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 native to the Japanese
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. The Yamato clan incorporated native Japanese as well as
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
"Yamato Court" that existed in
Japan in the 4th century, and was
originally the name of the region where the
Yamato people first
Yamato Province (modern-day Nara Prefecture).[citation
needed] 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
2 History of usage
3 Ryukyuan people
4 See also
Wa (Japan) and Yamatai
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, Korean, and Japanese 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
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 Kyōto 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
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
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 defeat 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.
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 supported the
later discredited 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.
An Investigation of Global Policy with the Yamato Race as Nucleus
Ethnic groups of Japan
Yamato-damashii—‘the Japanese spirit’
^ David Blake Willis and Stephen Murphy-Shigematsu: Transcultural
Japan: At the Borderlands of Race, Gender and Identity,, p. 272:
"“Wajin,” which is written with Chinese characters that can also
be read “Yamato no hito” (Yamato person)".
^ Levin, Mark (February 1, 2008). "The Wajin's Whiteness: Law and Race
Privilege in Japan". Hōritsu Jihō (法律時報). 80 (2): 80–91.
SSRN 1551462 .
^ Robertson, J. (2002). "Blood talks: Eugenic modernity and the
creation of new Japanese". History and Anthropology. 13 (3):
191–216. doi:10.1080/0275720022000025547. PMID 19499628.
^ Weiner, Michael, ed. (2009). Japan’s Minorities: The Illusion of
Homogeneity (2nd ed.). Routledge.
^ Tignor, Robert (2013). Worlds Together, Worlds Apart Volume 1:
Beginnings through the Fifteenth Century. New York: W. W. Norton &
Company. p. 346. ISBN 978-0-393-12376-0.
^ "Ž×"n'ä?'‹ã?B?à". Inoues.net. Retrieved 2011-09-26.
^ Carr 1992, 9-10.
^ Carr 1992, 9.
^ Hou Han Shu, tr. Tsunoda 1951, 2.
^ Wei Zhi, tr. Tsunoda 1951, 13.
^ Robertson 2002.
^ Weiner 2009, xiv-xv.
^ Levin 2008, 6.
^ Levin 2008, 7.
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