Yamato people

The Yamato people (大和民族, Yamato minzoku, literally "Yamato ethnicity") or the Wajin (和人, Wajin, 倭, literally "Wa people")[2] are an East Asian ethnic group and a nation which is indigenous to the Japanese archipelago.[3][4][5][6][7][8][9][10][11][12][13][14][15][16] The term came to be used around the late 19th century to distinguish the settlers of mainland Japan from minority ethnic groups inhabiting the peripheral areas of the Japanese empire, such as the Ainu, Emishi, Ryukyuans, Nivkh, Oroks, as well as Koreans, Han-Chinese, Taiwanese aborigines, and Micronesian peoples who were incorporated into the Empire of Japan in the early 20th century. Clan leaders also elevated their own belief system that featured ancestor worship into a national religion known as Shinto.[17]

Yamato-no-Takeru, prince of the Yamato dynasty.
Total population
Approximately 124.76 million[1]
Regions with significant populations
Japanese Archipelago Japan
Large immigrants
Americas Brazil,  United States
Irreligious, Shintoism, Japanese Buddhism
Christianity, Japanese new religions and other religions
Related ethnic groups

The name was applied to the Imperial House of Japan or "Yamato Court" that existed in Japan in the 4th century; further, it was originally the name of the region where the Yamato people first settled in Yamato Province (modern-day Nara Prefecture). Generations of Japanese historians, linguists, and archeologists have debated whether the word is related to the earlier Yamatai (邪馬臺). The Yamato clan set up Japan's first and only dynasty.

In recent centuries, some Yamato have emigrated from Japan to Hawaii, Peru, Brazil, and other South American countries.


The Wajin ( also known as Wa or ) or Yamato were the names early China used to refer to an ethnic group living in Japan around the time of the Three Kingdoms period. Chinese, Japanese, and Korean scribes regularly wrote Wa or Yamato with one and the same Chinese character 倭 until the 8th century, when the Japanese found fault with it, replacing it with 和 "harmony, peace, balance". Retroactively, this character was adopted in Japan to refer to the country itself, often combined with the character 大, literally meaning "Great", similar to Great Qing or Great Britain, so as to write the preexisting name Yamato (大和) (e.g., such as 大淸帝國 "Great Qing Empire" or 大英帝國 "Great British Empire"). The pronunciation Yamato cannot be formed from the sounds of its constituent Chinese characters; it is speculated to originally refer to a place in Japan meaning "Mountain Gate" (山戸).[18]

The historical province of Yamato (now Nara Prefecture in central Honshu) borders Yamashiro Province (now the southern part of Kyoto Prefecture); however, the names of both provinces appear to contain the Japonic etymon yama, usually meaning "mountain(s)" (but sometimes having a meaning closer to "forest", especially in some Ryukyuan languages). Some other pairs of historical provinces of Japan exhibit similar sharing of one etymological element, such as Kazusa (<*Kami-tu-Fusa, "Upper Fusa") and Shimōsa (<*Simo-tu-Fusa, "Lower Fusa") or Kōzuke (<*Kami-tu-Ke, "Upper Ke") and Shimotsuke (<*Simo-tu-Ke, "Lower Ke"). In these latter cases, the pairs of provinces with similar names are thought to have been created through the subdivision of an earlier single province in prehistoric or protohistoric times.

Although the etymological origins of Wa remain uncertain, Chinese historical texts recorded an ancient people residing in the Japanese archipelago, named something like *ʼWâ or *ʼWər 倭. Carr[19]: 9–10  surveys prevalent proposals for the etymology of Wa ranging from feasible (transcribing Japanese first-person pronouns waga 我が "my; our" and ware 我 "I; we; oneself") to shameful (writing Japanese Wa as 倭 implying "dwarf"), and summarizes interpretations for *ʼWâ "Japanese" into variations on two etymologies: "behaviorally 'submissive' or physically 'short'". The first "submissive; obedient" explanation began with the (121 CE) Shuowen Jiezi dictionary. It defines 倭 as shùnmào 順皃 "obedient/submissive/docile appearance", graphically explains the "person; human' radical with a wěi 委 "bent" phonetic, and quotes the above Shi Jing poem. "Conceivably, when Chinese first met Japanese," Carr[19]: 9  suggests, "they transcribed Wa as *ʼWâ 'bent back' signifying 'compliant' bowing/obeisance. Bowing is noted in early historical references to Japan." Examples include "Respect is shown by squatting",[20] and "they either squat or kneel, with both hands on the ground. This is the way they show respect."[21]

