Dogu,a Jomon Period clay figure
Humans are believed to have first arrived in Japan by around 35,000 to 40,000 years ago, possibly following great herds of animals across land bridges connecting the islands of Japan with the Asian continent but more likely on boats via the chain of islands that link Taiwan, Okinawa and the southern Japanese island of Kyushu. Early man is believed to have reached Japan from the Eurasian continent by three routes: 1) from Taiwan to the islands of Okinawa; 2) from Korea to Kyushu; and 3) from Russia to Hokkaido.

Some archaeologists believe that people may have arrived on the Japanese archipelago as far back as 100,000 years ago, during an ice age, when Japan was connected to the Asian mainland by land bridges to the Korean peninsula in the south and the Amur River Delta (between present-day China and Russia) via Sakhalin Island in the north. Fossils of ancient elephants have been found near Nagano, Japan but no signs of human habitation have been found from the period in which these elephants lived.

Most scholars believe that the ancestors of modern Japanese arrived in two waves of migrations. There are two theories as to the origin of the first wave. The second wave came from Korea about 2,300 years ago. One theory on the first wave to the main Japanese islands, based on dental morphology, holds these people originated from southeast Asia arrived via Okinawa about 12,000 years ago; a second theory, based on genetic data, suggests they came from northeastern Asia as far back as 40,000 years ago. People most likely came from both places but it is hard to pin down exactly when they arrived and which group was dominant. Some scholars believe that the first arrivals probably came from Siberia around 40,000 year ago, and they were probably hunters who pursued game such as wooly mammoth on Hokkaido, arriving via land bridges that existed between Hokkaido and the Asian mainland and Siberia when sea levels were low. Later, other groups are believed to have moved from Taiwan to Okinawa.

Minatogawa Man

According to Japanese sources: Archaeological discoveries have revealed that the ancient people inhabiting the archipelago in the Old Stone (Paleolithic) age lived mainly by hunting and gathering. The New Stone (Neolithic) age, dating from about 10,000 years ago, witnessed the manufacture of refined stone implements, the development of advanced hunting techniques using bows and arrows, and the production of earthenware containers for cooking and storing food. On the basis of archaeological finds, it has been postulated that hominid activity in Japan may date as early as 200,000 B.C., when the islands were connected to the Asian mainland. Although some scholars doubt this early date for habitation, most agree that by around 40,000 B.C. glaciation had reconnected the islands with the mainland. Based on archaeological evidence, they also agree that by between 35,000 and 30,000 B.C. Homo sapiens had migrated to the islands from eastern and southeastern Asia and had well-established patterns of hunting and gathering and stone toolmaking . Stone tools, inhabitation sites, and human fossils from this period have been found throughout all the islands of Japan. More stable living patterns gave rise by around 10,000 B.C. to a Neolithic or, as some scholars argue, Mesolithic culture. Possibly distant ancestors of the Ainu aboriginal people of modern Japan, members of the heterogeneous Jomon culture (ca. 10,000-300 B.C.) left the clearest archaeological record. [Source: Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan]

Websites and Resources: Early Japanese History Websites: Aileen Kawagoe, Heritage of Japan website,; Essay on Early Japan ; Japanese Archeology ; Ancient Japan Links on Archeolink ;Essay on Rice and History ; Metropolitan Museum of Art Department of Asian Art; Wikipedia article on the Jomon Wikipedia ; Historical Parks Sannai Maruyama Jomon Site in Northern Honshu ; Yoshinogari Historical Park ;Good Photos of Jomon, Yayoi and Kofun Sites at Japan-Photo Archive ; Wikipedia article on the Ainu Wikipedia ; Good Japanese History Websites: ; Wikipedia article on History of Japan Wikipedia ; Samurai Archives ; National Museum of Japanese History ; English Translations of Important Historical Documents

