Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Ampotan on Paekche-built temple in Japan

I'm always fascinated by stories that bridge Korea and Japan, so naturally I was interested in this piece by Ampotan about excavations of the 8th century Kudara-ji Temple, built by the Paekche royal family after they fled to their dominions in Japan (Kudara is the Japanese pronounciation of 百済, the characters that form the name Paekche, also spelled Baekje).

He addresses the idea of Japanese awareness of their Korean roots. The Emperor himself has spoken proudly (or so it seemed) of his Korean ancestry that is delineated in ancient Japanese histories. Ampotan suggests that Japanese are generally well aware of their ancestors' origins from the Peninsula, and I have no evidence to fault him otherwise.

I do recall, back in the 1990s, the delightfully circumspect way in which the National Museum of Natural History described the origins of the Japanese people, saying that Koreans "exerted great genetic influence" on the Japanese. About the most indirect way of saying Japanese came from Korean ancestors. Unless they were implying ancient Korean scientists were doing gene therapy on ancient Japanese.

The Japanese, of course, also have a bit of Ryukuan and Ainu blood in them as well, but they brought this back to Korea during years of invasion and occupation in the 1500s (and 1900s — there are loads of closeted quarter and eighth Japanese people in Korea). The best analogy I could think of is the Portuguese and the Spanish making a swirl of Iberians. Or maybe the Viking-descended Scandinavians.


  1. The only thing I would like to add to Ampotan's article, for anybody else who bothered to read it, is that he (in my opinion) incorrectly states that even Paekche Koreans can trace their origins to people who came down from Mongolia. From what I remember, it was Onjo from Koguryo in 18 BC who founded the kingdom of Paekche. As Koguryo extended to modern day Manchuria, he may have confused Mongolia with Manchuria, which is still wrong as there was no Manchuria during that time (but rather Koguryo). Also, that last sentence where he says the critics (probably referring to Koreans) hold Japanese in disdain about their knowledge of origins is not accurate. Koreans don't want Japanese to admit they are "descended" from Koreans as this would be completely inaccurate. We just want them to admit, appreciate, and be aware of where some of their culture and genetic heritage is derived from, rather than thinking they are of a pure race (You don't need to point it out to me as I also do realize the irony when Koreans say "dan il min jok" 單一民族).

  2. I see your point. While Ampotan may be precise (and correct) about how many modern Japanese positively view their society's Korean origins (however extensively — historically or genetically — they see them), he does get sloppy with the stuff about Korea.

    It's like when people dismiss Korea by saying, "oh, they all came from China anyway," since "China" is the big country right next to Korea. Except that "China" (as in the indigenous lands of Han Chinese) are nowhere near China.

  3. Koreans don't want Japanese to admit they are "descended" from Koreans as this would be completely inaccurate.

    Actually, I'm not so sure. I have seen a model of Japanese development where the genetic contribution to present-day Japanese is about 90% from the Korean Peninsula from the Three Kingdoms Period onward. If you look at where development took place in Japan and where the indigenous Ainu now live, it follows a pattern similar to European settlement and Native American settlement in the United States. The Ainu that were once all over Japan, for example, are now concentrated mostly in relatively recently conquered and developed Hokkaido, in the farthest part away from Korea.

  4. Yes, I would agree that a large majority (I don't know about 90% though) of the Japanese population are descended from Korean genes (also Chinese then), the reason why I said it's inaccurate is because the "Japanese" are mixed with many other regions as well. As you pointed out the Ainu..there's an ongoing controversary as to the origins of the Ainu (most likely descended from the Jomon), but I would place my money that there's a fair amount of south east Asian and Pacific Islander genes mixed in via the Ryukyu islands. That's why when you look at the mix of modern Japanese, you do get many that look very southeast Asian, in addition to the ones who look very Chinese or Korean.

  5. The "90%" was referring to how much of the genetic contribution is in an individual, I think. So basically it means the typical Japanese genetic contribution is 90% Korean, and a few percent Ainu and the rest Southeast Asian or Pacific Islander (I guess mostly Ryukuan).

    But (and I'm speculating here) it's also possible that a mixing of Japanese with Korean during the Imjin Waeran may have also upped those numbers if they weren't that high to begin with.

    My point is that the Koreans and Japanese are genetically close, which undercuts the worst of all racist arguments, that some group we hate is genetically inferior, that their bad behavior, deficiencies, etc., are because of some natural wrongness about them. Neither the Japanese nor the Koreans could claim that about the other (even if the worst of the haters in each country do).

    As for Japanese who look very southeast Asian, there's a fair number of those in Korea as well. I have known several full-blooded Koreans who look so Southeast Asian that they get asked in Korea what country they're from. I think it's silly to say that they "don't look Korean" since they do look like a certain subset of Koreans who happen to look that way (am I making sense?).

    One was visiting me here in Hawaii and she had just given up trying to stay light-skinned. During her month in Hawaii (visiting her boyfriend and going to the beach) she got so dark her mother didn't recognize her.

    But I digress. I know a lot of native Japanese here in Hawaii, studying here for a few years, and surprisingly very few of them have that Southeast Asian look. Even the Okinawans look like garden-variety mainland Japanese, and the mainland Japanese, if they were wearing the right clothes and the right hairstyle, would look like Korean students.

    I guess my point is that it's silly for people in the two countries to talk up how different they are; of course Korea and Japan are unique and different, but they share an awful lot as well, and it's silly to talk as if the two have nothing to do with each other.


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