Japanese people

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Japanese people
Flag of Japan.svg
Seijin 2011.jpg
Japanese couple dressed in traditional kimono
Total population
c. 128.5 million
Regions with significant populations
 Japan   125 million[1]
Significant Japanese diaspora in:
 Brazil 1,600,000[2][3]
 United States 1,304,286[4]
 China (PRC) 140,134[5]note
 Philippines 120,000[6][7]
 Canada 109,740[8]
 Peru 100,000[9]
 Australia 71,013[10]
 United Kingdom 63,017[11]
 Thailand 45,805[10]note
 Germany 36,960[10]note
 Argentina 34,711
 France 30,947[10]note
 South Korea 28,320[10]note
 Mexico 28,100[12]
 Singapore 23,000[13]
 Malaysia 22,000[14]
 Hong Kong 21,297[5]
 Taiwan (ROC) 20,373[10]
 Micronesia 20,000[15]
 Bolivia 14,000[16]
 New Zealand 13,447[10]note
 Italy 12,156[10]note
 Indonesia 11,263[10]
 Vietnam 9,468
 Ecuador 5,000–10,000
  Switzerland 8,499[10]note
 New Caledonia 8,000[17]
 Spain 7,046[10]note
 Paraguay 7,000[18]
 Netherlands 6,616[10]
 Belgium 6,519[10]
 Marshall Islands 6,000[19]
 India 5,554[20]
 Palau 5,000[21]
 Macau 4,200[22]


Japanese, Portuguese, English
Predominantly Mahayana (Buddhism in Japan), Shinto and Non-religion
Minority Japanese new religions, other religions[1][24][25]

^ note: The population of naturalized Japanese people and their descendants is unknown. Only the number of the permanent residents with Japanese nationality is shown.

Japanese people ( Nihonjin?) are an ethnic group native to Japan.[26][27][28][29][30] Japanese people make up 98.5% of the total population of their country.[31] Worldwide, approximately 128.5 million people are of Japanese descent; of these, approximately 125 million are residents of Japan.[1] People of Japanese ancestry who live in other countries are referred to as the Japanese diaspora (日系人 Nikkeijin?). The term ethnic Japanese may also be used in some contexts to refer to particular ethnic groups, including the Yamato (the dominant ethnic group, comprising over 120 million), Ainu, and Ryukyuan people.


Main article: Japanese language

The Japanese language is a Japonic language that in the past was treated as a language isolate; it is related to the Ryukyuan languages. The Japanese language has a tripartite writing system using Hiragana, Katakana, and Kanji. Domestic Japanese people use primarily Japanese for daily interaction. The adult literacy rate in Japan exceeds 99%.[32]


A shinto festival in Hyogo Prefecture
Main article: Religion in Japan

Japanese religion has traditionally been syncretic in nature, combining elements of Buddhism and Shinto (Shinbutsu-shūgō). Shinto, a polytheistic religion with no book of religious canon, is Japan's native religion. Shinto was one of the traditional grounds for the right to the throne of the Japanese imperial family, and was codified as the state religion in 1868 (State Shinto), but was abolished by the American occupation in 1945. Mahayana Buddhism came to Japan in the sixth century and evolved into many different sects. Today, the largest form of Buddhism among Japanese people is the Jōdo Shinshū sect founded by Shinran.[citation needed]

Most Japanese people (84% to 96%)[33][34][35] profess to believe in both Shinto and Buddhism. Japanese people's religion functions mostly as a foundation for mythology, traditions, and neighborhood activities, rather than as the single source of moral guidelines for one's life.[citation needed]

Christianity in Japan is among the nation's minority religions. Just under 2%, or about 2.5 million, of Japan's population are Christians.[36] Many Japanese practice Christianity in the diaspora, in Brazil which is home to the largest Japanese population outside Japan,[37] About 60% of Japanese-Brazilians are Roman Catholics,[38] while 90% of Japanese Mexicans are Roman Catholic,[39] and about 37% of Japanese Americans are Christians (33% are Protestant and 4% Catholic).[40][41]


Main article: Japanese literature

Certain genres of writing originated in and are often associated with Japanese society. These include the haiku, tanka, and I Novel, although modern writers generally avoid these writing styles. Historically, many works have sought to capture or codify traditional Japanese cultural values and aesthetics. Some of the most famous of these include Murasaki Shikibu's The Tale of Genji (1021), about Heian court culture; Miyamoto Musashi's The Book of Five Rings (1645), concerning military strategy; Matsuo Bashō's Oku no Hosomichi (1691), a travelogue; and Jun'ichirō Tanizaki's essay "In Praise of Shadows" (1933), which contrasts Eastern and Western cultures.

