Are the Japanese Descendants of Chinese People?

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By Jonathon Ang

Actually, the average Japanese is unclear, and many have mixed responses to this question. Here is one popular version:

Legend has it that Qin Shi Huang (秦始皇), who lived from 259 to 210 B.C., yearned for immortality and sent someone to the East to look for the elixir of life.

That person was Xu Fu (徐福), a court sorcerer in China’s Qin Dynasty. His maritime expedition had 5,000 crew members, 3,000 boys and girls, and hundreds of craftsmen.

It was said that he landed and settled in Japan because he could not find any elixir, as returning empty-handed to Qin Shi Huang meant an assured death. And so, they became the ancestors of the Japanese people.

Is this true?

Xu Fu’s Expedition to Japan – Fact or Fiction?

Xu Fu’s expedition
Xu Fu’s expedition for the elixir of life.

In Japan today, there is a park in Wakayama Prefecture (和歌山県) called Jofuku Park (徐福公園), commemorating Xu Fu (Jofuku in Japanese) arriving in Japan 2,200 years ago. Did he really travel to Japan?

When Xu Fu reached Japan, sometime between 219 to 210 B.C., Japan did not have any writing system nor did they have many farming techniques. The Japanese people credited Xu Fu with bringing the Chinese writing system, farming techniques and medicinal plant knowledge to Japan. So it seems Xu Fu enlightened the Japanese.

Xu Fu was twice sent by Qin Shi Huang to look for the elixir of life. In his second trip, he never returned to China.

Xu Fu was mentioned in Records of the Grand Historian (太史公书 or 史记) and Three Kingdom Journals (三国志), the Book of Later Han (后汉书). But none of these books specifically mentioned that he had reached Japan.

In the Grand Historian Records, it was recorded that Xu Fu told Qin Shi Huang that there were three mountains in the East where immortals (神仙) lived. Qin Shi Huang sent Xu Fu to look for them. That was 219 B.C.

Xu Fu returned without the immortals, but told Qin Shi Huang that a giant sea creature was blocking his expedition. He asked for archers to kill the creature.

Qin Shi Huang agreed and sent archers to kill the creature in 210 B.C. When Xu Fu reached a place with vast land and water, he felt so comfortable with the nice warm weather, beautiful landscape, and kind-hearted natives. He decided to settle there and declared himself king of the land – Japan.

Here comes the critics: Maritime navigation techniques at that time was not good enough to bring Xu Fu to Japan. Xu Fu’s trip probably took months. It was highly possible that he would have met with rough waves and storms and, probably, had sunk into the sea.

Others predicted that Xu Fu actually went to Okinawa (back then, it was not a part of Japan), Taiwan, and even America, which might explain why Native Americans look Asian.

Japanese Descendants
Xu Fu’s statue in Jofuku Park, Wakayama Prefecture, Japan.

What Does Population Genetics Say?

The Japanese are fascinated with their roots. Generally, they have looked to the Chinese mainland for evidence. After all, the Japanese and Chinese look alike in many ways.

In population genetics, Japanese scientists look for the genetic origins of the modern Japanese people in Japan.

Their DNA sequencing shows the central Honshu (本州) people of Japan, i.e. the bulk of the Japanese people, to be genetically close to Sino-Tibetan and Han Chinese people (from the Jiangsu region).

In recent years, more archaeological and genetic evidence have been found in both eastern China and western Japan to lend credibility to this argument.

The Japanese DNA sequence is made up of:

25.8% Chinese

24.2% Korean

21% Unidentified

16.1% Okinawan

8.1% Ainu

4.8% Uniquely Japanese

It seems the Japanese are closest to Tibetans and Han Chinese, but only marginally more so than to the Koreans.

Xu Fu is not the grand ancestor of the Japanese people. But Xu Fu did land in Japan, according to the Japanese people. In fact, Xu Fu was worshipped as the God of Farming, the God of Medicine and the God of Silk.

With DNA data showing that the Japanese have mixed, diverse origins, they cannot be attributed to any single person or group.

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