Jomon Versus Yayoi Man

Martin Fackler of Associated Press wrote: “Analysis of skull shapes has shown the rice farmers who appeared 2,400 years ago were racially quite different from the hunters whom they replaced. In the l980s new research on DNA taken from burial remains revealed even more startling results: The islands’ first inhabitants had little in common with most modern Japanese — but were almost identical to the Ainu, a tiny indigenous group now found on Hokkaido. The same analysis also showed modern Japanese are close genetic kin to Koreans and Chinese. Debate among researchers focuses on just how many migrants came and whether they violently displaced the natives — or peacefully intermarried with them.” [Source: Martin Fackler, Associated Press, August 31, 1999 /~/]

Charles T. Keally wrote: “The Yayoi people were quite distinct physically from the Jomon people, and they are clearly ancestral to the modern Japanese. The Jomon people are "southern," closely resembling peoples now in South China and Southeast Asia. The Yayoi people, in contrast, are "northern" and show a close relationship to peoples now in North China, Korea and Northeast Asia. [Source: Charles T. Keally, Professor of Archaeology and Anthropology (retired), Sophia University, Tokyo, net.ne.jp/~keally/yayoi ++]

“Theories on the origins of the Yayoi people fall into three large groups: that they are (1) decendants from the Jomon people, changed physically by changes in the diet and way of life, (2) immigrants from the continent [via Korea], and (3) hybrids of Jomon and continental immigrant peoples. The hybrid hypotheses range from very little inter-mixing to a lot of inter-mixing, and some suggest more Jomon genes are retained in the northeastern Japanese populations than in the southwestern ones. Some scholars argue for a slow trickle of immigrants from the continent, while others argue for waves of immigrants. ++

“I think the best explanation is that a slow trickle of immigrants from the continent began near the end of the Jomon period (and continued throughout the rest of Japanese history); over the course of time, some inter-marriage with the native peoples occurred, bringing Jomon genes into the population; and then, as this was going on, the immigrant population in Japan, including those of mixed parentage, began to explode sometime already in Early Yayoi, swamping the Jomon gene pool. The Jomon population was very low in the final centuries of that period, so even a small number of immigrants could have overwhelmed the Jomon gene pool. Most of the immigrants probably came from the Korean peninsula, although an unknown number of them likely came from eastern China, and from deeper in northeastern Asia through Korea. ++

Early Japanese History Websites: Aileen Kawagoe, Heritage of Japan website, heritageofjapan.wordpress.com; Essay on Early Japan aboutjapan.japansociety.org ; Japanese Archeology www.t-net.ne.jp/~keally/index.htm ; Ancient Japan Links on Archeolink archaeolink.com ;Essay on Rice and History aboutjapan.japansociety.org ; Metropolitan Museum of Art Department of Asian Art metmuseum.org; Wikipedia article on the Jomon Wikipedia ; Historical Parks Sannai Maruyama Jomon Site in Northern Honshu sannaimaruyama.pref.aomori.jp ; Yoshinogari Historical Park yoshinogari.jp/en ;Good Photos of Jomon, Yayoi and Kofun Sites at Japan-Photo Archive japan-photo.de ; Wikipedia article on the Ainu Wikipedia ; Good Japanese History Websites: ; Wikipedia article on History of Japan Wikipedia ; Samurai Archives samurai-archives.com ; National Museum of Japanese History rekihaku.ac.jp ; English Translations of Important Historical Documents hi.u-tokyo.ac.jp/iriki

DNA Data. Skeletal Remains and the Origins of the Japanese

Skull of a Yayoi woman

Aileen Kawagoe wrote in Heritage of Japan: The DNA sequencing picture that emerges today shows the central Honshu people of Japan to be genetically just a little closer to Sino-Tibetan and Han Chinese (from the Jiangsu region who were possibly rice-farming immigrants during the Yayoi era) evidenced by the specific genetic Y markers found in Japanese today (ie O3a5, O3a and O1), in their mix than to modern-day Koreans whose ancestors contributed significantly to the Japanese gene pool probably during Koguryo and Paekche migrations into Japan of the Kofun era to Asuka eras. [Source: Aileen Kawagoe, Heritage of Japan website, heritageofjapan.wordpress.com ]

“One surprising point that emerges from a look at both mtDNA and Y Haplogroups charts, is that the Koreans show an even closer genetic affinity to Okinawans (and therefore to the Jomon stock) than mainland Honshu Japanese do themselves…comprising 17.4 percent of their DNA sequence compared to the Japanese 16.1 percent of their DNA sequence.