Following the opening of Japan to the West in 1854, some works of this style were written in English by natives of Japan; they include Bushido: The Soul of Japan by Nitobe Inazō (1900), concerning samurai ethics, and The Book of Tea by Okakura Kakuzo (1906), which deals with the philosophical implications of the Japanese tea ceremony. Western observers have often attempted to evaluate Japanese society as well, to varying degrees of success; one of the most well-known and controversial works resulting from this is Ruth Benedict's The Chrysanthemum and the Sword (1946).

Twentieth-century Japanese writers recorded changes in Japanese society through their works. Some of the most notable authors included Natsume Sōseki, Jun'ichirō Tanizaki, Osamu Dazai, Yasunari Kawabata, Fumiko Enchi, Yukio Mishima, and Ryōtarō Shiba. In contemporary Japan, popular authors such as Ryū Murakami, Haruki Murakami, and Banana Yoshimoto are highly regarded.


The print Red Fuji from Hokusai's series, Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji.

Decorative arts in Japan date back to prehistoric times. Jōmon pottery includes examples with elaborate ornamentation. In the Yayoi period, artisans produced mirrors, spears, and ceremonial bells known as dōtaku. Later burial mounds, or kofun, preserve characteristic clay haniwa, as well as wall paintings.

Beginning in the Nara period, painting, calligraphy, and sculpture flourished under strong Confucian and Buddhist influences from China. Among the architectural achievements of this period are the Hōryū-ji and the Yakushi-ji, two Buddhist temples in Nara Prefecture. After the cessation of official relations with the Tang dynasty in the ninth century, Japanese art and architecture gradually became less influenced by China. Extravagant art and clothing was commissioned by nobles to decorate their court, and although the aristocracy was quite limited in size and power, many of these pieces are still extant. After the Tōdai-ji was attacked and burned during the Genpei War, a special office of restoration was founded, and the Tōdai-ji became an important artistic center. The leading masters of the time were Unkei and Kaikei.

Painting advanced in the Muromachi period in the form of ink and painting under the influence of Zen Buddhism as practiced by such masters as Sesshū Tōyō. Zen Buddhist tenets were also elaborated into the tea ceremony during the Sengoku period. During the Edo period, the polychrome painting screens of the Kanō school were made influential thanks to their powerful patrons (including the Tokugawas). Popular artists created ukiyo-e, woodblock prints for sale to commoners in the flourishing cities. Pottery such as Imari ware was highly valued as far away as Europe.

In theater, Noh is a traditional, spare dramatic form that developed in tandem with kyōgen farce. In stark contrast to the restrained refinement of noh, kabuki, an "explosion of color", uses every possible stage trick for dramatic effect. Plays include sensational events such as suicides, and many such works were performed in both kabuki and bunraku puppet theaters.

Since the Meiji Restoration, Japan has absorbed elements of Western culture. Its modern decorative, practical, and performing arts works span a spectrum ranging from the traditions of Japan to purely Western modes. Products of popular culture, including J-pop, manga, and anime have found audiences around the world.

Theories of origins[edit]

An Ainu man, circa 1930

Arai Hakuseki, who knew in the 18th century that there were stone tools in Japan, suggested that there was Shukushin in ancient Japan. After him, Philipp Franz von Siebold claimed that indigenous Japanese were Ainu people.[42] Iha Fuyū suggested that Japanese and Ryukyuan people have the same ethnic origin, based on his 1906 research of the Ryukyuan languages.[43] In the Taishō period, Torii Ryūzō claimed that Yamato people used Yayoi pottery and Ainu used Jōmon pottery.[42]

A Ryukyuan noro priestess, circa 1935

A common origin of Japanese has been proposed by a number of scholars since Arai Hakuseki first brought up the theory and Fujii Sadamoto, a pioneer of modern archeology in Japan, also treated the issue in 1781.[44] But after the end of World War II, Kotondo Hasebe and Hisashi Suzuki claimed that the origin of Japanese people was not the newcomers in the Yayoi period (300 BCE – 300 CE) but the people in the Jōmon period.[45]

