contributed to the decline of the marine cargo trade and the reduction in the number of households.

Unfortunately, it is not possible to trace the population of Mukunoura year by year between 1829 and 1863, but at the beginning of this period, before the 1842 disaster, there were 180 households and 720 people, and there seems to have been a drastic decline in the population near the end of the Bunkyū Era (1861-64). There was a decline in the marine trade, which led to a decline in the number of households and people on the island.  However, in this work, I will calculate the death rate of Mukunoura Village under the assumption that throughout those 34 years, the population continued to be 180 households and 720 people, when the village was at its most heavily populated.

Document 2:  Native who died in Mukunoura and the places where Mukunoura people died

 Because the kakochō is a record of deaths among families who belong to one temple, the population values that serve as the parameters differ from the domain of the village. It would be convenient if there were one temple per village and the families contributing to the temple all resided in the village, but because one village (hanseison: roughly comparable to one present-day ōaza in terms of size) normally had more than one temple, it could be a mistake to calculate the death rate of the village by using the village’s population. The kakochō is simply a record pertaining to families from Mukunoura who belonged to Meitoku Temple in the part of the village known as Mitsunoshō.

 There are two additional problems. The first concerns the consistency of the number of families belonging to the temple and the number of households in the village. It would be convenient if all the households in Mukunoura village belonged to the Meitoku Temple, but a current residential map lists a “Dainichi Temple” for Mukunoura village. If this Dainichi Temple also existed during the Tokugawa Period, and numerous families belonged to it, these households would have to be subtracted from the count.  To read still deeper into this issue, there may have been dannadera or family temples for the people of Mukunoura in addition to these two temples. However, according to the History of Mukunoura Schools, the “Konzō Temple was rebuilt by Jinzaemon in 1660. But this temple was later closed, and despite the construction of a new Kannon Hall in 1749, the priest was driven out by the villagers”. Therefore, we will assume that most of the families in Mukunoura Village belonged only to the Meitoku Temple.

The other problem is how to handle people from Mukunoura who died in other places as well as people from other places who died in Mukunoura. Both are listed in the Mukunoura kakochō, and strictly speaking, one of the two should be deleted, but in this work I have decided to include seven people in the former group (Bicchu Kato-gun, Hyogo, two people from Osaka, Izu Shimodaminato, Shinagawa, Bōshū) and five people in the latter group (Sasshu, Nisshu Nobeoka Jōka Minamimachi, Hiroshima, Kashu, Echigo Kanbara-gun). This is in accordance with Kawaguchi’s view that people who died in villages were promptly returned to their villages of origin under ordinary circumstances (Kawaguchi, 2007, 59-55), and such people were not excluded because they died in other areas. Also, I have assumed that people from other areas who are listed in the kakochō did not simply travel to Mukunoura and die there, but had taken up residence in the village, and therefore I have treated these deceased individuals as village residents. Figure 1 shows the location of Mukunoura in Innoshima and suggests many traders came to Mukunoura by the route of the Japanese sea. The traders from Kyushyu also came to Mukunoura.  The traders of Mukunoura went to Osaka and some of them shipped to Edo (Shinagawa) by the route of the Pacific Ocean.

I have created a graph of the yearly changes in the numbers of deceased from Mukunoura Village using these conditions (Figure 2), and have attempted to calculate a death rate. The average number of deaths per year was 20, and this number divided by the village population of 720 results in a death rate of 2.8 %. This figure exceeds the death rate of 2.5% calculated by Futoshi Kinoshita for Yamaga Village (See Figure1), Yamagata Prefecture in the Tōhoku region over a 110-year period in which famines resulted in great losses (Kinoshita, 2002). Thirty-eight people died in the worst year, 1833, and the death rate of 5.3% is just under that of the worst in Yamaga Village, 6.6% in 1837. However, this is double the number of deaths in an ordinary time.

 Kinoshita uses the phrase “crisis of deaths,” defining crisis years as those in which the normal death rate exceeded 50% of the trend (the average during the 25-year period centered on that year). In Yamaga Village, 13% of the 110 years were such crisis years, and Kinoshita points out that crises of deaths did not only occur in the three famine-stricken eras of Kyohō, Tenmei, and Tenpō. When we consider Mukunoura Village with reference to this notion, it is apparent that 9 of the 37 years (24%) were crisis years. The fluctuations were extreme, or to put it another way, it seems that the area was frequently stricken by famine, disease, and other unexpected disasters.


