1872 Family Register Law

Japan's first "law of the land"

By William Wetherall

First posted 1 April 2008
Last updated 7 October 2020

Family registers as boundaries of nation People (jinmin) Nationals (kokumin) Subjects (shinmin)
1871 GCS Proclamation (No. 170) Dajō ruiten images Preamble Article 1: Subjects at large Article 32: Eta hinin etc.
1872 Jinshin register statistics Households by sex of heads, and persons by sex, by status
Minseki Meiji term later used in breakdowns of Japanese by territoriality -- Interior, Chosen, Taiwan, and Karafuto

Family registers as boundaries of nation

Law has been an important means of social organization and control in Japan for the better part of a millennium and a half. Population registration has been the most effective way of shepherding local populations as part of the aggregate national population.

The first mission of the imperial order that replaced the Tokugawa Shogunate in 1868 was to nationalize the domains and their people into a nation. The second mission was to create a new system of laws with which the state could govern and protect the nation.

First the domains were replaced by prefectures. Then local polities were given a means of controlling their populations, for the sake of the nation as well as to facilitate their own governmental needs.

The Family Register Law of 1871, effective in 1872, became the fundamental law of the new country. Fashioned on methods of population registration already in practice at the time, it gave localities the means of harnessing their inhabitants to the wagon of the new state.

Family registers also served to define the nation. If the prefectures delimited Japan's geographical territory, family registers marked the borders of its demographic territory.

Family registration is about families. Marriage and adoption are about families and therefore involve family registration. Hence Meiji laws concerning the marriage of Japanese with foreigners, and the adoption of foreigners by Japanese, rested on the foundations of family law and family registration practices.

For an overview how family law, administered through family registration, was used to resolve issues that arose when a Japanese wished to marry or adopt a foreigner, see 1873 intermarriage proclamation: Family law and "the standing of being Japanese.

For a look at later developments in the Family Register Law, and at the development of the Civil Code, which embodies the family laws that govern the Family Register Law and the Nationality Law, see the "Family Register Law" section of The Interior: The legal cornerstones of imperialism.


Jinmin 人民 people

The graphic term 人民 -- a Chinese compound -- has been widely used in Japan over the centuries, with various readings, to mean "people" affiliated with a sovereign or local authority. The term was last used in Japan's status laws, to refer to people affiliated with Japan's population registers, in the late 19th century.

"Jinmin" in early Japan

Graphically, 人民 appears in early texts like Kojiki (712), the earliest surviving history -- Nihon shoki (720), the first of a series of official national histories -- Shinsen shōjiroku (815), a peerage of titled families -- and Wamyō ruiju shō (938), a dictionary of Japanese words written in Chinese graphs.

Two Yamato expressions are associated with the graphs 人民 as used in these early texts.

hitokusa ヒトクサ 比止久佐 (人草)
wohotakara ヲホタカラ 於保大加良 (御宝)

Kojiki uses 人民 several times, such as in "defeated the people (human grass) of the country" (kuni no hitokusa 到其國之人民). It also uses 人草 several times, as in "the human grass of your country" (汝國之人草).

For examples of earlier terms referring to the "people" of Japan, see Belonging in Japan past and present under "Nationality Laws" on this website.

1871 Family Register Law

The 1871 Family Register Law uses three terms to signify demographic belonging to Japan -- jinmin (人民), kokumin (国民), and shinmin (臣民) -- all of which use the word "min" (民), which means affiliate. Jinmin (affiliated people) and kokumin (nationals) are used in the prologue (see transcription and translations below). Shinmin (subjects) is used and defined in the Article 1 (see below).

"Jinmin" in 1876 Japan-Chosen treaty

The 1876 Kanghwa treaty between Japan and Chosen, for example, refers to the "people" of the party states as follows, citing the Chinese and English versions of the treaty. See transcriptions and translations of treaty in 1876 Kanghwa treaty between Japan and Chosen in the "Korea becomes Chosen" article under "The Sovereign Empire" in the "The Empires of Japan" section of this website.

朝鮮國人民 (Chōsen-koku jinmin) "subject of Chosen"
日本國人民 (Nihon-koku jinmin) "Japanese subject"

Usage has somewhat changed by the 1882 Yin-chuen (Shufeldt) treaty between United States and Chosen. What the English version variously calls "citizens" of the United States and "subjects" of Chosen are referred to as 朝鮮民人 (Chōsen minjin) and 美国民人 (Mikoku minjin) in the Chinese version. "Minjin" (民人) is used like "jinmin" (人民) to denote "affilated people". "Nationality" in the English version is reflected as 所屬 (affiliation) in the Chinese version, hence phrases like 所屬之國 (shozoku no kuni) or "country of affiliation". Here "sho" (所) is used with "zoku" (属), meaning to affiliate, to form a typical "所 + V" compound. As a nominalized passive construction, "shozoku" means "condition of being affilated [something]" "shozoku" (所属) means "(condition of) being affiliated (with a country or other entity)". See transcriptions and translations of treaty in 1882 Yin-chuen (Shufeldt) treaty between United States and Chosen (Korea) (ibid.) for details.

Keep in mind that, as of 1876 and 1878, Japan did not yet have a Constitution or Nationality Law. "Nationality" was not yet that widely used in English as a term for affiliation with a state, and this sense of the word would not come to be translated "kokuseki" (国籍) until later. "Shinmin" (臣民) was not fully established as the Japanese word for "subject" until the 1890 Constitution. The 1899 Nationality Law -- like the 1873 proclamation on alliances of marriage and adoption between Japanese and foreigners -- used "Nihonjin" (日本人) rather than either "shinmin" or "kokumin" (国民) to refer to people who possessed the "nationality" (国籍) of Japan.

