|Related ethnic groups|
|Ryukyuan people • Yayoi people • Jōmon people • Ainu people|
The Yamato people (大和民族 Yamato minzoku, also in older literature "Yamato race") and Wajin (和人 Wajin, literally "Wa people") are an East Asian ethnic group and nation native to the Japanese archipelago. The term came to be used around the late 19th century to distinguish the settlers of mainland Japan from minority ethnic groups who have settled the peripheral areas of Japan, such as the Ainu, Ryukyuans, Nivkh, Oroks, as well as Koreans, Taiwanese, and Taiwanese aborigines who were incorporated into the Empire of Japan in the early 20th century. People of Yamato Province incorporated native Japanese as well as Chinese and Korean migrants. Clan leaders also elevated their own belief system that featured ancestor worship into a national religion known as Shinto.
The name was applied to the Imperial House of Japan or "Yamato Court" that existed in Japan in the 4th century, and 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 (邪馬台). The Yamato clan set up Japan's first and only dynasty.
Wa (Wō) 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 Britain, so as to write the preexisting name Yamato (大和) (e.g., such as 大清帝國 “Great Qing Empire”, 大英帝國 “Great British Empire”). The pronunciation Yamato cannot be formed from the sounds of its constituent characters; it is speculated to originally refer to a place in Japan meaning "Mountain Gate" (山戸).
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 surveys prevalent proposals for Wa's etymology 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 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", and "they either squat or kneel, with both hands on the ground. This is the way they show respect."
Koji Nakayama interprets wēi 逶 "winding" as "very far away" and euphemistically translates Wō 倭 as "separated from the continent." The second etymology of wō 倭 meaning "dwarf (variety of an animal or plant species), midget, little people" has possible cognates in ǎi 矮 "low, short (of stature)", wō 踒 "strain; sprain; bent legs", and wò 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.
History of usage
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.
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.
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. "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. Professor Mark Levin suggests adopting into general use the term wajin (和人), already used in discourse to distinguish non-Ainu Japanese from Ainu, as a suitable global term for ethnic Japanese in Japan today. 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.
Kazuro Hanihara announced a new origin theory of the Yamato in the form of a "dual structure model" in 1991. 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, followed by a second wave of immigration, from northeast Asia to Japan during 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, admixture 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 of Jōmon ancestry continued to dominate there. Mark J. Hudson claims that the main ethnic image of Japanese people was biologically and linguistically formed from 400 BCE to 1,200 CE. Currently, the most well-regarded theory is that present-day Yamato Japanese are descendants of both the indigenous Jōmon people and the immigrant Yayoi people. A 2017 study on ancient Jōmon aDNA from the Sanganji shell mound in Tōhoku estimated that the modern mainland (Yamato) Japanese inherited <20% of Jōmon peoples' genomes, and firmly demonstrated that their ancestry resulted from genetic admixture of the indigenous Jōmon people and later migrants during and after the Yayoi period. The population found to be closest to the Jōmon was the Ainu, followed by the Ryukyuans and then the mainland (Yamato) Japanese.
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There was disagreement on whether to include the Ryukyuans in the Yamato, or identify them as an independent 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 related to the Yamato people. The Ryukyuans were assimilated into Japanese (Yamato) people with their ethnic identity suppressed by the Meiji government. 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.
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