Jōmon people

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Jōmon people (縄文, Jōmon jin) is the generic name of people who lived in the Japanese archipelago during the Jōmon period. Today most Japanese historians believe that the Jōmon were not a single homogeneous people but were possibly two or three distinct groups ("Northern and Southern Jōmon").[1][2]

A reconstructed model of a Jōmon man. Exhibition in National Museum of Nature and Science

Morphological characteristics[edit]

Male skull of the late Jōmon Period (replica). Excavated at Miyano Kaizuka (Iwate Prefecture). Exhibition in National Museum of Nature and Science.[3]

Several studies of numerous Jōmon skeletal remains that were excavated from various locations in the Japanese Archipelago allowed researchers to examine geographical differences during the Jōmon Period. However, very little geographical variation has been reported in many of these previous studies (e.g. Ogata, 1981; Dodo, 1982; Yamaguchi, 1982; Hanihara and Uchida, 1985; Mouri, 1988; Kondo, 1993, 1994); this has led researchers to regard the Jōmon as a morphologically homogeneous population.[4] But more recent anthropologic studies suggest that the Jōmon people were not a homogenous group. While the majority of the northern Jōmon in Hokkaido and Honshu show Ainu-like phenotypes, the southern-Jōmon on the Ryukyu Islands, Kyushu, Shikoku and parts of southern Honshu show similarities to East-Asian (neo-Mongoloid) phenotypes.[5][6]

A craniometric study (Brace et al. 2001) suggests morphological similarities to Caucasoids. The study results show a closer morphological relation between Ainu (including other Jōmon remnants) and West Asians rather than between Ainu and East Asians; the study concluded that the Ainu can be described as "Eurasian".[7]

"The fact that Late Pleistocene populations in northwest Europe and northeast Asia show morphological similarities suggests that there may have been actual genetic ties at one time. Those morphological similarities can still be shown between Europe and the descendants of the aboriginal population of the Japanese archipelago, i.e., the Ainu.

— Brace et al. 2001, Old World sources of the first New World human inhabitants: A comparative craniofacial view
John Batchelor took a picture of this Ainu man, who Batchelor said had hair completely covering his body.


Currently (2019) it is not known what language or languages were spoken during the Jōmon period. Suggested languages are: The Ainu language, Japonic languages, Tungusic languages, Austronesian languages, Paleosiberian languages or unknown and today extinct languages.[8][9]

While the most supported view is to equate the Ainu language with the Jōmon language this view is not unproblematic as at least four tribes in central- and western-Japan are believed to have spoken a Tungusic language, at least three tribes in Kyushu and Okinawa an Austronesian language and it is not known if there were other groups with different languages too.[2]


The culture of the Jōmon people is known as "Jōmon culture", it was largely based on food collection but it is suggested that Jōmon people practiced early agriculture. They gathered tree nuts and shellfish, laid the foundations for living such as hunting and fishing, and also made some cultivation, they used stoneware and pottery, and lived in a pit dwelling.[10]

Some elements of modern Japanese culture may come from one or more of the Jōmon groups. Among these elements are the precursors to Shinto, some marriage customs, architectural styles, and technological developments such as lacquerware, laminated yumi, metalworking, and glass making.


There is evidence that the Jōmon people built ships out of big trees and used them for Fishing and traveling. There is no agreement if they used sails or paddles;[11] the Jomon also used Obsidian, Jade and different kinds of wood.[12]


The religion of at least some Jōmon people was early Shintoism. (See Ko-Shintō) It was largely based on animism and possibly shamanism. Some historians link it to the Ainu religion as well, but this view is not undisputed.


This section deals with the suggested descendants of the people during the Jōmon period.

Ainu people[edit]

Historical extent of the Ainu people

It is generally agreed that the Ainu people are the direct descendants of the Jōmon people. Although the Ainu show some influence from the Okhotsk people, a genetic study shows that the Hokkaido Ainu share most of their genome with ancient Jomon samples from northern Honshu and Hokkaido.[13]


The Emishi, a former non-Yamato group in Honshu, are often linked to the Ainu people, but several historians suggest that they were their own Jōmon group and did not share close cultural connections to the Ainu.

The Satsumon Culture, one of the cultures that merged to originate the Ainu culture, is often speculated to be related to the Emishi culture.[14]

Siberian populations[edit]

Some ethnic groups in southeastern Siberia, such as the Ulch people, the Nivkh people and the Itelmens, show some Ainu-like genome informations, it is suggested that ancient Jōmon people migrated to parts of Siberia and mixed with the local population.[15]

Yamato people[edit]

The Yamato Japanese are mostly descended from the Yayoi people but also have admixture from the Jōmon people, it is estimated that the Jōmon ancestry (Ainu-like ancestry) is less than 20%.[16] Another study estimates the Jōmon ancestry (Ainu-like ancestry) in people from Tokyo at approximately 12%.[17]

Recent studies suggest that the Japanese people descend mostly from the Yayoi people, and that the Yayoi largely displaced the local Jōmon.[18]

Another genome research (Takahashi et al. 2019) further confirms that modern Japanese (Yamato) descend mostly from the Yayoi people. Mitochondrial DNA analysis of Jōmon and modern Japanese samples show that there is a discontinuity between the mtDNAs of people from the Jōmon period and people from the Kofun and Heian periods; this finding implies that the genetic conversion of the Japanese people may have occurred during or before the Kofun era, at least at the Shomyoji site.[19]

Recent studies have revealed that Jomon people are considerably genetically different from any other population, including modern-day Japanese.