Note that the English versions of both of the above treaties -- which were written in Chinese -- translated (transliterated) 朝鮮 as "Chosen".

"Jinmin" today

The Prologue of the 1871 Family Register Law speaks mainly of "jinmin". "Kokumin" (国民) or "national" appears only once, and the articles of the law use "shinmin" (臣民) or "subject". The 1890 Constitution uses "shinmin", and other laws use "shinmin" or "kokumin" depending on the purpose of the law. But the 1899 Nationality Law, which might have used "shinmin" (given the provisions for the law in the 1890 Constitution, speaks of "Japanese" (Nihonjin 日本人).

So by the 20th century, other terms had replaced "jinmin" in Japan's domestic legalese. Today the term appears mainly in the names of socialist counties like the People's Republic of China and the Democractic People's Republic of Korea (Chosen), which refer to their affiliates as "citizens" (kōmin 公民) rather than "nationals" (kokumin 国民), a term which they eschew as anti-communist.



"Kokumin" (国民) or "national" is used only once in the 1871 Family Register Law, and only in the Prologue. It does not appear in the 1890 Constitution, which refers to people who owe allegiance to the sovereign as "shinmin" (臣民) meaning "loyal people" or "loyal affiliates". Even the 1899 Nationality Law does not use "national" but only "Japanese".

However, "kokumin" is the status term in many laws that stress affiliation with the state rather than imperial subjecthood. "Nationals" are essentially defined as people in household registers affiliated with Japan's sovereign dominion. However, "shinmin" (臣民) meaning "subjects" -- not "kokumin" -- was the term used in the articles of the 1871 Family Register Law to refer to registrants. While the terms differed metaphorically, they were generally synonymous as labels for people considered legally "Japanese".

The Allied Powers, when occupying Japan in 1945, immediately declared that the people of Japan were no longer "shinmin". They couldn't be, because the emperor was no longer a sovereign. From 2 September 1945, all people in Occupied Japan, beginning with the emperor, were subject to the authority of the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers (SCAP).

From the start of the Occupation of Japan, the people of Japan became just "kokumin". In debate over the term to be used in a new constitution, "jinmin" (人民) was rejected because, by then, it had acquired strongly socialist nuances. So the 1947 Constitution retained the term "kokumin". And the 1950 Nationality Law adopted the constitutional term "kokumin" in lieu of "Nihonjin".

Some people have argued that the use of "kokumin" the nationality law allowed the word "Nihonjin" to used to imply something racioethnic, unlike "kokumin", which was legally a purely civil status. This is not true. "Nihonjin" has always been available as both a civic and ethnoracial label. In no way does being a "kokumin" of Japan mean that one might not be "Japanese". As used by racialist speakers and writers, "Japanese" is a racioethnic label. In civil usage, "Japanese" means anyone who possesses Japan's nationality regardless of their putative race or ethnicity.



This term defined the essential status of the people of Japan from its use in the 1871 Family Register Law to its loss of legal standing in 1945, when the Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers disallowed its use. It remained the 1890 Meiji Constitution (but was understood to mean "kokumin") until replaced by "kokumin" in the 1947 Shōwa Constitution. And "shinmin" was replaced by "kokumin" in all laws that had used it.

The Prologue speaks of "kokumin" only once but "jinmin" many times. And "jinmin" -- not "kokumin" or "shinmin" -- would be used in a number of early documents, including international treaters, to refer to the "people" of Japan and other countries.


1871 Kosekihō in Dajō ruiten

Cover of Dajō ruiten
Dai 1 hen, Dai 79 kan

自慶応三年 / 至明治四年七月
Daijō ruiten Dai-ichi-hen
From Keiō 3 to Meiji 4-7
[From 1867-02-05 to 1871-09-14]
Number 79

第六類 // 保民 / 戸籍二
Dai 6 rui [6th class (of records)]
Hōmin [Care of affiliates (people)]
Koseki ni [Family registers (2)]

First 5 pages of 1871 Family Registration Law

Copped and cropped from
National Archives Digital Archive

Dajo ruiten
Dajo ruiten

RightLast page of official notices (pages 1-8) listed before Family Register Law
Last three items concern restoration of register (fukuseki 復籍) [registration, reenrollment]
of person who has left register (dasseki-sha 脱籍者)
such as some "shizoku" (士族) former-samurai in Kashiwazaki and Morioka prefectures
Note use of "minseki" (民籍) in notice about
enrollment of former "shizoku" Oyamada Jiroku as a "shomin" (庶民) [commoner].

LeftPromulgation and introduction to Family Register Law of Meiji 4-4-5 [1871-5-23]
今般府藩縣一般戸籍ノ法別紙之通改正被 仰出候條管内普ク布告致可申事
Structural translation Now (At this time) (Konpan 今般),
[regarding] the laws of general household registers (ippan koseki no hō 一般戸籍ノ法)
[of] the government prefectures (fu 府), domains (han 藩), and general prefectures (ken 縣),
the reforms as in the separate (attached) document (besshi no toori [no] kaisei 別紙之通改正)
are ordered, and [the ordered] articles (kaisei oose idasareshi sōrō (soro) jō 改正被仰出候條)
are to be proclaimed (fukoku itashimōsu beku koto 布告致可申事)
broadly (amaneku 普ク) within [our] judisdiction (kannai 管内)

Dajo ruiten

Pages 9-10 showing last of introduction to Family Register Law
and separate (attached) document (besshi 別紙)