Genetic Evidence Links Japanese to People from Northeast Asia

A 1988 study on distribution of genetic markers of human immunoglobin allotypes among Mongoloid populations revealed a high frequency of the Gm ab3st gene marker in Japanese. This markers is also found among Buriats around Lake Baikal in Russia, Eskimos, Tibetans, Koreans, Ainus and Siberian and Far East Russian ethnic groups such as the Koryaks, Yakuts, Olunchuns and Tungus. [Source: “Characteristics of Mongoloid and neighboring populations based on the genetic markers of human immunoglobulins. Matsumoto H.Hum Genet. 1988 Nov;80(3):207-18: Aileen Kawagoe, Heritage of Japan website, ]

young Buriat woman from the early 20th century

H. Matsumoto wrote in the 1988 Human Genetics article: “Since the discovery in 1966 of the Gm ab3st gene, which characterizes Mongoloid populations, the distribution of allotypes of immunoglobulins (Gm) among Mongoloid populations scattered from Southeast Asia through East Asia to South America has been investigated, and the following conclusions can be drawn: 1) Mongoloid populations can be characterized by four Gm haplotypes, Gm ag, axg, ab3st, and afb1b3, and can be divided into two groups based on the analysis of genetic distances utilizing Gm haplotype frequency distributions: the first is a southern group characterized by a remarkably high frequency of Gm afb1b3 and a low frequency of Gm ag, and the second, a northern group characterized by a high frequency of both Gm ag and Gm ab3st but an extremely low frequency of Gm afb1b3. 2) Populations in China, mainly Han but including minority nationalities, show remarkable heterogeneity of Gm allotypes from north to south and contrast sharply to Korean and Japanese populations, which are considerably more homogenous with respect to these genetic markers. The center of dispersion of the Gm afb1b3 gene characterizing southern Mongoloids has been identified as the Guangxi and Yunnan area in the southwest of China. 3) The Gm ab3st gene, which is found with the highest incidence among the northern Baikal Buriats, flows in all directions. However, this gene shows a precipitous drop from mainland China to Taiwan and Southeast Asia and from North to South America, although it is still found in high frequency among Eskimos, Koryaks, Yakuts, Tibetans, Olunchuns, Tungus, Koreans, Japanese, and Ainus. On the other hand, the gene was introduced into Huis, Uyghurs, Indians, Iranians, and spread as far as to include Hungarians and Sardinians in Italy. On the basis of these results, it is concluded that the Japanese race belongs to northern Mongoloids and that the origin of the Japanese race was in Siberia, and most likely in the Baikal area of the Soviet Union."

In a 2009 article on the distribution of genetic markers of immunoglobulin G (Gm) among 130 Mongoloid populations in the world, Matsumoto wrote: "These markers allowed the populations to be clearly divided into 2 groups, the northern and southern groups. The northern group is characterized by high frequencies of 2 marker genes, ag and ab3st, and an extremely low frequency of the marker gene afb1b3; and the southern group, in contrast, is indicated by a remarkably high frequency of afb1b3 and low frequencies of ag and ab3st. Based on the geographical distribution of the markers and gene flow of Gm ag and ab3st (northern Mongoloid marker genes) from northeast Asia to the Japanese archipelago, the Japanese population belongs basically to the northern Mongoloid group and is thus suggested to have originated in northeast Asia, most likely in the Baikal area of Siberia. [Source: “The origin of the Japanese race based on genetic markers of immunoglobulin G, ” Matsumoto H., Proceedings of the Japan Academy, Ser. B, Physical and Biological Sciences, . 2009;85(2):69-82]

Genetic Links Between Japanese, Mongols of People Central Asia and the Silk Road

A team led by Yoshihiko Katsuyama, Shinshu University School of Medicine, reported: “The genetic polymorphism at four variable number of tandem repeats (D1S80, D4S43, COL2A1, D17S5) and one short tandem repeat (ACTBP2) loci was assessed by polymerase chain reaction analysis of genomic DNA obtained from blood samples of eight human populations (Japanese, Northern Han, Hui, Uygur, Kazakh, Saudi Arabian, Greek, Italian). […] A dendrogram constructed by the neighbor-joining method based on the allele frequencies of the five loci suggested that the five Asian populations (Japanese, Northern Han, Hui, Uygur, and Kazakh) formed one cluster, whereas the two European populations and one West Asian population (Italian, Greek, and Saudi Arabian) formed another. The genetic relationship among these populations may have been greatly influenced by admixture as a result of the migration of individuals along the Silk Road throughout history.” [Source: “Genetic Relationships among Japanese, Northern Han, Hui, Uygur, Kazakh, Greek, Saudi Arabian, and Italian Populations Based on Allelic Frequencies at Four VNTR (D1S80, D4S43, COL2A1, D17S5) and One STR (ACTBP2) Loci.” Human Heredity 48 (1998): pages 126-137. by Yoshihiko Katsuyama, et al ~~]