— Takahashi et al. 2019, (Adachi et al., 2011; Adachi and Nara, 2018)

Ryukyuan people[edit]

According to several studies, the Ryukyuan people share more alleles with the Jōmon period (16,000–3,000 years ago) hunter-gatherers and Ainu people than the Yamato Japanese, have smaller genetic contributions from Asian continental populations, which supports the dual-structure model of K. Hanihara (1991), a widely accepted theory which suggests that the Yamato Japanese are more admixed with Asian agricultural continental people (from the Korean Peninsula) than the Ainu and the Ryukyuans, with major admixture occurring in and after the Yayoi period (3,000-1,700 years ago).[16][20][21][22][23][24][25]

Within the Japanese population, the Ryukyuans make a separate and one of the two genome-wide clusters along the main-island Honshu;[26][27] the Jomon ancestry is estimated at approximately 28%[28] or 50-60%,[29][30][31] depending on various studies. The admixture event which formed the admixed Ryukyuans was estimated at least 1100–1075 years ago, which corresponds to the Gusuku period, and is considered to be related to the arrival of migrants from Japan.[28] Thus, the Ryukyuans appear to be genetically closest to the Ainu from the Ainu viewpoint, whereas it is exactly the opposite from the Ryukyuans' viewpoint, who are closest to the Yamato Japanese.[30]

According to recent genome studies, Ryukyuans and especially Okinawans are closest to other East Asians but are also relative homogenous on a genetic level; the study did not find much evidence for a strong Jōmon influence on Ryukyuans. On average, the Okinawans were found to share 80.8% admixture with Japanese and 19.2% admixture with Chinese. Individual admixture estimates were quite variable and ranged from 5.84% to 57.82% Chinese admixture,[22] which likely coincides with historical migrations of Chinese people to Okinawa.[32]


Proposed Origin[edit]

The origin of the Jōmon people and their ancestors is disputed. Several theories suggested Southeast Asia or Northeast Asia as possible place of origin. Another theory supported an origin in East Asia. Newest genetic studies (since 2017) conclude that the Jōmon are the last descendants of a unique group of ancient people; the study suggests an ancient origin in modern Central Asia.[17][33] According to a recent study (Takahashi et al. 2019), the Jōmon are genetically different and not related to any modern ethnic group.[19]

Despite their morphological similarity to Caucasoids, the Jomon, when compared with worldwide populations, principal component analysis illustrates the genetic similarity of the Jomon and East Eurasians compared with African, European, Sahulian and Native American peoples. However, Jomon samples are located slightly closer to the center of the three major population groups (African, West Eurasian, and East Eurasian.[34]

The comparison with the genome-wide single nucleotide polymorphism data of HGDP (Human Genome Diversity Panel) populations also showed the unique status of the Sanganji Jomon, who was positioned far apart from all modern East Eurasians; the uniqueness of the Sanganji Jomon within East Eurasians is consistent with the results including Europeans and Africans. When the Ainu, the mainland Japanese and the Ryukyuans from the Japanese Archipelago and CHB28 (Chinese from Beijing) were compared with Sanganji Jomon, PC1 separated the Ainu and Sanganji Jomon from the other populations; the population closest to the Sanganji Jomon was the Ainu, followed by the Ryukyuan and then the mainland Japanese (Yamato).[16][16]

Another study by Hideaki Kanzawa showed that the Jōmon people of Hokkaido and Honshu have a genome that is commonly found in Arctic populations but is rare in Yamato people; the study further suggests that the Jōmon drunk alcohol and had wet earwax, which is more common in non-East Asians.[35]

After several studies in 2019, scientists suggest that the Jomon are descendants of an ancient continental Eurasian population about 38.000 years ago. The Jomon cluster as own clade, distinct from East Asians, but share some relations to costal people of northern and southern East Asia, including modern Japanese, Ulchi, Koreans and native Taiwanese.[36]

Paternal lineages[edit]

It is thought that the haplogroups D1b and C1a1 were frequent in Jōmon people. In fact, a Jōmon man excavated from Rebun Island was found to belong to Haplogroup D1b2a(D-CTS 220).[37] Haplogroup D1b is found in about 38% and haplogroup C1a1 in about 5%[33] of modern Japanese people. C1a1 has its highest amount in Tokushima Prefecture at about 10%, followed by Okinawa Prefecture, Aomori Prefecture, and Tokyo at about 7-8%.[33][38] In addition, it is assumed that the haplogroup C2 existed in a small amount of Jōmon people.[39]

