Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Where the Japanese Came From

This article is long (I'll admit, though I've had it up in browser a couple days I've still only read half of it) but it's a really fascinating survey of current research into where the Japanese people came from, both historically and linguistically. This is an unusually charged question, as linguistic and archeological questions go, because a great deal of Japanese (and Korean) national self-identity is caught up in the question. And evidence is intriguingly sparse and contradictory. (For instance, linguistics would suggest that the Japanese language split off from Korean -- it's apparent closest cousin linguistically -- at least 4,000 years ago, yet genetically Japanese are very similar to mainlanders, suggesting a fairly recent divergence.)

On a slightly related side-note, one of the things that's always struck me watching Japanese anime is that there seems to be a cultural perception in Japan that Japanese are "the white people of Asia". Japanese characters often look, to American eyes, very nearly European or American, while Korean or Chinese characters have very strongly Asian features. There also seems to be a real fascination with settings (more often fantastic than historical) which are clearly patterned on or explicitly set in turn of the century Europe -- though often Japanese names are mixed in freely with vaguelly Germanic ones.


Anonymous said...

The American occupation of Japan after WWII had a very strange and lasting affect on the Japanese psyche: they embraced their new American overlords, and to this day American stuff is popular in Japan. McDonald's, Mickey Mouse, baseball, rock and roll, Japanese people like American stuff almost across the board. And since they have tetchy relations with their closest Asian neighbors (the Koreas, China), it makes a sort of sense that they would identify with us more than with their much closer relatives. Sort of.


Darwin said...

It may actually go back further than that too, though that may well be an element. When Japan re-emerged suddenly in the late 1860s, it was determined to become an imperial, colonial power on the model of the European powers. European dress was legally mandated for the upper class, a modern navy, army and industrial complex were built at breakneck speed under government supervision, balls featuring the latest walzes from Vienna were held at the Imperial court, and diplomats were sent to various European countries (and America) to gain insights on drafting a modern state structure. They settled primarily on Bismark's Prussia.

After beating the Russians in the Russo-Japanese war, and successfully attacking German colonies in Asia after making a late entry into World War one -- the Japanese expected to be granted their own sphere of influence after the war. Their disappointment in this (most of the German possessions went to France or were made independent) led to a strong return to a more traditional cultural direction in the 20s through WW2 as they determined that if they were to get an empire on the European model they would have to carve it out themselves.

To a great extent, the lead up to WW2 centered around Japan feeling that they were not being allowed at the table of Great Powers where they were convinced they belonged.

So there was some precedent for Japan thinking of itself as European, though when the US became strongly aware of Japan during WW2, it was when they were taking the opposite tack and emphasizing their Japanese-ness. You're probably right that emulating the American model of industrial power gave that urge a new direction.

Anonymous said...

One possible reason for the differences in linguistic and genetic divergence from Koreans is that, while the Japanese language split off from Korean a long time ago, there's been enough contact for genes to mix.