Genghis Khan

“Many ethnic groups now live in Central Asia as a result of migration of their ancestors to this region. In the 17th century, the Mongols led by Genghis Khan conquered the area from China to Eastern Europe. Moreover, many ethnic migrations took place along the Silk Road, leading to the settlement of East Asia, including the islands of Japan. The D17S5 VNTR polymorphism located on human chromosome 17 is characterized by a 70-bp core repeat. A total of 14 alleles was observed in the eight human populations studied. The distribution patterns for alleles 1 and 2 among the eight populations differed markedly. Allele 1 was more frequent in the Japanese, Northern Han, and Hui populations than in the Kazakh, Uygur, Greek, and Italian populations. ~~ “Two previous studies of genetic distance for various human populations were based on genetic markers associated with human leukocyte antigen (HLA) and immunoglobulins (Gm) loci. Imanishi et al. constructed a dendrogram based on the allele frequencies of two serologically typed HLA-A and HLA-B class I loci of 77 ethnic groups. The 77 populations were classified into four distinct groups (African, Oceanian, Asian, and Caucasoid), and populationslocated on the boundaries of these four groups were located on the borders between groups on the phylogenetic tree. The analysis revealed that several populations in central Asia, including the Ukrainian, Kazakh, and Uygur populations, were on the border between the Caucasoid and Asian groups, whereas the Japanese, Korean, and Tibetan populations were positioned on the border between the Asian and Oceanian groups. ~~

“Matsumoto showed that Mongoloid populations were characterized by four Gm haplotypes (Gm ag, Gm axg, Gm ab3st, and Gm afb1b3) and could be divided into two groups: A northern group characterized by high frequencies of the haplotypes Gm ag and Gm ab3st and a low frequency of Gm afb1b3, and a southern group characterized by a high frequency of Gm afb1b3 and low frequencies of Gm ag and Gm ab3st. The Japanese and Northern Han belong to the northern group on the basis of these criteria. In contrast, the Hui and Uygur populations showed five Gm haplotypes: Gm fb1b3, characteristic of Caucasoids, in addition to the four Gm haplotypes observed in Mongoloids. The Uygur population was characterized by a high prevalence of the Caucasoid haplotype Gm fb1b3, whereas the Hui population showed a higher frequency of the Mongoloid haplotype Gm afb1b3. As suggested by Matsumoto [31], the actual genetic distances shown in table 8 also support the fact that the Hui population is basically Asian with some European admixture (Hui vs. Northern Han and Italian: 0.130 and 0.175), while the Uygur population is basically European with some Asian admixture (Uygur vs. Northern Han and Italian: 0.150 and 0.149). ~~

“A dendrogram constructed by the neighbor-joining method based on the allele frequencies of the five loci revealed that five Asian populations (Japanese, Northern Han, Hui, Uygur, and Kazakh) formed one cluster, whereas the two European populations and one West Asian population (Italian, Greek, and Saudi Arabian) formed another at a genetic distance of 0.068. The geographically neighboring populations were closely related according to this approach. These genetic relationships among these neighboring populations may have been substantially influenced as a result of admixture through migration along the Silk Road. Our phylogenetic tree analysis also demonstrated the close racial relationship between the Japanese and Northern Han. ~~

“The main result of another study “Population origins in Mongolia: genetic structure analysis of ancient and modern DNA.” was that there was genetic similarity observed among Mongolian samples from different periods and geographic areas. Many Mongols live in the independent country of Mongolia. Others live in the Inner Mongolia region of north-central China. There are also Mongols in parts of Russia. There are two main divisions of the Mongol people: eastern Mongols (Khalkha Mongols who are the most numerous, Inner Mongolians, and Buryats) and Oirats. Yet another study showed these northern populations arrived there more than 30,000 years ago before the Last Glacial Maximum (LFM) (corroborated by Siberia’s extensive Upper Palaeolithic archaeological record), and before the expansion of other later populations from the south, post-LGM around 15,000 years ago." ~~