Koji Nakayama interprets wēi 逶 "winding" as "very far away" and euphemistically translates 倭 as "separated from the continent". The second etymology of 倭 meaning "dwarf (variety of an animal or plant species), midget, little people" has possible cognates in ǎi 矮 "low, short (of stature)", 踒 "strain; sprain; bent legs", and 臥 "lie down; crouch; sit (animals and birds)". Early Chinese dynastic histories refer to a Zhūrúguó 侏儒國 "pygmy/dwarf country" located south of Japan, associated with possibly Okinawa Island or the Ryukyu Islands. Carr cites the historical precedence of construing Wa as "submissive people" and the "Country of Dwarfs" legend as evidence that the "little people" etymology was a secondary development.

The Wajin derived their name possibly from the Wu people. A large paddy ruins in the area was created around 450 BC, the Warring States period, in Kyushu, and a record states that "Wajin [were the] self-named descendants of Zhou". An influential theory states that the Wu people of the Yangtze River area that followed the hydroponic rice cultivation culture, which is also a symbol of Yangtze civilization, drifted to the Japanese archipelago around the 5th century BC, in collaboration with the destruction of the Kingdom of Wu.

History of UsageEdit

In the 6th century, the Yamato dynasty—one of many tribes, of various origins, who had settled Japan in prehistory—founded a state modeled on the Chinese states of Sui and Tang, the center of East Asian political influence at the time. As the Yamato influence expanded, their Old Japanese language became the common spoken language. Scientific racism was a Western idea which was imported from the late nineteenth century onward. Despite being hotly debated by Japanese scholars, the false notion of racial homogeneity was used as propaganda because of the political circumstances of late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Japan, which coincided with Japanese imperialism and World War II.[22] The concept of "pure blood" as a criterion for the uniqueness of the Yamato minzoku began circulating around 1880 in Japan, around the time some Japanese scientists began investigations into eugenics.[23]</ref>

In present-day Japan, the term Yamato minzoku may be seen as antiquated for connoting racial notions that have been discarded in many circles since Japan's surrender in World War II.[24] "Japanese people" or even "Japanese-Japanese" are often used instead, although these terms also have complications owing to their ambiguous blending of notions of ethnicity and nationality.[25] If regarded as a single ethnic group, the Yamato people are among the world's largest. They have ruled Japan for almost its entire history.

In present-day Japan statistics only counts their population in terms of nationality, rather than ethnicity, thus the number of ethnic Yamato and their actual population numbers are ambiguous. [26]


Proposed population migration routes into Japan, based on haplogroups.[27]
Migration routes into Japan during the Jōmon period.

The most well-regarded theory is that present-day Yamato Japanese are descedants from both the Yayoi people and the various local Jōmon people. Japanese people belong to the East Asian lineages D-M55 and O-M175, with a minority belonging to C-M217 and N-M231.[28][9][10][11] The reference population for the Japanese (Yamato) used in Geno 2.0 Next Generation is 89% East Asia, 2% Finland and Northern Siberia, 2% Central Asia, and 7% Southeast Asia & Oceania, making Japanese approximately ~100% East-Eurasian.[29] Genealogical research has indicated extremely similar genetic profiles between these groups, making them nearly indistinguishable from each other and ancient samples. Japanese people were found to share high genetic affinity with the ancient (~8,000 BC) "Devils_Gate_N" sample in the Amur region of Northeast Asia.[9] The modern Yamato are very closely related to other modern East Asians, particularly Koreans and Han Chinese.[30][31][32][33][9][10][11] Genealogical research has indicated extremely similar genetic profiles of a less than 1% total variation in spectrum between these three groups.[11]

The earliest written records about people in Japan are from Chinese sources. These sources spoke about the Wa people, the direct ancestors of the Yamato and other Japonic agriculturalists. The Wa of Na received a golden seal from the Emperor Guangwu of the Later Han dynasty. This event was recorded in the Book of the Later Han compiled by Fan Ye in the 5th century. The seal itself was discovered in northern Kyūshū in the 18th century.[34] Early Chinese historians described Wa as a land of hundreds of scattered tribal communities.[35] Third-century Chinese sources reported that the Wa/early Yamato lived on raw fish, vegetables, and rice served on bamboo and wooden trays, clapped their hands in worship (something still done in Shinto shrines today), and built earthen-grave mounds. They also maintained vassal-master relations, collected taxes, had provincial granaries and markets, and observed mourning. The Wei Zhi (Chinese: 魏志), which is part of the Records of the three Kingdoms, first mentions Yamataikoku and Queen Himiko in the 3rd century. According to the record, Himiko assumed the throne of Wa, as a spiritual leader, after a major civil war. Her younger brother was in charge of the affairs of state, including diplomatic relations with the Chinese court of the Kingdom of Wei.[36] When asked about their origins by the Wei embassy, the people of Wa claimed to be descendants of the people of Wu, a historic figure of the Wu Kingdom around the Yangtze Delta of China, however this is disputed.[37][38]