“In recent years, more archaeological and genetic evidence have been found in both eastern China and western Japan to lend credibility to this argument. Between 1996 and 1999, a team led by Satoshi Yamaguchi, a researcher at Japan’s National Science Museum, compared Yayoi remains found in Japan’s Yamaguchi and Fukuoka prefectures with those from early Han Dynasty (202 BC-8) in China’s coastal Jiangsu province, and found many similarities between the skulls and limbs of Yayoi people and the Jiangsu remains. Two Jiangsu skulls showed spots where the front teeth had been pulled, a practice common in Japan in the Yayoi and preceding Jomon period. The genetic samples from three of the 36 Jiangsu skeletons also matched part of the DNA base arrangements of samples from the Yayoi remains.

“Surprisingly, Japanese also display the highest frequency of haplogroup O3a5, which is a Han Chinese and Sino-Tibetan specific O3 branch. Japanese Haplogroup O3a5 (O3e) 10/47= 23 percent This frequency is about 5 percent higher than the frequency of O3a5 among Manchus, Koreans and other Northeast Asians. For North Koreans, the frequency of O3a5 is even lower than some Tungusic populations. Overall, the Koreanic haplogroup O3 were the least influenced by Sinitic populations.

“Whereas pure haplogroup C3 (M217-no subclade) was observed at a high frequency among Tungusic (20 percent) and Koreanic (16 percent) populations. The frequency of haplogroup C3 among Japanese was only 1 percent. This means that Japanese origins were not as prominently from Siberia as was commonly thought, since Japanese bear more of C1, whereas C3 is found only in northern populations of Japan. Haplogroup D was observed among Japanese (25 percent) and Tibetans (40 percent); it was also observed among Han Chinese, Mongolians and Koreans.

The DNA sequence SNP study done by Japanese researchers in 2005 (the biggest contributor of DNA of each East Asian people is bolded) showed the following results: 1) Korean DNA sequence is made up of: A) 40.6 percent Uniquely Korean; B) 21.9 percent Chinese; C) 1.6 percent Ainu; D) 17.4 percent Okinawan; E) 18.5 percent Unidentified. 2) Japanese DNA sequence is made up of: A) 4.8 percent Uniquely Japanese; B) 24.2 percent Korean; C) 25.8 percent Chinese; D) 8.1 percent Ainu; E) 16.1 percent Okinawan; and F) 21 percent Unidentified. 3) Chinese DNA sequence is made up of: A) 60.6 percent Uniquely Chinese; B) 1.5 percent Japanese; C) 10.6 percent Korean; E) 1.5 percent Ainu; F) 10.6 percent Okinawan; G) 15.2 percent Unidentified. The biggest components in Japanese are Chinese, Korean, Okinawan. Overall, Japanese are closest to Tibetans and Han Chinese, but only marginally more so than to the Koreans.

For More on This See Heritage of Japan website, heritageofjapan.wordpress.com ]

Genetic Data on the Yayoi Migration of People to Japan

Kawagoe wrote: The Haplogroup O expansion A second immigration wave arrived in Japan 2,000-4,000 years ago, and was composed of Yayoi people who brought rice cultivation (as well as weaving and metal working) from Korea and North Eastern Asia. At this date, the land bridges to Japanese islands were submerged and sea-faring migrations must have been responsible for the spread of the Yayoi. Japanese are also carriers of O — subclade O3 is major branch represented in East Asia — which is connected to agricultural revolution in Neolithic Era. The Yayoi origins are estimated to have contributed approximately 52 percent of the current population, while the Jomon contribution is estimated at 40 percent. [Source: Aileen Kawagoe, Heritage of Japan website, heritageofjapan.wordpress.com ]

Migration of the Yayoi and Jomon people

“Beside the O3 subclade, Yayoi have also been identified with the O2b1 subclade (SNP 47z). The analysis of haplotypes in the O2b1 subclade reveals a star-like network, which fits well with a model of a major or single founding lineage contributing to a Japanese population. The precursor to the O2b1 subclade, O2b (SNP SRY465), is also abundant in Japan. STR haplotyping in the O2b subclade shows a higher diversity in the Korean population versus the Japanese population, supporting an older age and probable origin in the Korean Peninsula.