Genetic Links Between Japanese and Buryats

On genetic links between Japanese and Buryats of the Lake Baikal area, Katsuyama wrote: "Scientists have determined that the Jomon (and Ryukyuan and Ainu) people carry a genetic marker called the ab3st haplotype or blood marker that is shared by Mongoloid populations, found today among the Korean, Tibetan, Tungus, Eskimo and Yakut peoples, and that marker is commonest among the Buryat people living around Lake Baikal. The Gm ab3st gene, which is found with its the highest incidence among the northern Baikal Buriats, flows in all directions. However, this gene shows a precipitous drop from mainland China to Taiwan and Southeast Asia and from North to South America, although it is still found in high frequency among Eskimos, Koryaks, Yakuts, Tibetans, Olunchuns, Tungus, Koreans, Japanese, and Ainus. From the study “Characteristics of Mongoloid and neighboring populations based on the genetic markers of human immunoglobulins” we can gather that the earliest or one of the earliest arrivals of humans to settle Japan belonged to northern Mongoloids, originating in Siberia, most likely in the Baikal area of the Soviet Union. [Source: “Genetic Relationships among Japanese, Northern Han, Hui, Uygur, Kazakh, Greek, Saudi Arabian, and Italian Populations Based on Allelic Frequencies at Four VNTR (D1S80, D4S43, COL2A1, D17S5) and One STR (ACTBP2) Loci.” Human Heredity 48 (1998): pages 126-137. by Yoshihiko Katsuyama, et al ~~]

“Furthermore, scientists have recently extracted the mitochondrial DNA extracted from some human bones (some of the oldest) about 2,500 years ago from the Jomon era. Their recent research showed the mitochondrial DNA of 30 Jomon bodies was close to that of the Buryat population of southern Siberia, while DNA of only three bodies was close to that of the Korean, Chinese and Taiwanese populations. This particular mitochondrial DNA pattern can also be found today in many other Japanese women, at a ratio of one out of 10 women. ~~

“Experts have followed the trail of this mitochondrial DNA pattern even further back in time, and deep into Tibetan borders and Siberia. Experts now conclude that the prehistoric Japanese people and ancestors of the Jomon people originated from somewhere around Lake Baikal area in Russia (currently called Buryatia which is known to have been inhabited as long ago as 23,000 years ago). ~~

“Back then during the ice ages, only small tribes of paleo-asiatic stone tool using hunters had been able to survive the harsh climate of the glacial ages up to 25,000 years by living in warm pockets along Lake Baikal and other bodies of water in Siberia, India, China, as well as in the Altai mountains. When the global climate started to warm up some of these hunters started moving south in pursuit of large animals such as mammoths, and further to Japan (while others may have crossed the Bering strait to reach the North American continent). Scientists identify these Buryat tribes from the Baikal area who migrated into Southeast Asia, southwards into the Korean peninsula and into Eurasia, the Mongoloid tribes.” ~~

Also See: Christine Keyser-Tracqui, Eric Crubézy, Horolma Pamzsav, Tibor Varga, and Bertrand Ludes. “Population origins in Mongolia: genetic structure analysis of ancient and modern DNA.” American Journal of Physical Anthropology 131:2 (October 2006): pages 272-281.

Genetic Heritage of the Early People in Japan

Modern Japanese are believed to have evolved from two ancestral sources. Before the end of the Last Glacial Maximum, around 30,000 years ago, hunter-gatherers crossed from the Asian mainland to northern Japan via a land bridge connected to Sakhalin Island. These hunter-gatherers formed part of the ancient Jomon culture which is thought to have expanded around 20,000 years ago. [Source: Aileen Kawagoe, Heritage of Japan website, ]

Aileen Kawagoe wrote in Heritage of Japan: “The Jomon forerunners of the Japanese are linked to populations with Y-chromosome haplogroup D, which is commonly found in the present-day ethnic Ainu population in the northernmost island of Hokkaido. D subclades in East Asia are most prominent in Tibet and Japan where the D haplogroup has significant levels. D2 subclades are limited to Japan. The majority of Haplogroup D is found in the south and in Tibet and little diversification of the D lineage can be seen in this territory.