The attachment begins with a prologue (see transicription and translations below)
Note that Article 1 (following the prologue) refers to "clan (family) affiliation" (zokuzoku 族属)
This in effect recognized the "family" (ie 家) as a lineage group" (zoku) hence "family" (kazoku 家族)
The of "kazoku" (z) The prologue is followed by the beginning of Article 1

Dajo ruiten

Pages 11-12 showing the rest of Article 1, Articles 2 and 3, and the start of Article 4
Note the definition of "subjects in general" (臣民一般) in Article 1
華族士族率祠官僧侶 / 平民迄ヲ云以下準之
Kazoku, shizoku, sotsu, shikan, sōryo, heimin wo ifu. Ika kore ni junsu (nazoraeru)
Refers to Nobility, gentry (former samurai), soldiers, (Shintō) priests, (Buddhist) monks, and commoners. Hereafter like this.
Note also that Article 1 requires that subjects be registered
"in their place of residence" (sono jūkyo no chi 其住居ノ地)

1871 GCS Proclamation No. 170

Several proclamations were made during the early years of the Meiji period relating to social status, some concerning surveys, others about change. The first family registration law addressed the need to record data on people according to their status, and to compile and report local registration data.

Promulgated by Great Council of State Proclamation No. 170 of Meiji 4-4-4 (22 May 1871), the register law was enforced from Meiji 5-2-1 (9 March 1872).


Promulgated Meiji 4-4-4 (22 May 1871) by
Great Council of State Proclamation No. 170

Enforced from Meiji 5-2-1 (9 March 1872)


法令全書 [第6冊] 明治4年
コマ94-106 (頁114-138)
Hōrei zensho
[Complete book of laws and ordinances]
[Volume 6] Meiji 4
Frames 94-106 (pages 114-138)

This first full version of various earlier drafts includes thirty-three articles stipulating rules for registering households and tabulating demographic (census) information, followed by examples of forms and tables that were to be used by local authorities when implementing the provisions of the proclamation and reporting census information to prefectural governments.


1871 Kosekihō

Dajō ruiten images

The inability of a government to account for all individuals subject to its authority signifies ineffectiveness -- i.e., a failure of the government's authority to reach and affect the individuals. The government cannot protect, police, or tax, conscript for labor or military service, or protect, educate, or otherwise serve, people it does not know about.

The last of the notices concerning restoration to registers (fukuseki 復籍) of people who have left or been omitted from registers (dasseki-sha 脱籍者) is of interest in that it refers to the general register as an "[affiliated] population register" (minseki 民籍). The notice reports that a certian "shizoku" (士族) or "(lower-ranking) (former) samurai" or "gentry" who left his [shizoku] register lowered to "shomin" (庶民) or "commoner" status and enrolled in a "minseki".

The "shizoku" caste was created by Great Council of State (Dajōkan 太政官) Proclamation No. 576 of Meiji 2-6-25 (1869-8-2). The 1871 Family Register Law recognized "shizoku" as a register status, but the status had no privileges. The recording of "shizoku" as a register status in new registers ended with with 1914 revisions in the Family Register Law effective from 1915. And 1947 revisions effective from 1948 provided that "shizoku" be struck from active registers.

"Shizoku" register leaver registered as "shomin"

Settled people are more easily registered or counted by registrars and census takers than itinerants and migrants.

Morioka-ken shizoku Oyamada Jiroku dasseki ni tsuki shomin in kashi (oroshi) minseki ni hennyū
Morioka-prefecture shizoku Oyamada Jiroku, on account of leaving (dropping from) his [shizoku] register, was lowered to [the status of] commoner and enrolled in a [general, ordinary] population register.


Preamble to 1872 Family Register Law

The preamble to the 1872 Family Register Law is a remarkable statement. Japan's family registration system is often associated with social control. However, the preamble shows the importance given to domicile registration, both as a means of social control, and as a way to insure that subjects were able to benefit from the services of their government.

The Family Register Law continues to be, in many ways, the "law of land" -- upon which rest the principles of family law set down later in the Civil Code and reflected in the Nationality Law.

The following tables show transcriptions of both the 1871 preamble and a 1900 English translation, followed by my own partial structural translation, then commentary.

Preamble to 1871 Family Register Law
(Dajokan Proclamation 170)

Requiring local governments to register affiliated residents and
compile and report demographic statistics to national government


1871 Japanese text

法令全書 [第6冊] 明治4年
コマ94-106 (頁114-138)
Hōrei zensho
[Complete book of laws and ordinances]
[Volume 6] Meiji 4
Frames 94-106 (pages 114-138)
Preamble: page 115

太政類典第一編 Dajō ruiten, Section 1
自慶応三年 From Keiō 3 [February 1867 - January 1868]
至明治四年七月 to Meiji 4-7 [August-September 1871]
第七十九巻 Volume 79
保民・戸籍二 Homin, Koseki 2

Kokuritsu Kōbunshokan Dejitaru Aakaibu
National Archives of Japan Digital Archive

Digitalized Japanese text

A digitalized transcription has been made available by the Shibusawa Eiichi Memorial Foundation (渋沢栄一記念財団), Digital edition "Shibusawa Eiichi historical materials" (デジタル版『渋沢栄一伝記資料』).

1900 English translation

The Department of Agriculture and Commerce, Japan
[農商務省御編纂 Nōshōmushō go-hensan]
Japan in the Beginning of the 20th Century
Tokyo: Tokyo-Shoin 東京書院, 1904
viii, 828 pages, plus 14 pages of ads in back
Printed at the "Japan Times" Office [ジャパン、タイムス社]
Preamble: pages 48-49

Japanese texts

Top text  My (Yosha Bunko) transcription of the Dajō ruiten scan from National Archives Digital Archive. The received text is totally unpunctuated, in accordance with the convention of writing at the time, and voicing was not marked. I have added (periods) after terminal conjugations. I have also inserted コト (koto) where it was abbreviated with a mark which looks like in the received text.