“In addition to the other O subclades, the O2a subclade is found in Japan and was also probably introduced at a more recent date with the expansion of rice cultivation. O2a is however associated with Southern East Asia and with speakers of Austro-Asiatic languages (non Austro-Asiatic groups also have good levels of O2a ~ 15 percent). (O2a is also very abundant in India, and another proposed as the ancestral home of this Y-chromosome type) but the frequency of O2a (97 percent) peaks in the unique population of the Mang. A study of the Mang population who live near the border between China and Vietnam in SEAS found only 3 haplogroups: O2a (SNP M95), O3a3b (SNP M7) and O3a3c (SNP M134). The genetic signature is unique and suggests that this is an indigenous population. The Mang have a short stature, live by foraging and have a language related to Mon Khmer.

“Because the Yayoi spread from south to north – their highest influence is in Kyushu, which lies closest to the Korean Peninsula. However, the Haplogroup O genetic signature of the Yayoi is not found in Hokkaido, the northernmost island. The geographically separate southern Ryukyu Islands (the largest island is Okinawa) were also spared the domination by Yayoi. Essentially, the distribution of Haplogroup O (highest central location) is the reciprocal of Haplogroup D (highest in north and south). Thus, the island archipelago structure helped to create barriers and genetic structure throughout Japan. New research establishes that native Okinawans and Hokkaido’s Ainu share genetic characteristics that pre-date Yayoi arrivals.

DNA and Skull Features Link Yayoi to China’s Yangtze River Area

In 1999, Japanese and Chinese researchers announced that some of the first wet-rice farmers in Yayoi Japan, 2,000 years ago , might have been descendants of people originally from the lower basin of China’s Yangtze River. The Japan Times reported: “This was suggested by DNA tests conducted by the researchers that showed genetic similarities between human remains from the Yayoi Period found in southwestern Japan and the early Han Dynasty found in China’s central Jiangsu Province, Satoshi Yamaguchi said. [Source: Japan Times, March 19, 1999]

“People who introduced irrigation techniques to the Japanese archipelago in the Yayoi Period (250 B.C.-300) were believed to have come to Japan either from the Korean Peninsula across the Tsushima Strait, or from northern China across the Yellow Sea. The latest findings, however, bolster another theory suggesting the origin of the Yayoi people was an area south of the Yangtze, which is believed to be the birthplace of irrigated rice cultivation.

“Yamaguchi, a researcher at Japan’s National Science Museum, said the researchers compared Yayoi remains found in Yamaguchi and Fukuoka prefectures with those from early Han (202 B.C.- in Jiangsu in a three-year project begun in 1996. The researchers found many similarities between the skulls and limbs of Yayoi people and the Jiangsu remains. Two Jiangsu skulls showed spots where the front teeth had been pulled, a practice common in Japan in the Yayoi and preceding Jomon Period. But the most persuasive findings resulted from tests revealing that genetic samples from three of 36 Jiangsu skeletons also matched part of the DNA base arrangements of samples from the Yayoi remains, the scientists said

Study of Dialects Yields New Insights on the Origins of the Japanese People

In May 2011, Nicholas Wade wrote in the New York Times, “Researchers studying the various dialects of Japanese have concluded that all are descended from a founding language taken to the Japanese islands about 2,200 years ago. The finding sheds new light on the origin of the Japanese people, suggesting that their language is descended from that of the rice-growing farmers who arrived in Japan from the Korean Peninsula, and not from the hunter-gatherers who first inhabited the islands some 30,000 years ago.” [Source: Nicholas Wade, New York Times, May 4, 2011 ~~]

“The result provides support for a wider picture, controversial among linguists, that the distribution of many language families today reflects the spread of agriculture in the distant past when farming populations, carrying their languages with them, grew in numbers and expanded at the expense of hunter-gatherers. Under this theory, the Indo-European family of languages, which includes English, was spread by the first farmers who expanded into Europe from the Middle East some 8,000 years ago, largely replacing the existing population of hunter-gatherers.” ~~

