Jōmon people (縄文, Jōmon jin) is the generic name of several people who lived in the Japanese archipelago during the Jōmon period. Today, most Japanese historians raise the possibility that the Jōmon were not a single homogeneous people but consisted of multiple groups.[1][2] According to one study published in May 2019, modern Japanese people have inherited on average about 10% of their genome from a Jōmon population represented by a specimen obtained from the Funadomari archaeological site on Rebun Island.[3] The indigenous Ryukyuan and Ainu peoples have higher amounts of Jōmon ancestry than the Japanese do.

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

Morphological characteristics

Male skull of the late Jōmon Period (replica). Excavated at Miyano Kaizuka (Iwate Prefecture). Exhibition in National Museum of Nature and Science.[4]

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.[5]

Tsunehiko Hanihara of the Department of Anatomy at Jichi Medical School suggests that the inhabitants of Aogashima and Okinawa, Minatogawa Man, the Jōmon and the modern Ainu are most likely directly descended from Proto-Mongoloids of Late Pleistocene Sundaland.[6] Professor of anthropology, Akazawa Takeru (1996) at the International Research Center for Japanese Studies, Kyoto, suggests that the Jōmon were Paleo-Mongoloid.[7]

A dental morphology study shows the Jōmon and Ainu have their own dental structure, but are generally closer to the Sundadont groups which is more common in Southeast Asia (Turner, 1990).[8] Nevertheless, the Ainu dental morphology differ from Sundadont in that the dental size is smaller.[9]

Brace (1990) said that the Jōmon peole share many physical characteristics with Caucasians, but form a separate genetic lineage than that of modern Europeans.[10]

Anthropologist Joseph Powell (1999) of the University of New Mexico wrote "... we follow Brace, Hunt (1990) and Turner (1990) in viewing the Ainu as a southeast Asian population derived from early Jōmon peoples of Japan, who have their closest biological affinity with South Asians rather than Western Eurasian peoples". They also suggest morphological similarities to the Kennewick Man. Other anthropologists such as Jantz and Owsley (1997) consider the Ainu as Caucasoids.[11]

A craniometric study by Brace et al. (2001) shows a closer morphological relation of the Jōmon and Ainu people to prehistoric and modern Europeans rather than to other contemporary East Asians. The study concludes that the Jōmon people are descendants of a population (dubbed "Eurasians" by Brace et al.) that moved into northern Eurasia (and also the Americas) in the Late Pleistocene, which significantly predates the expansion of the modern core population of East Asia.[12]

Anthropologic studies suggest that the Jōmon people were not a homogenous group and rather heterogeneous. According to Ishida et al. 2009, the majority of Jōmon appear similar to Bronze Age southern Siberians. There is evidence that the Jōmon retained features of Paleolithic populations from the western half of Eurasia (Europe), Central Asia and or southern Siberia.[9] On the other hand Jomon groups on the Kyushu, Shikoku and parts of southern Honshu show similarities to East-Asian (Mongoloid) phenotypes.[13]

(Kura et al. 2014) based on cranial and genetic characteristics suggests a northern origin for the Ainu people. The study results and genetic evidence suggest the Arctic regions of Eurasia as possible original homeland of the ancestral population of the northern Jōmon and Ainu people. The Jōmon people are considered to be a people of northern ancestry and belong mostly to Haplogroup D2 (D-M55 branch) which characterizes the northern people of Asia. Thus, despite their morphological similarities to Caucasoid populations, the Ainu are essentially of North Asiatic origin. Genetic evidence supports a relation with Arctic populations, such as the Chukchi people who are of northern Asian Mongoloid origin.[14] Jōmon show closest genetic relationship to East Asians rather than western Eurasian people. They also have haplogroups related with East Asians rather than with Caucasian.[15] The analysis also found that the Jomons are genetically close to groups in East Asian coastal areas from the Russian Far East through the Korean Peninsula, including indigenous Taiwanese people.[16]


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.[17][18]

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 and hunting but it is also suggested that the 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.[19]