However, Kazuro Hanihara announced a new racial admixture theory in 1984.[45] Hanihara also announced the theory "dual structure model" in English in 1991.[46] According to Hanihara, modern Japanese lineages began with Jōmon people, who moved into the Japanese archipelago during Paleolithic times from their homeland in southeast Asia. Hanihara believed that there was a second wave of immigrants, from northeast Asia to Japan from the Yayoi period. Following a population expansion in Neolithic times, these newcomers then found their way to the Japanese archipelago sometime during the Yayoi period. As a result, miscegenation was common in the island regions of Kyūshū, Shikoku, and Honshū, but did not prevail in the outlying islands of Okinawa and Hokkaidō, and the Ryukyuan and Ainu people continued to dominate there. Mark J. Hudson claimed that the main ethnic image of Japanese people was biologically and linguistically formed from 400 BCE to 1,200 CE.[45]

Masatoshi Nei opposed the "dual structure model" and alleged that the genetic distance data show that Japanese people originated in northeast Asia, moving to Japan perhaps more than thirty thousand years ago.[47]

On the other hand, research in October 2009 by the National Museum of Nature and Science et al. concluded that the Minatogawa Man, who was found in Okinawa and was regarded as evidence that Jōmon people came to Japan via the southern route, had a slender face unlike the Jōmon.[48] Hiroto Takamiya of the Sapporo University suggested that the people of Kyushu immigrated to Okinawa between the 10th and 12th centuries CE.[49]

A 2011 study by Sean Lee and Toshikazu Hasegawa[50] reported that a common origin of Japonic languages had originated around 2,182 years before present.[51]

Origin of Jōmon and Yayoi[edit]

Glacier cover in Japan at the height of the last glaciation about 20,000 years ago

Currently, the most well-regarded theory is that present-day Japanese are descendants of both the indigenous Jōmon people and the immigrant Yayoi people. The origins of the Jōmon and Yayoi people have often been a subject of dispute, and a recent Japanese publisher[52] has divided the potential routes of the people living on the Japanese archipelago as follows:

  • Aboriginals that have been living in Japan for more than 10,000 years. (Without geographic distinction, which means, the group of people living in islands from Hokkaido to Okinawa may all be considered to be Aboriginals in this case.)
  • Immigrants from the northern route (北方ルート in Japanese) including the people from the Korean Peninsula, Mainland China, Sakhalin Island, Mongolia, and Siberia.
  • Immigrants from the southern route (南方ルート in Japanese) including the people from the Pacific Islands, Southeast Asia, and in some context, India.

However, a clear consensus has not been reached.[53][54][55][56][57]


Paleolithic era[edit]

Archaeological evidence indicates that Stone Age people lived in the Japanese archipelago during the Paleolithic period between 39,000 and 21,000 years ago.[58][59] Japan was then connected to mainland Asia by at least one land bridge, and nomadic hunter-gatherers crossed to Japan from East Asia, Siberia, and possibly Kamchatka. Flint tools and bony implements of this era have been excavated in Japan.[60]

Jōmon people[edit]

Shakōki-dogū (遮光器土偶) (1000–400 BC), "goggle-eyed type" figurine. Tokyo National Museum, Japan.

Some of the world's oldest known pottery pieces were developed by the Jōmon people in the Upper Paleolithic period, 14th millennium BC. The name, "Jōmon" (縄文 Jōmon), which means "cord-impressed pattern", comes from the characteristic markings found on the pottery. The Jōmon people were Mesolithic hunter-gatherers, though at least one middle to late Jōmon site (Minami Mizote (南溝手?), ca. 1200–1000 BC) had a primitive rice-growing agriculture. They relied primarily on fish for protein. It is believed that the Jōmon had very likely migrated from North Asia or Central Asia and became the Ainu of today. Research suggests that the Ainu retain a certain degree of uniqueness in their genetic make-up, while having some affinities with other regional populations in Japan as well as the Nivkhs of the Russian Far East.

Mark J. Hudson of Nishikyushu University posits that Japan was settled by a Proto-Mongoloid population in the Pleistocene who became the Jōmon, and that their features can be seen in the Ainu and Ryukyuan people.[61] The Jomon share some physical characteristics, such as relatively abundant body hair, with Caucasians, but anthropological genetics shows them to derive from a separate genetic lineage from that of Europeans.[62]

Anthropologist Joseph Powell of the University of New Mexico said that the Ainu descend from the Jōmon people who are an East Asian population with "closest biological affinity with south-east Asians rather than western Eurasian peoples".[63] Turner found remains of Jōmon people of Japan to belong to Sundadont pattern similar with the Southern Mongoloid living populations of Taiwanese aborigines, Filipinos, Indonesians, Thais, Borneans, Laotians, and Malaysians.