Document 3 : Number of deaths on the Mukunoura kakochō

III. Causes of death and sex ratios

            Figure 1 shows that in addition to normal causes of death, infectious disease, famine, and drowning were also prevalent. Ages are not listed in the kakochō, but because the deceased are categorized as boys, girls (both under 15), men, or women (both over 15), it is possible to determine how many children died. In 1833 (Tempō 4), 1840 (Tempō 11), and 1848 (Kaei 1), there were an abnormal number of deaths of boys and girls. Table 1 shows the records of deaths in 1833. This is clearly because of infectious diseases (measles, smallpox, and diseases of the gastrointestinal system), and the first two seem to be strongly linked to the Tenpō famine. It will be necessary to cross-reference this with years in which infectious diseases spread throughout Japan, but it is apparent that infectious diseases spread to the village and many children died there.

Also, regarding deaths by drowning (maritime disasters), this cause of death seems to be unique to Mukunoura. To be more specific, this seems to be the fate of the fishermen and workers in the marine cargo trade who were not present in villages on level ground or in the mountains. There was an abnormal number of adult male deaths in 1842 (Tempō 13) and 1860 (Man-en 1). The reason for the high number of deaths by drowning in the former year is the deaths of 14 people, all adult men, in one day, December 4th in the Japanese calendar, which means January 4th, 1843 in the Western calendar. On the 29th day of March, the intercalary month of the latter year (May 19 in the Western calendar), there were 15 deaths, all of them adult men. Also, all of their Buddhist names contain the character “海(ocean)”, “潮(tide)” , or “舟(boat)”, so it seems that they met with a maritime disaster (Table 2).


Document 4 : Number of deaths in 1833 (Tenpō 4)


Notes: M: male (信士), F: female (信女), MD: boy under 15years old (童子), FD: girl under 15years old (信女) .Rows of children (MD, FD) are colored by gray.


Document 5 :  Number of deaths in 1842 (Tenpō 13)

Note: Rows of Men whose Buddhist names include the letters “海”,”潮”,”舟”are colored by gray.


Throughout the entire kakochō, 59 of 707 people have the character “ocean” in their Buddhist names, and 57 of these are men. This indicates the large number of people engaged in occupations related to the ocean. There were 4 cases in which 2 or more people died in the same day, and these are also likely maritime disasters. For reference, the names of 40 people contained the character “mountain,” 24 of them male (including 1 child) and 16 of them female (including 3 children). There is no flat ground on the island, and the mountains reach all the way to the shore. This is likely the reason why Buddhist names containing the character “mountain” are so prevalent. Rather than indicating that these people died in the mountains, this likely indicates that the mountains had been the object of religious belief.

Among the 707 deceased people, excluding those whose sex was unclear, the number of male deaths (390, including 62 children) was much higher than female deaths (250, including 67 children). There was no relationship with sex among the children, but among adults, the disparity is marked. When calculated based on this, the sex ratio (the number of men per 100 women) of the harbor town of Mukunoura fell significantly below 100, in contrast with normal early modern villages, where men were in the majority.

There is also the question of whether the proportion of men was higher because of the high number of workers in the marine cargo trade, but there is no population data sorted by gender, so the details are unclear. Here, I will assume that the workers in the marine cargo trade also had families, and that these families contained women, in which case the sex ratio would not differ significantly from ordinary villages (villages not engaged in the marine cargo trade) at ordinary times (when there were not maritime disasters).


IV. Yearly and monthly changes in the number of deaths

            Figure 1 makes apparent that the year-over-year differences in the numbers of deaths are too large to ignore. Is this instability a general characteristic of early modern villages, a characteristic of villages by the sea, or a characteristic only of Mukunoura? There were drastic decreases in the years following high numbers of deaths. This is to be expected because the village is small, and because there were few people to die in the following year. The results show that almost no children (girls and boys) died from the middle of the 1850s onward. This boundary line corresponds with the arrival of the smallpox vaccination in Japan, at which point the number of smallpox patients dropped drastically. This seems to indicate the improvement of hygiene conditions and the progress of medical care in the village. There seem to have been no infectious diseases.

            I have created a graph of the number of deaths by month. The average deaths per month are 58.9. Though there are not so many differences by month, it appears that a unique characteristic is the large number of deaths in the winter months of January and February as well as the autumn months of September and October in the western calendar. This seems to be due to stormy seas in winter and spring and deaths from maritime disasters caused by typhoons.