“The C3 subclade (SNP M217) is however found among the Ainu and Sakhalin Island and Kamchatka Peninsula populations. C3 haplotype diversity was also found to be high in Japan, in support of an old age for this paternal genealogy in Japan. The C3c subclade is prevalent in Siberian (Koryak) populations but is not represented in the Japanese island archipelago populations to the southeast. There is also the C1 subclade that is unique to Japan. Early Japanese founders from the C1 (SNP M8, age ~20kya) lineage have also been proposed, but this lineage is missing from the Ainu in Hokkaido so it may not have entered Japan from the north (but via the land bridge in the South by which it was connected to Korea). Haplogroup M7a, on the other hand, has been found elsewhere mainly among Japanese and Ryukyuans, and with lower frequency among Koreans, Chinese, Filipinos, Taiwanese aborigines, Buryats, Central Asians, and Waars of the Jaintia Hills in Meghalaya, India]."

Genetic Heritage of the Ainu People of Japan

The skull and facial structures of the Jomon people and the Ainu are similar to each other. DNA samples taken from ancient burials also indicates that the Jomon people were similar genetically to the Ainu but very different from modern Japanese. Similar analysis shows that modern Japanese are similar genetically to modern Chinese and Koreans. This suggests that modern Japanese evolved from Chinese and Koreans not Jomon people who are more closely linked to the Ainu. Aileen Kawagoe wrote in Heritage of Japan: “The Ainu who are widely considered to be of the “old” proto-Mongoloid stock closely related to the Tibetan Buryat and Yakut peoples, and descended from the Jomon people who lived in the Tohoku area until they were later pushed northwards into Hokkaido, afterwhich they resided around the Sea of Okhotsk, mainly Hokkaido, Sakhalin, Kuril Islands and the tip of Kamchatka. However, the DNA sequences show that Ainu are actually more remotely distanced from the Jomon than is commonly believed, as they were influenced by Siberians (as with Koreans). Evidence is the haplogroup C3 (no subclade) occurs at moderately high frequencies among these populations. [Source: Aileen Kawagoe, Heritage of Japan website, ]

“Genetic mapping studies (by Cavalli-Sforza) have shown a pattern of genetic expansion from the area of the Sea of Japan towards the rest of eastern Asia. This appears as the third most important genetic movement in Eastern Asia (after the “Great expansion” from the African continent, and a second expansion from the area of Northern Siberia), which suggests geographical expansion during the early Jomon period. [Source: Aileen Kawagoe, Heritage of Japan website, ]

“The origins of the Ainu have often been considered Jomon-jin, natives to Japan from the Jomon period. “The Ainu lived in this place a hundred thousand years before the Children of the Sun came” is told in one of their Yukar Upopo (Ainu legends). Ainu culture as it is known today however dates from only around 1,200 CE. Genetically, this puzzle needs to be explained. While genetic testing of the Ainu people has shown them to belong mainly to Y-haplogroup D2 and Y-DNA haplogroup D2 is found frequently throughout the Japanese Archipelago including among ancient Ryukyuans, and modern Okinawas (and outside of Japan, in Tibet and the Andaman Islands in the Indian Ocean) — in another study, two out of a sample of sixteen (or 12.5 percent) Ainu men were found to belong to Haplogroup March.

“Haplogroup C3 is the most common Y-chromosome haplogroup among the indigenous populations of the Russian Far East and Mongolia. It is also thought that the Jomon population expansion may have reached America along a path following the Pacific coast. Incidentally, two waves of migration carrying haplogroups C and Q are believed to have crossed the Bering Strait in the colonization of the Americas with North East Asia as the point of departure to America although the populations have remained independent of one another.

“Some researchers think this minority of Haplogroup C3 carriers among the Ainu may reflect a certain degree of genetic influence from the Nivkhs, a traditionally nomadic people of northern Sakhalin Island and the adjacent mainland, with whom the Ainu have long-standing cultural interactions (the Nivkhs’ mtDNA lineages mainly consist of: 1) haplogroup Y (11/51 = 21.6 percent); 2) haplogroup M7a(xM7a1) (8/51 = 15.7 percent); 3) haplogroup D (especially Shanghai); and 4) haplogroup G). Mitochondrial DNA haplogroup Y is otherwise found mainly among Nivkhs, and with lower frequency among Tungusic peoples, Koreans, Mongols (including Kalmyks and Buryats), Chinese, Japanese, Tajiks and other Central Asians, South Siberian Turkic peoples (e.g. Tuvans, Todjins, Soyots), Koryaks, Alyutors, Itelmens, Taiwanese aborigines, Filipinos, Indonesians, and Malaysians.