Japonic speakers were also present on the southern and central "Korean Peninsula". These "Peninsular Japonic agriculturalists" were later replaced/assimilated by Koreanic-speakers (from southern Manchuria) likely causing the Yayoi migration and expansion within the Japanese archipelago.[39][40] Whitman (2012) suggests that the Yayoi agriculturalists are not related to the proto-Koreans but that they were present on the Korean peninsula during the Mumun pottery period. According to him, Japonic arrived in the Korean peninsula around 1500 BC and was brought to the Japanese archipelago by the Yayoi agriculturalists at around 950 BC, during the late Jōmon period. The language family associated with both Mumun and Yayoi culture is Japonic. Koreanic arrived later from Manchuria to the Korean peninsula at around 300 BC and coexist with the descendants of the Japonic Mumun cultivators (or assimilated them). Both had influence on each other and a later founder effect diminished the internal variety of both language families.[41]

A genetic study (2019) estimated that modern Japanese (Yamato) share more than 90% of their genome with the Yayoi rice agriculturalists from southern China and less than 10% with the heterogeneous Jōmon period groups.[42] A more recent study by Gakuhari et al. 2019 estimates that modern Japanese people have between 92% to 96,7% Yayoi rice-agriculturalist ancestry (with the 3.3% to 8% from the heterogeneous Jōmon period tribes) and cluster closely with other Koreans and Han-Chinese, but are slightly with shifted towards eastern Siberians.[43]

SNP haplotype comparison between ancient Jōmon samples and modern populations. The Tujia people and the Hmong-Mien people of Central China were found to share the highest amount of genes with the Jōmon period tribes (Watanabe et al. 2021).

Watanabe et al. 2021 found that the Jōmon people were a heterogeneous population and that Japanese from different regions had different amounts of Jōmon-derived SNP alleles, ranging from 17.3% to 24% samplified by southern Jōmon, and 3.8% to 14.9% samplified by northern Jōmon. Southern Jōmon were genetically similar to contemporary East Asians (especially Tujia people, Tibetan people and Miao people), while northern Jōmon had a partial distinct ancestry component, possibly deriving from Paleolithic Siberians, next to an East Asian ancestry component. The Jōmon period population, although heterogeneous, were closest to contemporary East Asians and Native Americans.[44]

Tripartite structureEdit

In 2021, new research from a study published in the journal Science Advances found that the people of Japan bore genetic signatures from three ancient populations rather than just two as previously thought.[45][46]

The first was Japan's indigenous culture of hunter-gatherers called the Jomon, dating to roughly 15,000 years ago. The second was a population of Northeast Asian origins called the Yayoi, who arrived at about 900 BC, bringing wet-rice farming to Japan. According to the researchers, Japanese people has approximately 13% and 16% genetic ancestry from these two groups respectively.[45]

The remaining 71% of genetic ancestry was found to come from migrants that arrived around 300 AD during the Kofun period, and had genetic makeup mainly resembling the Han Chinese population of China. This migrant group was said to have brought cultural advances and centralised leadership to Japan. According to Shigeki Nakagome, co-leader of the study, "Chinese characters started to be used in this period, such as Chinese characters inscribed on metal implements, for example swords."[45]

Controversies regarding the Ryukyuan peopleEdit

There were disagreements about considering the Ryukyuans the same as the Yamato, or identify them as an independent but related ethnic group, or as a sub-group that constitutes Japanese ethnicity together with the Yamato. From the Meiji period onward, Japanese scholars[who?] supported the later discredited[dubious ] ideological viewpoint that they were a sub-group of the Yamato people. The Ryukyuans were assimilated into Japanese (Yamato) people with their ethnic identity suppressed by the Meiji government.[47] Many modern day Japanese people in the Ryukyu Islands are a mixture of Yamato and Ryukyuan.

Shinobu Orikuchi argued that the Ryukyuans were the "proto-Japanese" (原日本人, gen nippon jin), whereas Kunio Yanagita suggested they were a sub-group who settled in the Ryukyu Islands while the main migratory wave moved north to settle the Japanese archipelago and became the Yamato people.[citation needed]

See alsoEdit


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