Bottom text   This text is a straight copy-and-paste from a transcription provided by Shibusawa Eiichi Memorial Foundation (渋沢栄一記念財団), Digital edition "Shibusawa Eiichi historical materials" (デジタル版『渋沢栄一伝記資料』). This version (1) does not show the title "Besshi" (別紙), (2) uses present-day kanji, (3) preserves the katakana usage of the original text, but (4) adds "koto" (コト) where it was abbreviated with a mark which looks like "┐", and (5) marks junctures with commas (、).

English translations

The 1904 English translation is my transcription from the 1904 yearbook. The structural translation, which endeavors to cut as close as possible to the phrasal and metaphorical bone of the original, is mine. I have shown both a polished version, and a version which leaves all the construction marks.

Highlighting and commentary

I have highlighted selected terms to faciliate their discussion.

1871 Japanese text

1904 English translation

Yosha Bunko transcription of Dajō ruiten scan


戸數人員ヲ詳ニシテ猥リナラサラシムルハ政務ノ最モ先シ重スル所ナリ 夫レ全國人民ノ保護大政本務ナルコト素ヨリ云フヲ待タス 然ルニ其保護スヘキ人民ヲ詳ニセス何ヲ以テ其保護スヘキコト ヲ施スヲ得ンヤ是レ政府戸籍ヲ詳ニセサルヘカラサル儀ナリ人民ノ各安康ヲ得テ其生ヲ遂ル所以ノモノハ政府保護ノ庇蔭ニヨラサルハナシ去レハ其ヲ逃レ其數ニ漏ルヽモノハ其保護ヲ受ケサル理ニテ自ラ國民ノ外タルニ近シ 此レ人民戸籍ヲ納メサルヲ得サルノ儀ナリ《Break in English》中古以來各方民治趣ヲ異ニセシヨリ僅ニ東西ヲ隔ツレハ忽チ情態ヲ殊ニシ聊カ遠近アレハ志行ヲ同フセス隨テ戸籍ノ法モ終ニ錯雑ノ弊ヲ免レス 或ハ此ヲ逃レ或ハ彼ヲ欺キ去就心ニ任セ往來規ニヨラス 沿襲ノ習人々自ラ度外ニ附スルニ至ル 故ニ今般全國總體ノ戸籍法ヲ定メラルヽヲ以テ普ク上下ノ通義ヲ辨ヘ宜シク粗略ノコトナカルヘシ

Shibusawa transcription

戸数人員ヲ詳ニシテ猥リナラサラシムルハ、政務ノ最モ先シ重スル所ナリ、夫レ全国人民ノ保護ハ大政ノ本務ナルコト素ヨリ云フヲ待タス然ルニ其保護スヘキ人民ヲ詳ニセス、何ヲ以テ其保護スヘキコトヲ施スヲ得ンヤ、是レ政府戸籍ヲ詳ニセサルヘカラサル儀ナリ、又人民ノ各安康ヲ得テ其生ヲ遂ル所以ノモノハ、政府保護ノ庇蔭ニヨラサルハナシ、去レハ其籍ヲ逃レ、其数ニ漏ルヽモノハ其保護ヲ受ケサル理ニテ、自ラ国民ノ外タルニ近シ、此レ人民戸籍ヲ納メサルヲ得サルノ儀ナリ、《Break in English》中古以来各方民治趣ヲ異ニセシヨリ僅ニ東西ヲ隔ツレハ忽チ情態ヲ殊ニシ、聊カ遠近アレハ即チ志行ヲ同フセス、随テ戸籍ノ法モ終ニ錯雑ノ弊ヲ免レス、或ハ此籍ヲ逃レ、或ハ彼籍ヲ欺キ、去就心ニ任セ、往来規ニヨラス、沿襲ノ習人々自ラ度外ニ附スルニ至ル、故ニ今般全国総体ノ戸籍法ヲ定メラルヽヲ以テ、普ク上下ノ通義ヲ弁ヘ、宜シク粗略ノコトナカルヘシ

1904 yearbook representation

[ Prologue ]

It is the utmost importance in the administration affairs of a country (政務) to keep accurate account of the number of its families and individuals (戸數人員), for, unless this number is accurately known, the state (大政) can hardly attend to its primary duty (本務) of extending protection to its subjects (全國人民ノ保護). The subjects (人民) will also, on their part, enjoy peace and prosperity and can pursue their business unmolested only when they are under the protection of their government, so that should it ever happen that their domicile is absent from the official record, owing either to their own negligence or evasion or from an oversight on the part of the government officials, those people will be practically non-existent in the eyes of the government and will therefore be excluded from the enjoyment of the protection universally extended by the government to its people.

Lack of uniformity in the local administration from about the time of the Middle Ages has, among other irregularities for which it is accountable, reduced the business of keeping personal register [sic = registers] to a state of disorder; people were allowed to remove their abodes without giving notice to the authorities, and even to evade with impunity the duty of registering themselves in the census record. Accustomed for ages to these irregular practices, people are prone to regard the duty of registration with perfect indifference. It was in view of this circumstance that the rules of keeping census records throughout the country have now been provided, and that the local authorities and the people are hereby enjoined to duly regard the points herein set forth and to carefully attend to them.