“In the case of Japan, archaeologists have found evidence for two waves of migrants, a hunter-gatherer people who created the Jomon culture and wet rice farmers who left remains known as the Yayoi culture. The Jomon people arrived in Japan before the end of the last ice age, via land bridges that joined Japan to Asia’s mainland. They fended off invaders until about 2,400 years ago when the wet rice agriculture developed in southern China was adapted to Korea’s colder climate.” ~~

“Several languages seem to have been spoken on the Korean Peninsula at this time, and that of the Yayoi people is unknown. The work of two researchers at the University of Tokyo, Sean Lee and Toshikazu Hasegawa, now suggests that the origin of Japonic — the language family that includes Japanese and Ryukyuan, spoken in the Ryukyu island chain south of Japan — coincides with the arrival of the Yayoi. The finding, if confirmed, indicates that the Yayoi people took Japonic to Japan, but leaves unresolved the question of where in Asia the Yayoi culture or Japonic language originated before arriving in the Korean Peninsula.” ~~

“Mr. Lee is a graduate student studying language and the mind, not a historical linguist. He has used a statistical tree-drawing method that other biologists have applied successfully to language origins, despite some linguists’ skepticism. The method, called Bayesian phylogeny, depends on having a computer draw a large number of possible trees and sampling them to find the most probable. Each language is represented by a 200-word vocabulary composed of words known to change very slowly. If any fork in the tree can be linked to a historical event, all the other branch points can be dated. In this case, Mr. Lee knew dates for Old Japanese, Middle Japanese, and the split between the Kyoto and Tokyo dialects that began in 1603 A.D. when the capital was moved from Kyoto to Edo, the early name for Tokyo.” ~~

“Mr. Lee reasoned that Japanese would have originated with the Jomon if the root of the tree turned out to be very ancient, but with the Yayoi culture if recent. The computer’s date of 2,182 years ago for the origin of the tree fits reasonably well with the archaeological dates for the Yayoi culture, he reported in The Proceedings of the Royal Society.” John B. Whitman, an expert on Japanese linguistics who works at the National Institute for Japanese Language and Linguistics, in Tokyo, and at Cornell University, called the new finding “solid and reasonable,” although the date of the Yayoi culture, he said, has now been pushed back to around 3,000 years after a recalibration of radiocarbon dates. That would open an 800-year gap with Mr. Lee’s date but not necessarily change his conclusion.” ~~

“Quentin Atkinson, an expert on language phylogeny at the University of Auckland, in New Zealand, said that Mr. Lee’s time scale was plausible but that if Japonic had spread through an agriculturally driven population expansion, his language tree should be much bushier at its root. Mr. Lee said that such earlier versions of Japanese might have disappeared when the island was politically unified about 1,000 years ago.” ~~

“The question of Japanese origins has had political consequences, with the link to the Yayoi culture having been invoked to justify the annexation of Korea and Manchuria before World War II. After the war, the link with the Jomon culture was emphasized. Genetic studies have suggested interbreeding between the Yayoi and Jomon people, with the Jomon contribution to modern Japanese being as much as 40 percent. Apparently the Yayoi language prevailed, along with the agricultural technology.” ~~

Difficulty Pinpointing the Origin of Yayoi in Japan

Rita Rasteiro and Lounès Chikhi wrote in the Journal of Human Genetics: “We could not locate precisely the geographical origin of the Yayoi in mainland Asia, as different potential sources gave similarly good results. This suggests that more loci would be required for a better understanding of the peopling of Japan. [Source: “Revisiting the peopling of Japan: an admixture perspective” by Rita Rasteiro and Lounès Chikhi, Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciência, Portugal, Journal of Human Genetics (2009) May 8. 2009 ^*^]

“Several hypotheses have been suggested regarding the geographic origin of the Asian populations, which gave rise to the Yayoi, even though it is usually accepted that they probably entered Japan through South Korea. Nevertheless, skull and teeth morphology inference and classical markers support anNortheast Asia origin. ^*^