“Recent research suggests that the Ainu culture originated in a merger of the Okhotsk and Satsumon hunter-fishing-gathering cultures, one of the ancient Japanese cultures. A recent study examining comparative cranial traits suggests that the Ainu resemble the Okhotsk more than they do the Jomon. Thus another theory follows from the evidence which posits that the Ainu culture is a merger of Okhotsk and Satsumon cultures. Northeast populations bearing haplogroup subclades N and P stayed mainly in the North, while bearers of Haplogroup O followed a route south. Relatively latecomers to East Asia, the Haplogroup O expansion was however robust and rapid.”

Migration of the Jomon and Yayoi people

Genetic Data on the Second Wave Migration of People to Japan

Aileen Kawagoe wrote in Heritage of Japan: 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, ]

“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.

Toggle Harpoon, DNA and the Spread of People from Japan to Indonesia and North America

Archaeologists have found Japanese-style pottery fragments on Vanuatu (a Pacific island east of Papua New Guinea and 6,000 miles south of Japan) dated to 3000 B.C. Some scholars have speculated that maybe some ancient Jomon period fishermen were carried south by ocean currents. The pottery could have also arrived there through trade, via the Philippines or Borneo perhaps.

In his paper “Prehistoric and Historic Settlement Patterns in the Takase River Drainage, Northeastern Japan”, Charles T. Keally wrote: “The toggle harpoon and composite fishhook do seem to be major technological innovations of the Earliest Jomon peoples along the Pacific coast of northeastern Japan (Watanabe 1973: 112, 144). These implements were probably parts of a complex of technology and skills being developed for exploiting large marine animals such as tuna and sea mammals. This new strategy appears to have spread southward along the coast of northeastern Japan and northward around much of the North Pacific rim, where it formed part of the basis of the marine adaptations of many modern peoples (Vasilyevskiy, personal communication, 1987).” [Source: Charles T. Keally, “Prehistoric and Historic Settlement Patterns in the Takase River Drainage, Northeastern Japan”, May 27, 1997]

Aileen Kawagoe wrote in Heritage of Japan: “There are today many proponents of a theory that a great coastal migration occurred along Southern Asia, into Southeast Asia and Australia, and up the Asian coast as well as up along the Pacific Rim. It is believed to have migrated to the Americas some 6,000-8,000 years before present, and was carried by Na-Dené-speaking peoples into the northwest Pacific coast of North America. The distribution of Haplogroup C (Y-DNA) across the populations of northern Eurasia, eastern Eurasia, Oceania, and the Americas is thought to support this theory. Haplogroup C2 is considered to be the modal haplogroup which is found among certain local populations within Indonesia, Melanesia, Micronesia, and Polynesia; among the populations of some islands of Polynesia, and Haplogroup C1, an ancient but at present extremely rare lineage, is specific to the Japanese and Ryukyuan populations of Japan, among whom it occurs at a frequency of about 5 percent. [Source: Aileen Kawagoe, Heritage of Japan website, ]

Togglle-type fish hooks

“According to some scholars, a coastal migration occurred after the Ice Ages and that oceanographic and archaeological evidence supports that it took place by around 6,000 years ago. The trigger for the migration was apparently the last Ice Age flood that took place 7,500 years ago. Around 6,000 years ago, not only new maritime strategies and technologies, but also new boat designs and sailing and exploration techniques were seen in the Spice Islands between Sundaland and Sahul, which is the region where the Timorese discovery of the earliest deep-sea fishing techniques were reported to have been found. Toggle harpoon technology has been noted to be an innovation that characterized the peoples from Northeast Japan and all along the coastal areas of the Pacific Rim.