Yosha Bunko translation (polished)

Ascertaining the count of households and the number of people, and not allowing the figures to be disorderly, is the most important aspect of Government work. Needless to say the primary work of the Government is the protection of all the people in the country. If the Government does not ascertain the people it is to protect, how can it perform its work of protection? . . .

To be continued.

Structural translation (Yosha Bunko)

Clarifying [ascertaining] the count of households (戸數) and the number of persons (人員) and not allowing [these figures] to be disorderly [corrupt] is [the] most prior and weighty [== first and most important] place [part, aspect] of government work (政務). That the protection of the people of the entire country (全國人民ノ保護) is the primary work of the Great [Imperial] Government [of Japan] (大政ノ本務) from the start does not wait to be said [== of course does not need to be said] [== Needless to say the primary work of the Government is the protection of all the people in the country]. 然ルニ其保護スヘキ人民ヲ詳ニセス何ヲ以テ其保護スヘキコトヲ施スヲ得ンヤ Whereas by not clarifying the people who [it = the government] is to do this protection, with what [how] can [it] not not perform the doing of this protection? [== If the government does not ascertain the people who it is to protect, how can it perform its work of protection?]

To be continued.

Notes and commentary

Quality of 1904 translation

Readers of both the 1871 Japanese and 1904 English texts will observe that the English version, published over a century ago as of this writing, reflects the spirit of the Japanese version -- but also manifests the common practice then (and at times even today) to inflate and embellish lean, lucid, well constructed Japanese phrases -- in the interest of placating a god shelf laden with verbose and even pompous English deities. Note that none of the keywords or phrases in the original text are accurately reflected in the 1904 English version.

Japan in the Beginning of the 20th Century is actually a very interesting and important publication. Its chapter on Population (pages 47-70) begins with rather detailed "History Relating to Census Returns" (pages 47-49).

The census overview gives special attention to the preamble of "Notification No. 170 issued in April of 1871 by the then Dajokan, now corresponding to the Cabinet, by which notification thirty three rules were provided for making census returns" (page 48).

The chapter also includes year-by-year population figures for 1872-1899 (pages 50-51), and breakdowns by social classes (peers, shizoku, heimin) for 1879, 1882, 1887, 1892, 1897, and 1898 (pages 57-58), and many other statistics on Meiji demographics not readily available in a single volume elsewhere, in either Japanese or English.


door (dwelling) register

Village population records were generally linked with land records. People who had settled in a village resided in a dwelling located on land associated with the village. And it made administrative sense to treat the land and the dwelling as the unit for counting heads as well as recording personal information that allowed authorities to determine tax and labor obligations. Thus registers (seki 籍) generally recorded people who resided in the same dwelling as a household or family. The term "kokō" (戸口) was used to signify both the number of dwellings (doors 戸 to) and population (mouths 口 kuchi) of a village. "Household" is probably the more accurate English dub for "ko" (戸) than "family", because the inhabitants of a dwelling might include people who were not members of the biological or corporate family, but were live-in servants or employees, or boarders (lodgers), or even mistresses.

zenkoku jinmin no hogo
protection of the people of the entire country

The writers of the preamble of Japan's first population registration law understood that the primary rationale for the existence of any state is the protection of its people. A state incapable of protecting its people is practically by definition not a state. A state that delegates its foreign affairs and defense to another state becomes a dependency of the other state, and ceases to be a state in its own right. Here, of course, we are talking about "protection" in the form of administration of governmental policies related to the social organization and lives of the people, as well as policies related to the rights and duties of subjecthood.

person (people) [as affiliate(s) of a country]

The term "jinmin" was not widely used in later Japanese laws to refer to the people of Japan either collectively or individually. Later it was used -- and today it continues to be used -- mainly in treaties between Japan and another country, in which reference is made to "the people" or "a person" of Japan or the other country. In other words, it came to be used as a "generic" term in "international" contexts in which it was necessary to conflate terms in domestic laws like "subject" (臣民 shinmin) and "national" (国民 kokumin) or "citizen" (公民 kōmin, 市民 shimin). In the 1876 Kanghwa treaty between Japan and Chosen, the official Japanese and Chinese versions speak of "a person of the country of Chosen" (朝鮮國人民 Chōsen-koku jinmin) and "a person of the country of Japan" (日本國人民 Nippon-koku jinmin), whereas the unofficial English version has respectively "a subject of Chosen" and "a Japanese subject". See 1876 Kanghwa treaty between Japan and Chosen for the texts of the treaty and commentary.

country [state] affiliate]
national [as individual]
nation [as collectivity of nationals]

Literally a "person" or "affiliate" of a country. This would become the most general reference in Japanese domestic laws, when referring to the people of Japan as affiliates of the state as opposed to "loyal people" or "subjects" (臣民 shinmin) of the emperor. And "national" would become the only term for the "people" of Japan after 1945, when SCAP forbade the use of "shinmin" -- the term used in the 1890 Constitution. The 1947 Constitution used "kokumin".

loyal affiliate [of sovereign]
subject [of sovereign]

Shinmin was introduced as term for status as an affiliate of Japan, as a state, no later than the 1871 Family Register Law. It then became the term for state affiliation in the 1890 Constitution.

Though the 1899 Nationality Law was predicated on the Constitution, it spoke only of being "Nihonjin" (Japanese). Other laws spoke of "shinmin" or "kokumin" (nationals) according to the needs of the law.

"Shinmin" was banned in 1945 by the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers, in favor of "kokumin", which became the term for state affiliation in 1947 Constitution and in all postwar laws, including the 1950 Nationality Law, which was predicated on the 1947 Constitution.


Article 1 of 1872 Family Register Law

Subjects at large by status

Article 1 (第一則) reads as follows.


