Genetic origins of the Japanese: a partial support for the dual structure hypothesis

Am J Phys Anthropol. 1997 Apr;102(4):437-46. doi: 10.1002/(SICI)1096-8644(199704)102:4<437::AID-AJPA1>3.0.CO;2-P.


Based on the morphological characteristics of the skull and teeth, Hanihara ([1991] Japan Review 2:1-33) proposed the "dual structure model" for the formation of modern Japanese populations. We examine this model by dividing it into two independent hypotheses: 1) the Upper Paleolithic population of Japan that gave rise to the Neolithic Jomon people was of southeast Asian origin, and 2) modern Ainu and Ryukyuan (Okinawa) populations are direct descendants of the Jomon people, while Hondo (Main Island)-Japanese are mainly derived from the migrants from the northeast Asian continent after the Aeneolithic Yayoi period. Our aim is to examine the extent to which the model is supported by genetic evidence from modern populations, particularly from Japan and other Asian areas. Based on genetic distance analyses using data from up to 25 "classic" genetic markers, we find first that the three Japanese populations including Ainu and Ryukyuan clearly belong to a northeast Asian cluster group. This negates the first hypothesis of the model. Then, we find that Ainu and Ryukyuans share a group contrasting with Hondo-Japanese and Korean, supporting the second hypothesis of the model. Based on these results, we propose a modified version of the dual structure model which may explain the genetic, morphological, and archaeological evidence concerning the formation of modern Japanese populations.

MeSH terms

  • Asia
  • Asians / genetics*
  • Blood Group Antigens / genetics*
  • Butyrylcholinesterase / genetics
  • Cerumen
  • Color Vision Defects / genetics
  • Ethnicity
  • Humans
  • Japan
  • Korea / ethnology
  • Paleontology
  • Phylogeny*
  • Polymorphism, Genetic*
  • Probability
  • Skull / anatomy & histology
  • Tooth / anatomy & histology
  • Whites / genetics*


  • Blood Group Antigens
  • Butyrylcholinesterase