“More recently, Hammer et al. placed the Yayoi farmers as having originated in Southeast Asia. However, with the same data as Hammer et al. (with the exception of the Korean data), the admixture model we used could not establish with so much accuracy the continental origins of these populations, but our results suggest that they entered Japan through the Korean Peninsula. It may be important to note that our approach is model-based and has been tested on simulated data, whereas the conclusion reached by Hammer et al. was based on visual patterns of allele or haplogroup frequencies and were neither justified by any statistical test, nor by analyses of simulated data. Thus, our approach is not ‘just’ confirming established results, but rather adding more solid results to conclusions whose statistical validity was not determined. In addition, when we found that the exact location of the Yayoi cannot be ascertained with certainty, whereas Hammer et al. assert that they arrived from Southeast Asia, one should question the strength of the latter statement.

“Our method was able to identify populations that clearly could not have contributed to the modern Japanese gene pool at that time (namely Sardinia and Oceania). If some of the Asian parental populations that were analyzed had generated results similar to those of Sardinia and Oceania, they could have been identified as unlikely parentals. This type of results was not observed, which suggests that these data do not contain enough information to clearly identify the most likely descendent of one of the parental populations of the modern Japanese, namely the Yayoi. This is not necessarily surprising as the Y-chromosome represents only one set of linked markers. We believe thus that until more loci are obtained this question may not be easily answered, and should remain open. If we have contributed to making this statement, we feel that a significant step will have been taken.

Yayoi People, Jomon People and Modern Japanese

The Yayoi people were rice farmers with iron weapons and tools. Skull structure analysis indicates they were very different from the hunter-gatherer Jomon people they displaced. It is no clear whether Jomon people were violently ousted from southern Japan or whether they peacefully intermarried with the Yayoi people.

Based on skeletal, DNA and linguistic studies the scholar Satoshi Horai argues that modern Japanese are a mix of 65 percent Yayoi and 35 percent Jomon. Modern Japanese in the northern prefectures have rounder eyes, more body hair and wider faces, which suggests closer links to Jomon people. The archeologist Yasuhiro Okada told the New York Times, "People from northern Japan can be 60 to 80 percent of Jomon origin, while those from western or southern Japan are 40 percent Jomon or less."

Kawagoe wrote: “About a thousand Yayoi skeletons found in North Kyushu (southwest Japan) from the Early to Middle Yayoi periods revealed that Early Yayoi people in the north were taller than the earlier Jomon people by an average of two centimeters, but that the Yayoi people of the Northwest and South Kyushu were similar to the Tsugamo people of the Late Jomon period. [Source: Aileen Kawagoe, Heritage of Japan website, heritageofjapan.wordpress.com ]

“Why these facts are important, is because they are the key to solving a central question hotly debated among historians: whether the Yayoi people who migrated into the Japanese islands wiped out (i.e. displaced) the Jomon people who lived in Japan in the earlier period or whether they integrated with or were absorbed into the native populations in Japan. And the skeletons indicate that no population displacement had occurred.

“At the end of the Yayoi period, the Yayoi skeletons revealed that Yayoi people were better fed and changing features were caused by the new genetic types entering the population pool of Japan. The skeletons tell scientists that Yayoi faces became flatter over time and that during the early Yayoi period, the males grew slightly taller to an average of 162 centimeters and tended to live a little longer (only by a year or so). The Yayoi skeletons also told of regional differences: The Yayoi skeletons of Kyushu (southwest Japan) were larger, taller with larger feet (25-27 centimeters) compared to those from central Japan (23 – 25 centimeters). In the southwest, the Yayoi people also had longer skulls while those of the east were rounder.”

DNA analysis also indicates that Yayoi people and modern Japanese are similar genetically to modern Chinese and Koreans. This evidence strongly suggests that modern Japanese evolved from people who came from Korea or China, a notion that debunks the pre- World War II ideology that states that Japanese are racially distinct from other Asians. Some Japanese still hold this belief. In some museums in Japan you can find displays ancient hunter-gatherers evolving into modern salarymen without any input from the Asian mainland.