Note and source
The commas are not in the original text. They are shown here as received in the transcription provided by Shibusawa Eiichi Memorial Foundation (渋沢栄一記念財団), Digital edition "Shibusawa Eiichi historical materials" (デジタル版『渋沢栄一伝記資料』).

The article stipulates that "subjects at large" (shinmin ippan 臣民一般) were to be registered under one of six statuses.

  1. 華族 kazoku "nobility", "peerage"
    Higher ranking court officials and aristocrats not including members of the imperial family, and former domain lords and such, who in 1884 received titles of nobility modeled on those used in the British Empire. Titles were confered on the male heads of household and were hereditary. An adopted son also qualified as a titular heir. Titles came with legal privileges, and as a caste, title holders constitute the "peerage" from which members of the House of Peers were appointed by the emperor. All titles of nobility were forbidden by the 1947 Constitution and struck from household registers.
  2. 士族 shizoku "gentry"
    Former higher (retainer) samurai who served as administrators in domains. Received a one-time only stipend when domains were disbanded. Title brought some social status but no legal privileges. Title later invited derision as many shizoku squandered their stipend and failed in their endeavors to start buisnesses. By the early 20 century the titles were no longer being copied in new registers. After the Pacific War (1941-1945), titles remaining in registers were deleted.
  3. 卒 sotsu "soldier"
    Rank and file lower samurai who merely lost their jobs. All were later folded into "commoner" (heimin) status.
  4. 祠官 shikan "shinto priest"
    An official who presided over a Shinto shrine or ceremonies. Later folded into "commoner" (heimin) status.
  5. 僧侶 soryo "buddhist monk"
    Those who had left their secular homes and devoted themselves to a Buddhist life. Later folded into "commoner" (heimin) status.
  6. 平民 heimin "commoner"
    All other "subjects at large". Status abrogated in 1947, since which there are only two statuses -- people registered in ordinary registers governed by Family Register Law and Civil Code -- and people in imperial family registers, which are to their different laws. The imperial family is legally a patrilineal caste.

Imperial family members were not "subjects at large" as they were recorded in imperial family registers. As defined by such registers, the imperial family at the end of the Pacific War (1941-1945) was a large extended caste composed of 14 princely houses (families). In May 1946, early in the Occupation of Japan, the Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers abrogated economic and other privileges of the imperial family. Thus pressured to reconsider its membership, a family conference on 13 October 1947 resulted in reducing the family by 11 houses, leaving only 3 houses consisting of the male descendants of Yoshihito (Taishō) -- namely Hirohito and his siblings -- and their families. At the time of this writing (October 2020), there are 6 very small houses totalling 18 members, 13 of them women.


Article 32 of 1872 Family Register Law

Eta, hinin and such

Article 32 (第三十二則) reads as follows.


Notes and source

  1. The commas are not in the original text. They are shown here as received in the transcription provided by Shibusawa Eiichi Memorial Foundation (渋沢栄一記念財団), Digital edition "Shibusawa Eiichi historical materials" (デジタル版『渋沢栄一伝記資料』).
  2. 穢多 is my restoration of the graphs for "eta", which were shown as ☐☐ (ellipses) on the Shibusawa version. While the graphs may have been missing or obscure on the paper copy, I suspect they were redacted by the transcriber or editor, either as a gesture of political correctness, or out of concern that webpage could be blocked by a discriminatory-word filter.
  3. The 《angle brackets》 are mine. They mark a phrase which is embedded in the main text as two columns within the width of the main text.

Article 32 follows articles which have described how people are to be registered, beginning with Article 1, which stipulates the 6 statuses in which people are to be classified on registers, from kazoku (nobels) to heimin (commoners). Heimin are essentionally farmers, craftsmen, and merchants -- in other words, everyone who does not qualify for one of the 5 higher statuses -- the 1st for the nobility, the 2nd and 3rd for former warriors, and the 4th and 5th for active clergy.

But the heimin status also embraces people who were lower than farmers, craftsmen, and merchants -- such as eta and hinin, who were collectively regarded as "senmin" (賤民) -- "base" or "mean" people (outcastes) -- as opposed to "ryōmin" (良民) -- "good" or "proper" people (incastes).

By Article 32, eta, hinin and such who had been co-residing and working with or as farmers, craftsmen, or merchants would already have been registered as heimin. The problem now is how to register the itinerants and others living on the fringes of villages and other settlements, who might not have fixed addresses, or known family ties, dates of birth, or even names.

Article 32 is intended to pick up the rootless remainders, and hence begins like this.


The likes of an eta or hinin or such, who does not have (does not share, is not in) the same household register with a heimin [and would thus already be registered as a heimin] . . .

"Eta, nihin and such" emancipation proclamations

Other proclamations had recently provided for emancipating "eta, hinin and such" (穢多非人等) from their status appellations and treating them as "heimin".

Great Council of State proclamation No. 448 of Meiji 4-8-28 (12 October 1871) provided as follows.


Article abolishing the appellations of eta, hinin and such: From now it shall be possible for both the statuses and occupations [of eta, hinin and such] to be the same as Heimin [Commoners].

Proclamation No. 449, of the same date, provided as follows.


Article abolishing the appellations of eta, hinin and such: [Eta, hinin and such] shall be enrolled in general population [affiliation] registers (ippan minseki 一般民籍). It shall be possible to treat both [their] statuses and occupations entirely the same [as others in such registers]. . . .

These proclamations were issued nearly 5 months after the promulgation of the Family Register Law by Proclamation No. 170 of of Meiji 4-4-4 (22 May 1871), and nearly 4 months before its enforcement from Meiji 5-2-1 (9 March 1872).


