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Reviewed by:
  • Ruins of Identity: Ethnogenesis in the Japanese Islands
  • C. Melvin Aikens
Ruins of Identity: Ethnogenesis in the Japanese Islands. Mark Hudson. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 1999. ix + 336 pp.; illustrations, maps, bibliography, index. Hardcover $60.00, Paper $31.95. ISBN: 0-8248-1930-6 (hardcover); 0-8248-2156-4 (paper).

In this book Hudson undertakes to specify the origin of Japanese ethnicity. In his formulation, it is placed in a major immigration of rice-farming people from adjacent Korea about 300-200 B.C. The Jomon hunter-gatherers who had occupied the islands for thousands of years before were not Japanese, but rather Ainu ancestors who [End Page 194] were mostly assimilated (except in the north) by Korean immigrants who themselves became the first Japanese. The title of the book is a double entendre; at once a reflection on the importance of historical and archaeological remains to the modern Japanese in contemplating their origins, and a reflection of Hudson's belief that his analysis leaves in ruins the popular Japanese concept of themselves as a unique people shaped by a residence in their islands that stretches back unbroken to the time of the Jomon culture (first marked by the appearance of pottery 12,000-13,000 years ago).

It is in essence an analysis that has long been propounded by non-Japanese students of Japanese culture. Its intellectual origins go back to the writings of von Baelz Aston and other European and American visitors who came to Japan in the decades after the Meiji Restoration of 1868, and it remains current today in both scholarly and popular Western versions of Japanese history. One must grant that any idea so persistent has to be underpinned by some very substantial considerations, and indeed it is. On the other hand, the widespread Japanese idea that their identity continues back in time well beyond Yayoi period immigrations also has a substantial foundation. Many Western writers, among whom Hudson must be numbered, have enjoyed the conceit that their view is the more dispassionate (and correct) one, while the popular Japanese view can be dismissed as a nationalistic illusion deliberately fostered by clever manipulation of the historical data.

The evidence that rice and other important cultural elements entered Japan from Korea is overwhelming, as Hudson's account (informed by a huge archaeological literature) makes clear. When this began to happen is less clear, though it was surely at least some centuries before the 200-300 b.c. date usually given for it on mainly historical rather than archaeological grounds.

That genes from continental populations are massively present in the modern Japanese population—which, however, still embodies major genetic heritage that is ancient in the islands—is also a surety. It is important to stress, however, that the genetic evidence which shows such a high degree of linkage between Japanese and continental populations is mainly derived from modern populations, not archaeological ones, on both sides of the water. Hudson's chapter, "Biological Anthropology and the Dual Structure Hypothesis," gives a good update of the diverse evidence from skeletal and genetic studies, and a good introduction to the fascinating literature bearing on this issue.

How the manifestly substantial presence of continental genes in the Japanese islands relates to a hypothesized importation of Japanese ethnicity from Korea during the Yayoi period is thus not entirely clear. Skeletal data in western Japan generally are notably scarce, and although both Jomon and Yayoi skeletons of distinctive morphology are known there, they are too few and their dating too limited to convincingly demonstrate that the continental genes now so prevalent in the modern Japanese population only began flowing into Japan during the Yayoi period. It is also well known that significant continental gene flow continued into later times. This is documented both archaeologically and by written accounts, as Japanese lords imported entire villages of Korean artisans into the Osaka-Kyoto-Nara region in early historical times. In sum although Hudson uses the biological evidence to argue an influx of ethnic Japanese people at the beginning of the Yayoi period, continental gene flow certainly is not definitively circumscribed to that brief interval by the currently available evidence. It is...


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pp. 194-196
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