Diffusion of the Yayoi People in Japan

Rita Rasteiro and Lounès Chikhi wrote in the Journal of Human Genetics: “The first inhabitants of Japan, the Jomon hunter-gatherers, had their culture significantly modified by that of the Yayoi farmers, who arrived at a later stage from mainland Asia. How this change took place is still debated, but it has been suggested that modern Japanese are the product of an admixture between these two populations. Here, we applied for the first time an admixture approach to study the Jomon–Yayoi transition, using Y-chromosomal data published earlier. Our results suggest that the Neolithic transition, in this part of the world, probably took place by a process of demic diffusion. We also show that for two populations that could not have contributed to this process, our approach is able to detect inconsistencies when they are used as parental populations. [Source: “Revisiting the peopling of Japan: an admixture perspective” by Rita Rasteiro and Lounès Chikhi, Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciência, Portugal, Journal of Human Genetics (2009) May 8. 2009 ^*^]

Demic diffusion is a demographic term referring to a migratory model, developed by Cavalli-Sforza, that consists of population diffusion into and across an area previously uninhabited by that group, possibly, but not necessarily, displacing, replacing, or intermixing with a pre-existing population (such as has been suggested for the spread of agriculture across Neolithic Europe and several other Landnahme events). In its original formulation, the demic diffusion model includes three phases, namely: (1) population growth, prompted by new available resources as in the case of early farmers, and/or other technological developments; (2) a dispersal into regions with lower population density; (3) a limited initial admixture with the people encountered in the process. [Source: Wikipedia]

Rasteiro and Chikhi wrote: “The development and spread of farming, referred to as the ‘Neolithic transition,’ was one of the major demographic events of human prehistory.This process took place independently in different geographical areas, each one most likely associated with different demographic changes and with different domesticated animals and plants. In principle, each of these changes can be described as a process by which at least two human groups (Paleolithic hunter-gatherers (HG) and Neolithic farmers) admixed to different extents. These processes can be seen as admixture models and although they have been used to study the Neolithic transition in Europe, this has not been the case for Asia. Here, we focus on Eastern Asia, where the transition to agriculture has long been controversial, specifically regarding the prehistory of Japan. ^*^

“Although our results may only reflect the paternal history of the Japanese, they confirm the idea that a significant admixture took place and thus do not support either the replacement or the transformation models between the incoming Yayoi and the local Jomon.... Moreover, our results show a decreasing geographical trend in the Yayoi contribution across Japan, when populations are sampled in a southwest–northeast direction. These results agree with a model in which the first farmers entered in Japan from Korea, through the closest island (Kyushu), and then spread across most of Japan moving to the northeast (until the geographical limits of the Honshu Island). During the expansion of farmers, it is expected that the rise in population density, because of food production, should lead to a more limited drift (as populations were larger).” ^*^

“Our results support at least one admixture event in the peopling of Japan, namely the spread of Yayoi farmers by a process of demic diffusion, similar to the one in Europe during the Neolithic. We suggest that when the Yayoi men entered Japan, and brought with them agriculture and new technologies, they also raised the carrying capacity of the area first colonized, leading to an increase in the size of the newly admixed populations. When this area could no longer support the increased population, their descendents expanded into new territories, repeating the admixture process. By the time the geographic limits of Japan were reached (northeastward until the Hokkaido Island and southwestward in the Ryukyu Islands), there was a gradual dilution of the Yayoi’s gene pool. ^*^

“During the admixture process, it is important to note that the indigenous populations, the Jomon, who admixed with the Yayoi, were probably genetically differentiated from each other across the Japanese islands. How differentiated they were, some 2000 years ago, is difficult to say, but this pre-admixture differentiation should have some implication in the analyses, and their interpretation. The fact that all t1 posteriors were very similar to each other suggests that even if there was differentiation between HG populations, before the arrival of the Yayoi, they were not dramatically different, compared with the amount of drift that occurred since the admixture event. This indirectly shows that our model, despite its simplicity, captures important aspects of the ‘Neolithic transition’ in the Japanese archipelago. However, we note that, depending on whether we use the Ainu or Okinawans as P1, the t1 estimates are rather different, suggesting a much higher drift when the Ainu are used. This, together with the fact that the Ainu have much higher FST than the Okinawans against all other populations, suggests that the Ainu have probably had a much lower effective size than the Okinawans. It could be because of a greater isolation, a later and more limited influence of agriculture or a combination of both. [Source: “Revisiting the peopling of Japan: an admixture perspective” by Rita Rasteiro and Lounès Chikhi, Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciência, Portugal, Journal of Human Genetics (2009) May 8. 2009 ^*^]