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


The Jōmon pottery style used by the Jōmon is a “cord-marked” style and is the name contributor for the Jōmon period. The pottery style characteristic of the first phases of Jōmon culture was decorated by impressing cords into the surface of wet clay and is generally accepted to be among the oldest in East Asia and the world.[20] Next to clay pots and vessels, the Jōmon also made many fascinating statues (Dogū), clay masks, stone batons or rods and swords.[21]


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.[22] The Jomon also used Obsidian, Jade and different kinds of wood.[23] The Jōmon created many jewelry and ornamental items. The Magatama was likely invented by one of the Jōmon tribes and is commonly found in Japan.[21]


The religion of at, least some, Jōmon people was similar to early Shintoism (see Ko-Shintō). It was largely based on animism and possibly shamanism. Other likely similar religions are the Ryukyuan and Ainu religion.[24]


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

Ainu people

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.[25]


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 of northern Honshu, one of the cultures that merged to originate the Ainu culture, is often speculated to be related to the Emishi culture.[26]

Siberian populations

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.[27]

Yamato people

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 is less than 20%.[28] Another study estimates the Jōmon ancestry in people from Tokyo at approximately 12%.[29] One study estimates less than 10% of Jōmon ancestry in modern Yamato people.[3]

Recent studies suggest that the Japanese people descend mostly from the Yayoi people, and that the Yayoi largely displaced the local Jōmon.[30]

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.[31]

Ryukyuan people

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).[28][32][33][34][35][36][37]

Within the Japanese population, the Ryukyuans make a separate and one of the two genome-wide clusters along the main-island Honshu.[38][39] The Jomon ancestry is estimated at approximately 28%[40] or 50-60%,[41][42][43] 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.[40] 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.[42]

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,[34] which likely coincides with historical migrations of Chinese people to Okinawa.[44]


Proposed Origin

There are several theories about their origin. Some suggested Southeast Asia or Northeast Asia as possible place of origin, while other theories supported an origin in East Asia itself. Newest genetic studies conclude that the Jōmon were part of a population from continental Eurasia.[9][29][45]

Despite their morphological similarity to Caucasoids, the Jōmon, when compared with worldwide populations, are relative closest to East Asians compared with African, European, Sahulian (Australo-Melanesian) and Native American groups. 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 Jōmon, PC1 separated the Ainu and Sanganji Jōmon from the other populations. The population closest to the Sanganji Jōmon was the Ainu, followed by the Ryukyuan and then the mainland Japanese (Yamato).[28]

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 could digest alcohol and had wet earwax, which is more common in non-East Eurasians.[46][47]

Most scientists today suggest that the Jōmon are descendants of an ancient continental Eurasian population. The Jōmon cluster as own clade, distinct from other human population groups including East Asians, but share some relations to coastal people of East Asia, including modern Japanese, Ulchi, Koreans and native Taiwanese.[48]

According to Mitsuru Sakitani the Jōmon people are an admixture of two distinct ethnic groups: A more ancient group from Central Asia (carriers of Y chromosome D-M55), that were present since more than 30,000 years in Japan and a more recent group (carriers of Y chromosome C1a) that migrated to Japan about 13,000 years ago.[49]

Haplogroup D1 arrived from Central Asia to northern Kyushu via the Altai Mountains and the Korean Peninsula more than 40,000 years before present, and Haplogroup D-M55 (D1a2) was born in Japanese archipelago. D-M55 is distinct from other D-branches since more than 53,000 years and has five unique mutations not found the others.[49][50]

C1a1's ancestral type reached Japan over the Korean Peninsula via the Altai Mountains from Western Asia. Although its age of arrival is unknown, the spread of the existing subgroup is about 12,000 years ago, which is almost consistent with the start of the Jōmon period. The next relative C1a2 was common in ancient European and West Asian samples and is still found in small numbers of modern Europeans, Armenians, Algerians (Kabyle Berbers), and Nepalis.[49][51]

In an overview article of recent genetic and morphological studies, Schmidt & Seguchi (2014) also suggest multiple origins for the Jōmon populations.[52]