1872 Jinshin register statistics

Households by sex of heads, and persons by sex, by status

The following data were adopted from kosekinorekisi (戸籍の歴史) [history of koseki]. ← No longer exists
The table design, translated headings, and comments are mine.

Similar data, with slightly different headings, and many other tables of early Meiji family register statistics broken down by status and sex, and prefecture, are now posted on Wikipedia's 壬申戸籍 (Jinshin koseki) page.

These data dramatize the variety of status categories used to classify people who were subject to registration under the 1871 Family Register Law proclamation effective in 1872.

壬申戸籍  明治5年1月29日現在の調査
身分別  戸数 (戸主の性別)  人員 (性別)

Jinshin [1872] household registers  Survey as of 8 March 1872
Numbers of households (by sex of head of houshold) and people (by sex), by status

身分 戸主男 戸主女 戸数 人員数 %計
Household heads by sex Households People by sex People Prcnt of
Status Male Female Total Male Female Total Total
Imperial family皇族 7 4 11 14 15 29 0.0001
Nobility 華族 459 0 459 1,300 1,366 2,666 0.0081
Shizoku (former samurai) 士族 258,939 13 258,952 634,701 647,466 1,282,167 3.87
Soldier samurai 卒 166,873 2 166,875 334,407 324,667 659,074 1.99
Landed samurai 地士 646 0 646 1,715 1,601 3,316 0.0100
Monks 僧 75,925 0 75,925 151,677 60,169 211,846 0.64
Shinto priests 旧神官 20,895 4 320,938 52,141 50,336 102,477 0.31
Nuns 尼 - 6,068 6,068 0 9,621 9,621 0.0290
Commoners 平民 6,326,571 170,752 6,497,323 15,619,048 15,218,223 30,837,271 93.13
Karafutoans 樺太人員 - - - 1,155 1,203 2,358 0.0071
Total 計 6,850,315 176,882 7,027,197 16,796,158 16,314,667 33,110,825 100.00
  1. The numerical data Total population of as of 8 March 1872 (Meiji 5-1-29). in the table are from one of several tables of data presented on a Wikipedia overview of the Jinshin registers and several censuses based on them. The subgroupings of the statuses into related classes, the English titling, and the percents are mine.
    1. Other tables show fuller breakdowns of data by domain and occupation. The Jinshin registers were used from 1872-1885, after which they were replaced by registers of a different design. One table shows status breakdowns for annual counts for all years from 1872 through 1885, except 1877-1878.
  2. 戸數人員 are the very first terms of the preamble to the 1872 Household Register Law and are the most important objects of the measure -- the objects to be enumerated for the purpose of protecting and serving the people of Japan, according to the preamble of the law. 戸數 (戸数 kosū) means "count of households" and 人員 (jin'in) means "number of people". The structure of the phrase exemplifies the "balance" or "parallelism" of good Chinese. 戸 (ko) and 人 (jin) are objects to be counted, and 数 (sū) and 員 (in) are counters.
    1. The heading 人員数 is shown as received. Since "jin'in" (人員) itself means "number of people", adding "-su" (-数) to make "jin'in-sū" (人員数) would result in "number of number of people" -- which would seem to be redundant. Today, however, "jin'in" is commonly used to mean "people/members/personnel" -- which are plural. So "jin'in-sū" appears to mean "number of people".
  3. The imperial family (皇族 kōzoku) and nobility (華族 kazoku) were closely related through blood). These two castes would continue to be legal statuses until shortly after the Pacific War (1941-1945). The imperial family was reduced from a large extended family consisting of 14 princely houses (families) to the 3 houses of the male descendants of Yoshihito (Taishō). The members of the 11 other houses were re-registered in general local municipal household registers.

    Paragraph 2 of Article 14 of the 1947 Constitution held that "Peers and peerage shall not be recognized" (華族その他の貴族の制度は、これを認めない "Noble families and other aristocratic families shall not be recognized"). Those who held titles of nobility, which were inherited, lost their titles, and the statuses were struck from their household registers.

    Today, only the imperial family, with its own register system and family laws, continues to constitute a caste apart from the general Japanese population. Imperial family family laws preserve the sort of patriarchy and primogeniture that the 1947 Constitution abolished for the general population.