Traditional View of the Japanese Inhabitation of Japan

Skull of Yayoi Man

In 1999, Martin Fackler of Associated Press wrote: “The invaders came from across the sea. With their advanced technology and overwhelming numbers, they quickly seized a foothold in the new world. The original inhabitants — tribes of hunter-gatherers, were driven back or perished. The story may sound familiar, but this is not the European conquest of the Americas. It is what archaeological research suggests may have happened in prehistoric Japan. It is a controversial view of Japan’s past that should raise eyebrows in a country of history buffs. But it doesn’t. Most Japanese have never even heard of it.[Source: Martin Fackler, Associated Press, August 31, 1999 /~/]

“That’s because while Japanese archaeologists have come to accept the view that their ancestors migrated from the Asian mainland, most popular discussion still adheres to the pre-World War II ideology that the Japanese are racially distinct from other Asians. “There has been a gap in thinking,” said Hisao Baba, curator of anthropology at the National Science Museum in Tokyo. “Archaeology has made a lot of progress, but politics has made it difficult for the general public to take a critical look at their own past.” /~/

“Of course, Japan isn’t alone in mixing history with politics. British archaeologists argue over the extent of Celtic vs. Anglo-Saxon heritage, and Americans have only recently begun to view their past from the perspective of American Indians. But in few countries are the issues as charged as here. The question of origin cuts to the core of Japan’s identity. Japanese have long celebrated themselves as ethnically unique, partly to offset the humiliation of having to borrow from the modern West. A sense of difference also made it easier to justify the military occupation of neighbors like Korea and China earlier in the century.” /~/

Earwax Offers Insights Into the Origins of Jomon and Yayoi Populations

The are two main ear wax types found in Japan: wet an dry. Students at Nagasaki High School were able to isolate the gene that determines ear wax type and with that knowledge collected samples ear wax from all over Japan and put together an ear wax map and found that dry ear wax is more common in western Japan. Studies have found that people living in Japan in the Jomon period (10,000 B.C. to 300 B.C.) carried the gene for wet ear wax while the gene for dry earwax was introduced into Japan by people that came from the Asian continent in the Yayoi period (300 B.C. to A.D. 300). [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, September 19, 2007 ^-^]

The Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “Based on the theory that a specific gene determines human earwax type, the student team studied frequencies of the gene for dry earwax, which is said to be common in Japan. The map is the fruit of collaboration between students of 42 of the 101 so-called super science high schools (SSH) around the nation–institutions...Students at Nagasaki Nishi High School extracted DNA from the nail samples, isolating the gene that determines earwax types, in cooperation with Nagasaki University. Using data from the samples, the student team found that the gene responsible for dry earwax is more common in western Japan. That tallies with an earlier study by Norio Niikawa, a professor at the Health Science University of Hokkaido, who found that people living in Japan during the Jomon period (ca 10,000 B.C.-ca 300 B.C.) carried the gene for wet earwax, while the gene for dry earwax was introduced into Japan by people who came from the Asian continent during the Yayoi period (ca 300 B.C.-ca A.D. 300) or later. [Source: Aileen Kawagoe, Heritage of Japan website, heritageofjapan.wordpress.com ^-^]

“Referencing a table on ethnic groups and the rate on earwax type, the students knew that the percentage of wet earwax occurence in the different ethnic populations was as follows: A) Black people: 100 percent; B) European: 100 percent; C) Micronesian: 60 percent; D) Chinese Taipei: 40 percent; E) Japanese: 16 percent; F) Mongol: 12 percent; G) Korean: 85 percent; H) Chinese: 4 percent; I) Tungusic: Hardly any. They also knew that ear wax type was determined by a specific gene and that about 85 percent of Japanese are genetically predisposed to have dry type ear wax. The students then collected fingernail clippings from 771 students living in 32 provinces, extracted the DNA from each sample, and isolated the gene that determines ear wax type. ^-^