Haplogroup D-M174 is common in modern Japanese, Tibetans, Pumi, Nakhi and Andamanese tribes. A medium distribution of haplogroup D is also found in Central Asia and other minority groups in China.[40] Haplogroup C1a has been found in modern Japanese, Paleolithic and Neolithic Europe, and in very few samples of modern Europeans, Armenians, Algerians, Nepalis, Koreans, and northeast Chinese. Mitsuru Sakitani said that C1a1's ancestral type possibly reached Japan via the Korean Peninsula via Altai Mountains from South-west Asia.[41]

A recent DNA study in 2019 suggests that haplogroup D was carried by about 70% of the ancient Jomon people. A specific Japanese-Jomon clade (Clade1) is only found in ancient Jomon and modern Japanese. No other population was found to carry this specific clade, which support the distinct position of the Jomon population.[42]

Maternal lineages[edit]

MtDNA Haplogroup of Jōmon people is characterized by the presence of haplogroups M7a and N9b.

M7a is estimated to share a most recent common ancestor with M7b'c, a clade whose members are found mainly in Japan (including Jōmon people), other parts of East Asia, and Southeast Asia, 33,500 (95% CI 26,300 <-> 42,000) years before present.[43] All extant members of haplogroup M7a are estimated to share a most recent common ancestor 20,500 (95% CI 14,700 <-> 27,800) years before present.[43] Haplogroup M7a now has its highest frequency in Okinawa.

Haplogroup N9b is estimated to share a most recent common ancestor with N9a and Y, two clades that are widespread in eastern Asia, 37,700 (95% CI 29,600 <-> 47,300) years before present.[43] All extant members of haplogroup N9b are estimated to share a most recent common ancestor 21,100 (95% CI 16,700 <-> 26,200) years before present.[43] Haplogroup N9b now has its highest frequency among Tungusic peoples in southeastern Siberia (especially Udeges), but it has been found to be very common in skeletal remains of Jōmon people of northern Japan (Tōhoku and Hokkaidō).

In addition, haplogroups D4, D5, M7b, M9a, M10, G, A, B, and F have been found in Jōmon people as well;[44][45] these latter haplogroups are all distributed widely among populations of East Asia (including modern Japanese, Ryukyuans, and Ainus) and Southeast Asia, but some of their subclades are distributed almost exclusively in Japan.

ATL retrovirus[edit]

The gene related to Jōmon people is a retrovirus of ATL (human T lymphotropic virus, HTVL-I); this virus was discovered as a cause of adult T cell leukemia (ATL), and research was advanced by Takuo Hinuma of Kyoto University Virus Research Institute.

Although it was known that many virus carriers existed in Japan, it was not found at all in neighboring countries of East Asia. Meanwhile, it has been found in many Africans, Native Americans, Tibetans, Siberians, Burmese people, some Polynesians, etc. Looking at distribution in Japan, it is seen particularly frequently in southern Kyushu, Nagasaki prefecture, Okinawa and among the Ainu, and it is seen at medium frequency in the southern part of Shikoku, southern part of the Kii Peninsula, the Pacific side of the Tōhoku region (Sanriku) and Oki Islands. Overall, carriers of the ATL retrovirus were found to be more common in remote areas and remote islands; when examining the well-developed areas of ATL in each region of Kyushu, Shikoku, and Tōhoku in detail, carriers are preserved at high rates in small settlements that were isolated from the surroundings and inconvenient for traffic.

The path of natural infection of this virus is limited to vertical infection between women and children (most often through breastfeeding) and horizontal infection between males and females (most often from males to females through sexual intercourse).[46]

Based on the above, Hinuma concluded that the high frequency area of this virus indicates the high density remain of Jōmon people.[47]

Funadomari Jomon study 2019[edit]

A full genome analysis (Kanzawa-Kiriyama et al. 2019)[48], using high-confidence SNPs and functional SNP assessments to assign possible phenotypic characteristics as well as Y-chromosome polymorphisms, analysed a male and a female Jomon sample. The study results suggest that the Jomon are their own distinct population and not closely related to other populations; the Funadomari Jomon are not related to Australo-Melanesians (including Andamanese) or Africans. The Jomon are closer to Eurasian populations and form a cluster near the “Basal East Asians”.

Moderm Japanese share about 9% to 13% of their genome with the Jomon. Jomon specific genome is also found in minor percentage in populations of Northeast Asia and Southeast Asia, suggesting gene-flow from Jomon related groups. Additionally, the Jomon share specific gene alleles with populations in the Arctic regions of Eurasia and northern America.

Tests using phylogenetic relationship suggests that the Jomon have 86% East Asian related ancestry and 14% West Asian/European related ancestry. According to the scientists, more data is needed to explain these results.


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