“It is possible and likely that fishing techniques of the early Timorese islanders and neighboring natives, may have diffused towards Pacific East Asians, reaching the Jomon people. The Jomon, particularly in the northeast of Japan are known to have been sophisticated fishermen with deep-sea fishing techniques belonging to the North Pacific-Bering Strait toggle-harpoon tradition zone.

“According to the experts, there was a “voyaging nursery” stretch that extended from the Sundaland-Sahul region all the way to Japan and that the maritime voyagers would have sailed outwards from the Spice Islands taking the migration paths following the East Australian Current flowing out of the West Pacific Warm Pool south to New Zealand, and then the Kurioshio Current flowing through the West Pacific Warm Pool north to Japan.

“Stephen Oppenheimer in his book “Eden in the East” and Charles and Frances Pierce in their “Oceanographic Migration” believe that the distributions of mitochondrial DNA haplogroups B and F in Pacific and Spice Island populations are the genetic evidence supporting the oceanographic migratory trail. Haplogroup B’s ancestral form are deemed to be found only in India, Borneo and Wallacea, and out of New Guinea to the rest of the Pacific, the first mutation (M38) is seen. Genetic research shows “high incidence in Southeast Asia, but only subhaplogroup F1b is well represented in the Japanese, including the indigenous Ainu and Ryukyuan” (the highest diversities for this subgroup are in eastern China including Taiwan (100 percent)). From the same study, Ryukyuans have been shown to possess many lineages that belong to the southern haplogroups F and B. Ryukyuans (and the possibly related Lahu tribe of Yunnan) possess high frequencies of subclades of B4 while the B5b1 derivative shows its highest diversity (67 percent) and frequency (1 percent) in mainland Japanese in particular.”

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, Heritage of Japan website, ^-^]

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. ^-^

“Referencing a table on ethnic groups and the rate on earwax type, the students knew that the percentage of wet earwax occurance 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.” ^-^

Genetic Links Between Ainu, Native Okinawans, Jomon and Yayoi People

Ainu, early 20th century

In 2012, Geneticists in Japan said they had identified similar inherited traits between the Ainu of Hokkaido and native Okinawans, two peoples whose homelands are far apart, on the opposite sides of Japan. Akira Hatan wrote in the Asahi Shimbun, “Joint research by the National Institute of Genetics, the University of Tokyo and other institutions found shared characteristics in the genome of the two peoples that date back to before the arrival of settlers from the Asian continent. Those migrants, the Yayoi, intermarried with the native Jomon people on Honshu and Kyushu. Most people in Japan today carry the genetic fingerprints of both groups. However, characteristics of the original Jomon genome are more prevalent in the Ainu and native Okinawans. [Source: Akira Hatan, Asahi Shimbun, November 1, 2012 ~]

The research supports the theory that the origin of the Japanese people derives from the mixing of the Yayoi and Jomon peoples. The researchers examined and compared the DNA of 36 Ainu, 35 native Okinawans, and 243 people living in Honshu and elsewhere in Japan. They also studied the DNA of ethnic Han Chinese living in Beijing. The Ainu DNA was from stored samples that had been collected about 30 years ago. The analysis found that the DNA of the Ainu bore closest similarity to people who had lived for generations in Okinawa. There was increasing dissimilarity with–in this order–those from Honshu, South Koreans and Chinese. Meanwhile, the researchers found that the DNA of people living in Honshu showed similarities with that of South Koreans and Chinese. [Source: Aileen Kawagoe, Heritage of Japan website,]

“The findings were to be published in the Journal of Human Genetics. Naruya Saito, a professor at the Division of Population Genetics at the National Institute of Genetics, said, “While it is more common for genetic traits to diverge the further people live from each other, the results reflect the unique character of the Japanese archipelago.”“ ~

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 ~~]

Jomon Versus Yayoi

“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.” ~~

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons, National Museum of Nature and Science, Tokyo; Dogu: British Museum; Jomon Versus Yayoi: Hokkaido Library; Genetics map: Human Genetics; Ainu: Smithsonian magazine.

Text Sources: Aileen Kawagoe, Heritage of Japan website,; Charles T. Keally, Professor of Archaeology and Anthropology (retired), Sophia University, Tokyo, ++; Topics in Japanese Cultural History” by Gregory Smits, Penn State University ~; Asia for Educators Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, ; 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; Time, Newsweek, 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 January 2017

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