  4. "Shizoku" (士族) were former samurai or "gentry", a class that would continue to be recorded on registers until the early 20th century but which came with no legal privileges and would eventually have little social meaning either. "Soldier samurai" (sotsuzoku 卒族) and "Local samurai" (jizamrai 地士) [village samurai (gōshi 郷士) in Sanuki only] would be abrogated later in 1872, and most would commoners though some became shizoku.
  5. "Monks" (僧) and "nuns" (尼) were classified as such. The social class of "shrine house" (社家 shake), referring to the priest of a shrine, was abolished shortly before the Jinshin register system was established. However, as Shinto priests had not yet been made commoners, and were not members of any of the other classes, they were classified as "former Shinto priests" (旧神官) for the purpose of registration.
  6. Commoner (heimin 平民) counts do not include children [foundlings] (suteji, sutego 棄兒、捨児), persons in confinement [prisoners] who have no registers (museki zaikanjin 無籍在監人). Abandoned children are included as a distinct category from 1878. Registerless confinees are included as a distinct category from 1883.
    1. Today, people legally exist in Japan only if they are somehow registered -- either in koseki (if qualified as Japanese), or as aliens (if not Japanese).
    2. From 1947 to 2012, aliens permitted to reside in Japan were registered in alien registers that existed alongside koseki. Today, resident aliens are registered with the Exit-enter-country Control Bureau ("Immigration Bureau") nationally, while locally they are treated like Japanese for purposes of municipal resident registration -- which is different from family or alien registration).
    3. A number of people are born in Japan but go unregistered. At which point their unregistered existence comes to the attention of authorities, the conditions of their birth and upbringing are investigated to determine their qualification as Japanese. If a family court rules that they qualify for Japanese nationality, then they are enrolled in honseki (koseki). Otherwise, they classified as stateless aliens, and remain stateless until which time they acquire a nationality -- possibly Japanese nationality through naturalization.
    4. Foundlings came to be enrolled as Japanese, hence the invocation of jus soli (right of soil) for children whose parents are unknown. Prisoners also came to be registered.
  7. Registrants in Karafuto (樺太) are shown only for the 4 years from 1872-1875, for in 1875 Japan traded its claim to and interests in Karafuto (Southern Saghalin) to Russia for the Northern Kuriles (Northern Chishimas). Karafutonans would begin to be counted again from 1906, the year after Russia ceded the southern half of Saghalin (Karafuto) to Japan following Japan's victory in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905.
    1. Karafuto became Japan's 48th prefecture in 1943. In August 1945, the last month of the Pacific War (1941-1945), Karafuto was invaded and captured by the Soviet Union. And under the terms of surrender signed on 2 September 1945, confirmed by the San Francisco Peace Treaty effective from 28 April 1952, Karafuto abandoned its claims to Karafuto, which became part of Sakhalin in the Soviet Union, now again Russia. Karafuto's registers, however, were evacuated, and their registrants were reregistered in Hokkaidō or wherever they resettled.

See The Interior: The legal cornerstone of the Empire of Japan for an overview of status and other laws in Japan's prefectural Interior from the 1872 Family Register Law to the present.



The 1871 Family Register Law calls the registers in which people considered "jinmin" or "kokumin" or "shinmin" were to be enrolled as "koseki" (戸籍) -- meaning a "household" or "family" register. However, the term "minseki" (民籍) -- meaning an "affiliate register" -- was also used in Japan at the time to describe a population register.

The term "minseki" can be seen in the notice of change of registration status that appears immediately before the text of the Family Register Law, as follows (see image above).

Morioka prefecture gentry (shizoku 士族) Oyamada Jiroku, on account of leaving (dropping from) his [shizoku] register (dasseki 脱籍), is lowered to [the status of] commoner (shomin 庶民) and enrolled in a [general, ordinary] population register (minseki 民籍).

The term "ippan minseki" (一般民籍) -- meaning "general affiliate (peoples) register" was used in Grand Council of State Proclamation 429 of Meiji 4-8-28 (12 October 1871), which stipulated that "eta, hinin and such" -- appellations abrogated by Proclamation No. 428 of the same date -- were to be enrolled in general population registers as "commoners" (heimin 平民).

The expression "jinmin koseki" (人民戸籍) also appears in the 1871 Family Register Law. My hunch -- which I am unable to substantiate at this time -- is that "minseki" is a reduction of "jinmin koseki" -- at least in cases when the "people" (jinmin 人民) were enrolled in registers by household (戸籍), which generally referred to a dwelling with an address.

The term "minseki" (民籍) generally refers a civil register (seki 籍) of affiliates (min 民) of a country or territory. To the extent that such registers embrace the entire population of a country's affilites -- and to the extent that a country's affiliates are enrolled in household registers -- then "minseki" and "koseki" are synynomous with other and tantamount to "kokuseki" (kokuseki 国籍) in the sense of "nationality", though of the three terms are used differently. Otherwise, "minseki" signifies only the population (household) registers of a territory.

It is clear here that the term "minseki" was in use before the promulgation and enforcement of the 1871 Family Register Law.

"Minseki" was used by the Korean and Japanese authors of the Empire of Korea's 1909 Population Register Law (K. Minjŏkpŏp, J. Minsekihō).

Minseki was also used by the Empire of Japan to differentiate Japan's territorial registers, as well reporting "minseki-betsu" (民籍別) national census and other statistics -- as in, for example, the 1920 and 1930 censues. See 1936 Japan Year Book for examples of how Japan's territorial census figures were differently reported in Japanese and English.

The 1930 census classified Japanese by "minseki" (民籍) and foreigners by "kokuseki" (国籍) as follows.

Minseki and kokuseki distinctions in 1930 census

民籍国籍別人口 / 全国 Minseki kokuseki betsu jinko / Zenkoku
[ Population by (imperial territorial) population registers
or (alien) national registers / Entire country
= prefectural Interior (Naichi) of Empire of Japan ]  
Start of Japanese "minseki" (territorial) classifications
内地人   Naichijin
         [Interiorites = Subjects of Japan in prefectural (Interior) registers]
総数     Sosu [Total]

外地人   Gaichijin
         [Exteriorites = Subjects of Japan in territorial (Exterior) registers]
総数     Sosu [Total]
  朝鮮     Chosen [Chosen (non-Interior territory)]
  台湾     Taiwan [Taiwan (non-Interior territory)]
  樺太     Karafuto [Karafuto (non-Interior territory
             legally subject to Interior laws]
  南洋諸島 Nan'yo Shoto [South Pacific Islands = German islands occupied by Japan in 1914,
             recognized as being occupied by Japan in the 1919 Treaty of Versailles,
             and administered by Japan under a League of Nations mandate until 1945]
Start of foreign "kokuseki" (nationality) classifications
外国人    Gaikokujin [Aliens]
総数      Sosu [Total]
  中華民国  Chuka Minkoku [Republic of China]
  [ 省略 ]  [ Other foreign states omitted here ]