Yayoi people[edit]

Around 400–300 BC, the Yayoi people began to enter the Japanese islands, intermingling with the Jōmon. The Yayoi brought wet-rice farming and advanced bronze and iron technology to Japan. Although the islands were already abundant with resources for hunting and dry-rice farming, Yayoi farmers created more productive wet-rice paddy field systems. This allowed the communities to support larger populations and spread over time, in turn becoming the basis for more advanced institutions and heralding the new civilization of the succeeding Kofun period.

The estimated population in the late Jōmon period was about one hundred thousand, compared to about three million by the Nara period. Taking the growth rates of hunting and agricultural societies into account, it is calculated that about one and half million immigrants moved to Japan in the period.


Japanese family in traditional folk dress, kimono, in 1957
Multigenerational Japanese family in 2003

Y-chromosome DNA[edit]

It has been noted since as early as 1995 that the distribution of Y-chromosome DNA markers among Japanese males differs significantly from the males of neighboring populations: "The Y Alu polymorphic (YAP) element is present in 42% of the Japanese and absent in the Taiwanese, confirming the irregular distribution of this polymorphism in Asia."[64]

In 1999, a study by Tatiana M. Karafet et al. aimed at identifying the nearest Old World relatives of indigenous American Y-DNA lineages included a sample of 118 Japanese, of whom 55 or 47% were found to belong to DE-YAP(xE-SRY4064), 54 or 46% were found to belong to K-M9(xTat, SRY9138, P-DYS257), 6 or 5.1% were found to belong to C-RPS4Y, 2 or 1.7% were found to belong to P-DYS257, and 1 or 0.8% were found to belong to BT-SRY10831.1(xC-RPS4Y, DE-YAP, K-M9).[65]

A comprehensive study of worldwide Y-DNA diversity (Underhill et al. 2000) included a sample of 23 males from Japan, of whom eight (35%) belonged to haplogroup D-M174 (including one D-M15, one D-M55(xM116.2), five D-M125, and one D-M151), six (26%) belonged to O-M175(xM122, M119, M95), five (22%) belonged to O-M122 (including two O-M122(xM7, M164, M159, M121, M134), two O-M134(xM117/M133), and one O-M117/M133(xM162)), three (13%) belonged to C-M130 (including one C-M130(xM38, M48/M77/M86, M93, M8/M105/M131), one C-M93, and one C-M8/M105/M131), and one (4.3%) belonged to N-M128.[66]

A Japanese girl

A 2005 study by Michael F. Hammer reports that of the 259 Japanese males samples tested, 34.7% belong to Haplogroup D, O-P31 (31.7%), O-M122 (20.1%), C-M8 (5.4%), C-M217 (3.1%), NO (2.3%) and N (1.5%).[67] The patrilines belonging to D-P37.1 are found in all Japanese groups, but are more frequently found in Ainu (75.0%) and Okinawa (55.6%) and are less frequently found in Shikoku (25.7%) and Kyushu (26.4%).[67] Haplogroup O and C-M8 are not found in Ainu, and C-M217 is not found in Okinawa.[67] Haplogroup N is detected in samples of central Japanese, but is not found in Ainu and Okinawa.[67] This study, and others, report that Y-chromosome patrilines crossed from the Asian mainland into the Japanese archipelago, and continue to make up a large proportion of the Japanese male lineage.[68] If focusing haplogroup O-P31 in those researches, the patrilines derived from its subclade O-SRY465 are frequently found in both Japanese (mean 32%,[69] with frequency in various samples ranging from 26%[70][71] to 36%[72]) and Koreans (mean 30%,[73] with frequency in various samples ranging from 19%[70][74] to 40%[72]). According to the research, these patrilines have undergone extensive genetic admixture with the Jōmon period populations previously established in Japan.[67]

A 2007 study by Nonaka et al. reported among 263 combined samples, the frequencies of the D2, O2b, and O3 lineages were 38.8%, 33.5%, and 16.8%, respectively, which constituted approximately 90% of the Japanese population. Haplogroup diversity for the binary polymorphisms was calculated to be 86.3%.[75]

Poznik et al. (2016) have reported that the males in the JPT (Japanese in Tokyo, Japan) sample[76] of the 1000 Genomes Project are 20/56 = 36% D2-M179, 18/56 = 32% O2b-M176, 10/56 = 18% O3-M122, 4/56 = 7.1% C1a1-M8, 2/56 = 3.6% O2a-K18, and 2/56 = 3.6% C2-M217.[77]

Mitochondrial DNA[edit]