Paternal lineages

It is thought that the haplogroups D-M55 (D1a2) and C1a1 were frequent in Jōmon people. One Jōmon man excavated from Rebun Island was found to belong to Haplogroup D1a2b1(D-CTS 220).[53] Haplogroup D-M55 is found in about 35%[54]-39% and haplogroup C1a1 in about 5% of modern Japanese people.[45][55][56] In addition, it is assumed that the haplogroup C2 existed in a small amount of Jōmon people.[57]

D-M55 is only found in Japanese (Ainu, Ryukyuans, and Yamato)[58] and with low frequency (0-4%) among Koreans. 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.[49] Recently it was confirmed that the Japanese branch of haplogroup D-M55 is distinct and isolated from other D-branches since more than 53,000 years. The split between D1a2-M55 and D1a-F6251 (the latter of which is common in Tibet and has a moderate distribution in the rest of East Asia, Southeast Asia, and Central Asia) may have occurred in Central Asia, while some others suggest an instant split during the origin of haplogroup D itself, as the Japanese branch has five unique mutations not found in any other D-branch.[50]

A recent DNA study in 2019 suggests that haplogroup D-M55 was carried by about 70% and haplogroup C1a1 by about 30% of the ancient Jōmon people. A specific Japanese-Jōmon clade is only found in ancient Jōmon and modern Japanese. No other population was found to carry this specific clade, which supports the distinct position of the Jōmon population.[59]

Maternal lineages

MtDNA Haplogroup Jōmon people is characterized by the presence of haplogroups M7a and N9b. Studies published in 2004 and 2007 show the combined frequency of M7a and N9b observed in modern Japanese to be from 12~15% to 17% in mainstream Japanese.[60][61] N9b is frequently found in the Hokkaido Jomons while M7a is found frequently in the Tohoku Jomons.[62]

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.[63] 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.[63] 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.[63] 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.[63] 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.[64][65] 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.

The mtDNA haplogroups that are found in ancient Jomons and in some modern Japanese are D5, G, M7a, M7b, M10 and N9b. These haplogroups are not found in the Yayoi samples.[66]

ATL retrovirus

A gene common in 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, Indigenous people of New Guinea, 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).[67]

Based on the above, Hinuma concluded that the high frequency area of this virus indicates the high density remain of Jōmon people.[68]

Ikawazu Jōmon studies

In the current study, a analysis of partial genome sequences of Sanganji, Ikawazu, and Funadomari Jomon were found to share a common lineage, although the data were not sufficient to identify geographical variations. Based on craniometric data, Kondo et al. (2017).[69]

A partial genome analysis in 2018 about the prehistoric peopling of Southeast Asia analysed 26 ancient samples from Southeast Asia and Japan spanning from the late Neolithic to the Iron Age. They analysed an Ikawazu Jōmon (named IK002) sample from southeast Honshu. The Jomon female skeleton which was analyzed shows typical Jōmon morphology.[70]

This Jōmon individual partially shares some ancestry with prehistoric Hoabinhians, who also share some ancestry with Onge, Jehai (Peninsular Malaysia) in mainland Southeast Asia along with Indian groups and Papua New Guineans, which represents possible gene flow from that group into the Jōmon population.[71] On the 'Admixture graphs fitting ancient Southeast Asian genomes' Using qpGraph, present-day East Asians can be modeled as a mixture of an Önge-like population and a population related to the Tiányuán individual. While The Jōmon individual is modeled as a mix of Hòabìnhian (La368) and East Asian ancestry.[72][73] However, there is still lack of ancient genome data to understand the peopling history of East Eurasians. It is required to analyze more ancient genome data, if there found appropriate skeletons, in order to fill the gap and to prove the speculation.[74]

Her mitochondrial mtDNA is Haplogroup N9b which is typical of Northeast Siberian populations, this haplogroups in present-day Japaneses people (< 2.0%), but typically found in previous studies of Jomon mtDNA[75] N9b 4% in Okinawans, 6.9% in modern Ulchi 8% in Modern Ainu, 32.3% in the Udegey, People of the Amur-Ussuri where the region carry high frequencies of N9b.[60][61][76]