Document 6 :  Number of deaths by month for the period 1829-1862

(1 represents January, 2 February, etc.)


 Above, the analysis of the kakochō of Innoshima, an island in the Inland Sea, shows 3 major aspects:  

(1) The number of deaths and the death rate were extremely high, even more so than in villages in the Tohoku region which suffered heavy damage from famines.

(2) There were severe fluctuations in the numbers of deaths year over year, and it was clear based on an analysis of Buddhist names that in addition to famine and infectious disease, maritime accidents claimed a large number of lives.

(3) Based on the large numbers of victims of maritime accidents who were young men from fishing villages and harbor towns, in contrast to ordinary agricultural villages in early modern times, where there were more men than women, the sex ratio was low (i.e., there was an excess of women) in the village.

 In this small village, there were two or three occasions when large numbers of adult men lost their lives all at once, and with a large number of children lost on multiple occasions due to infectious disease, the tragedies in this seaside village seem to have exceeded those of agricultural villages in the alluvial plains. This may be a small case study from a small village, but because there have been almost no prior reports on the populations of seaside villages, this analysis of the Mukunoura kakochō should prove a valuable source of information for the understanding of the late Edo Period demographic evolution.

Works Cited

Hayami, Akira, 1973, Kinsei nōson no rekishi jinkō-gaku-teki kenkyū (Historical demography study of early modern farming villages). Tōyōkeizaishinpōsha.

Kawaguchi, Hiroshi, 2007, “Kakochō bunseki sisutemu no kōchiku to katsuyō: Daitoshi kinkō nō-sōn ni okeru minshū no sibōchi (The structure and application of the kakochō analysis system: Citizens’ places of death in agricultural villages near major cities).” Information Processing Society Research Report, 49-56.

Kawaguchi, Hiroshi, 2007, “Musasi no kuni Tama-gun no Jiin de kuyōsareteiru hisōsya no Shussinchi: Kakochō bunseki sistemu wo mochiita shiryō kentō (The places of origin of people interred in Tama district, Musashi province: An investigation of historical documents using the ‘kakochō analysis system).” Humanities Society and Computer Symposium Abstracts, 1-8.

Kikuchi, Isao, 1994, Kikin no syakaishi (A social history of famine), Azekura Shobō.

Kikuchi, Kazuo, 1980, Nihon no rekisisaigai – Edo kōki no jiin kakochō ni yoru jisshō- (Historical disasters in Japan: Evidence from temple kakochō in the Late Edo period), Kokon Shoin.

Kinoshita, Futoshi, 2002, Kindaika izen no nihon no Jinkō to kazoku (Japanese population and families before early modern times). Minerva Shobō.

Kito, Hiroshi, 1983, Nihon nisennen no jinkōshi (2000 years of Japanese population history), PHP.

Mukunoura Commemorative Publication Editors’ Committee 1992. Mukunoura gakkōshi (History of Mukunoura school), Innoshima-shi Mukunoura-chō.

Suda, Keizō, 1973, Hida ō jiin kakochō no kenkyu (A study on the kakochō of ō temple in Hida), Iryōhōjin-seijinkai.

Takagi, Masao (dir.) 2005, Jiin kakochō kara yomitoru Edo jidai no kikinn –GIS wo siyōshita sibō hendō bunseki- (Edo period famines as seen in temple kakochō: An analysis of trends in fatalities using GIS), Ritsumeikan University College of Social Sciences Takagi Seminar.

Notes :

(1) I would like to offer my sincere thanks to Priest Takao Kato of Meitoku Temple, who allowed me to view valuable materials, and the family of Masatoshi Morita, who arranged interviews on Innoshima.

(2) I encountered a kakochō on a visit to Innoshima for a survey entitled "Island People's Life Course" when the chief priest of Meitoku Temple presented it to me, saying, "There was a maritime disaster a long time ago, and it's recorded here." I, the author, had a longstanding interest in family structure and population movement in early modern Japan, and despite recognizing kakochō as valuable records of deaths, I had consciously avoided analyzing them. This was because I wished to avoid inconveniencing current residents by invading their privacy. However, because the Mukunoura kakochō discussed here suggests only one register limited to the Tokugawa period (1600-1868) and cannot be traced to the present day, and because it does not contain information that would be disadvantageous to individual people, I decided to proceed with an analysis by permission of the priest of Meitoku temple to make a paper.




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