According to an analysis of the 1000 Genomes Project's sample of Japanese collected in the Tokyo metropolitan area, the mtDNA haplogroups found among modern Japanese include D (42/118 = 35.6%, including 39/118 = 33.1% D4 and 3/118 = 2.5% D5), B (16/118 = 13.6%, including 11/118 = 9.3% B4 and 5/118 = 4.2% B5), M7 (12/118 = 10.2%), G (12/118 = 10.2%), N9 (10/118 = 8.5%), F (9/118 = 7.6%), A (8/118 = 6.8%), Z (4/118 = 3.4%), M9 (3/118 = 2.5%), and M8 (2/118 = 1.7%).[78]

Single-nucleotide polymorphism[edit]

A 2011 SNP consortium study done by the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Max Planck Society consisting of 1719 DNA samples determined that Koreans and Japanese clustered together confirming the findings of an earlier study that Koreans and Japanese are closely related. However, the Japanese were found to be genetically closer to South Asian populations as evident by a genetic position that is significantly closer towards South Asian populations on the principal component analysis (PCA) chart. Some Japanese individuals are also genetically closer to Southeast Asian and Melanesian populations when compared to other East Asians such as Koreans and Han Chinese, indicating possible genetic interactions between Japanese and these populations.[79]

A 2008 study about genome-wide SNPs of East Asians by Chao Tian et al. reported that Japanese, Koreans and Han Chinese are genetically distinguishable from southeast Asians, and that the Japanese are related to Koreans, who are more closely related to Han Chinese. However, the Japanese are relatively genetically distant from Han Chinese, compared to Koreans.[80]


Location of Imperial Japan

During the Japanese colonial period of 1895 to 1945, the phrase "Japanese people" was used to refer not only to residents of the Japanese archipelago, but also to people from colonies who held Japanese citizenship, such as Taiwanese people and Korean people. The official term used to refer to ethnic Japanese during this period was "inland people" (内地人 naichijin?). Such linguistic distinctions facilitated forced assimilation of colonized ethnic identities into a single Imperial Japanese identity.[81]

After the end of World War II, many Nivkh people and Orok people from southern Sakhalin, who held Japanese citizenship in Karafuto Prefecture, were forced to repatriate to Hokkaidō by the Soviet Union as a part of Japanese people. On the other hand, many Sakhalin Koreans who had held Japanese citizenship until the end of the war were left stateless by the Soviet occupation.[82]


Article 10 of the Constitution of Japan defines the term Japanese based on the Japanese Nationality.[83] Indeed, Japan accepts a steady flow of 15,000 new Japanese citizens by naturalization (帰化) per year.[84] The concept of the ethnic groups by the Japanese statistics is different from the ethnicity census of North American or some Western European statistics. For example, the United Kingdom Census asks ethnic or racial background which composites the population of the United Kingdom, regardless of their nationalities.[85] The Japanese Statistics Bureau, however, does not have this question. Since the Japanese population census asks the people's nationality rather than their ethnic background, naturalized Japanese citizens and Japanese nationals with multi-ethnic background are considered to be ethnically Japanese in the population census of Japan. Professor John Lie, from the University of California, Berkeley, in spite of the widespread belief that Japan is ethnically homogeneous, believes it is more accurate to describe Japan as a multiethnic society.[86] Even though such claims have long been rejected by other sectors of Japanese society such as former Japanese Prime Minister Tarō Asō, who has once described Japan as being a nation of "one race, one civilization, one language and one culture".[87]


The Japantown Peace Plaza during the Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival.

The term nikkeijin (日系人?) is used to refer to Japanese people who emigrated from Japan and their descendants.

Emigration from Japan was recorded as early as the 12th century to the Philippines and Borneo,[88] but did not become a mass phenomenon until the Meiji Era, when Japanese began to go to the Philippines, United States, Canada, Peru, Colombia, Brazil, and Argentina. There was also significant emigration to the territories of the Empire of Japan during the colonial period; however, most such emigrants repatriated to Japan after the end of World War II in Asia.[89]

According to the Association of Nikkei and Japanese Abroad, there are about 2.5 million nikkeijin living in their adopted countries. The largest of these foreign communities are in the Brazilian states of São Paulo and Paraná.[90] There are also significant cohesive Japanese communities in the Philippines,[91] East Malaysia, Peru, Buenos Aires, Córdoba and Misiones in Argentina, the U.S states of Hawaii, California, and Washington, and the Canadian cities of Vancouver and Toronto. Separately, the number of Japanese citizens living abroad is over one million according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

See also[edit]


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