Another partial genome study in 2019 of the Jomon female Ikawazu IK002 show that she clusters as an outgroup with other East Eurasian populations. Using principal component analysis (PCA) IK002 clusters basal to present-day Southeast and East Asians and the Upper-Paleolithic human remain (40 kya) from Tiányuán Cave (ancestors to modern East Asians and Native Americas). However If IK002 were a true outgroup to later East Asian groups, this statistic is expected to be zero for any test population X. However, it find that together with Japanese, present-day Taiwan aborigines (Ami and Atayal), as well as minorities in the Okhotsk-Primorye region (Ulchi and Nivhk) also showed a significant excess of alleles haring with IK002. The highest IK002-related contributions is 41% in the Taiwanese aborigine Amis people. IK002 shows extra genetic affinity with the indigenous Taiwanese aborigines as well as with the Ulch people, which may also support the hypothesis of gene flow of Jomon-ancestry through migration. The Jomon female IK002 clusters closely with the Hokkaido Ainu, which is supporting previous findings that they are direct descendants of the Jomon people. The PCA plot showed the Jomon female sample IK002 is only slightly different from present-day people in East Eurasia and Japan with exception of Hokkaido Ainu. An ancestral component unique to IK002 is the most prevalent in the Hokkaido Ainu (average 79.3%). This component is also found at a minor percentage in mainland Japanese as well as East Siberian groups such as Ulchi (9.8% and 6.0%, respectively) who are natives in the Ulchsky District of Khabarovsk Krai. IK002 can be modelled as a basal lineage relative closer to East Asians, Northeast Asia/East Siberians, and Native Americans. The authors concluded that the ancestral Jōmon population may have arrived to East Asia and Japan through the southern Himalayas and Southeast Asia but say that more ancient genome data is needed to recreate their origin and migration.[74]

Funadomari Jōmon study (2019)

A full genome analysis (Kanzawa-Kiriyama et al. 2019),[77] 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 Funadomari archaeological site is located on a sandbar separating Lake Kushu from Funadomari Bay on the north coast of Rebun Island, a small island off the northwestern tip of Hokkaidō. The study results suggest that the Jōmon are their own distinct population and not closely related to other populations. The Funadomari Jōmon are not related to Australo-Melanesians (including Andamanese) or Africans. The Jōmon are closer to Eurasian populations and form a cluster near the “Basal East Asians”.

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

Tests using phylogenetic relationship suggests that the Funadomari Jōmon have about 86% East Asian related ancestry and about 14% West Asian/European related ancestry. According to the authors, more data is needed to explain these results and possible consequences.

Rebun Jōmon study (2019)

Another full genome analysis of an 3,800 year old Jōmon woman shows that this sample shared gene variants which are found only in Arctic populations of Eurasia, but are absent elsewhere. According to the authors this provides evidence that the Jomon fished and hunted fatty sea and land animals. The sample also showed a higher alcohol tolerance than other Eastern Eurasian populations. Further analysis suggest that the Jōmon sample was at high risk of developing liver spots if she spent to much time in the sun. The Jōmon sample had wet earwax, more common in non-East Asian populations.[47] Despite the strong differences, the Rebun Jōmon sample is relative closest to modern Japanese. Additionally the Rebun Jōmon sample is also relative closer to coastal groups such as Ulchi in Russia and some aboriginal Taiwanese than to Han-Chinese.[78]

Reconstruction of an ~3,800 year old Jōmon woman from Rebun Island.

A facial reconstruction in 2018 based on genome information of an 3,800 year old Jomon women from Rebun Island in Hokkaido showed that the color of the woman's skin was slightly darker than that of modern Japanese, her hair was thin and fine, and that the color of her eyes was light brown. Additionally, analysis revealed that the woman had blood type A+.[79]

In popular culture

Aspects of the Jōmon culture were used in the video gameThe Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild”. Nintendos art director Takizawa Satoru said that the Jōmon culture was the inspiration for the “Sheikah slates, shrines and other ancient objects” in the game.[80]

A recreated Jōmon village in the form of an experience park (Sarashina no Sato), which offers different activities, can be visited in Chikuma, Nagano.[81]

See also


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