“When they charted their results on a map, an odd pattern emerged showing that the gene responsible for dry earwax is more prevalent in western Japan. Experts conclude that the aboriginal population of Japan (called “Jomon” people) carried the gene for wet ear wax and that the Yayoi people who migrated to Japan from Asia about 2,000 years ago carried the gene for dry earwax gene for dry earwax. The distribution map of current earwax types in Japan created by the students reinforces the existing theory that Japan was invaded from the west from the Asian mainland and those invaders gradually spread to the rest of the country, moving east and north while displacing and/or absorbing the aboriginal population.” ^-^

Political Implications of DNA Links Between Japanese and Mainland Asians

Skull of Jomon Man

The DNA and skeletal evidence that Yayoi people and modern Japanese are similar genetically to modern Chinese and Koreans debunks the pre- World War II ideology and lingering conventional wisdom that Japanese are racially distinct from other Asians. Some Japanese still hold this belief. In some museums in Japan you can find displays ancient hunter-gatherers evolving into modern salarymen without any input from the Asian mainland.

Martin Fackler of Associated Press wrote: For much of this century, Japanese archaeologists said Japan’s gene pool had remained isolated since the end of the last ice age, more than 20,000 years ago. Confronted with evidence that a sudden change had swept Japan in about 400 B.C. — replacing a millennia-old hunter-gatherer culture with a society that could grow rice and forge iron weapons and tools — archaeologists attributed it to nothing more than technological borrowing from the mainland. [Source: Martin Fackler, Associated Press, August 31, 1999 /~/]

“Newspapers, which devote a remarkable amount of print to archaeological finds, proclaim any site, no matter how old, as left by “our ancestors.” School textbooks still give the last ice age as the date of the most recent migration to Japan from mainland Asia — if they mention outside influence at all. Even the museums curated by archaeologists themselves often display diagrams showing how ancient hunters evolved into the present-day Japanese “salaryman.” /~/

“So widely accepted are such views that when NHK aired a documentary two months ago describing some of the recent DNA findings, it was immediately deluged by more than 200 calls. “Most of the viewers expressed shock or surprise,” said NHK spokeswoman Akiko Toda. “A few refused to believe it.” /~/

“Archaeologists have a hard time explaining the gap in thinking. One reason, they say, is it takes time for academic theories to gain public acceptance. Then there is the caution shown by textbook compilers against adding ideas that are still in dispute. But at root, they say, may be a deep-seated reluctance among Japanese to accept that they share the same genes with their Korean and Chinese neighbors. /~/

“The attitude is left over from the start of this century, when Japan was building a colonial empire and justified its domination in terms of cultural and racial superiority. Until 1945, schoolchildren were taught that the emperor was of divine descent and the Japanese had lived on their islands since the creation of the world. While such attitudes may finally be changing, saying that the Japanese share recent roots with other Asians remains a social taboo that some researchers even today say they hesitate to break. “I was afraid when I first published my work. I didn’t know what sort of reaction I’d get,” said Satoshi Horai, a professor at the Graduate University for Advanced Studies near Tokyo, who conducted the DNA research linking Japanese with Koreans and Chinese. “It’s only since the 1970s that we started to see this period in history more dispassionately,” said Yoshinori Yasuda, a professor of archaeology at the International Research Center for Japanese Studies in Kyoto.” /~/

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons; National Museum of Science, Tokyo kahaku.go.jp; Yoshinogari Historical Park yoshinogari.jp. Yayoi houses: Ray Kinnane.

Text Sources: Aileen Kawagoe, Heritage of Japan website, heritageofjapan.wordpress.com ; Charles T. Keally, Professor of Archaeology and Anthropology (retired), Sophia University, Tokyo, ++; Topics in Japanese Cultural History” by Gregory Smits, Penn State University figal-sensei.org ~; Asia for Educators Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, afe.easia.columbia.edu ; Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan; Library of Congress; Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO); New York Times; Washington Post; Los Angeles Times; Daily Yomiuri; Japan News; Times of London; National Geographic; The New Yorker; Reuters; Associated Press; Lonely Planet Guides; Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications. Many sources are cited at the end of the facts for which they are used.

Last updated September 2016

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