The National Science Museum is having an exhibition this summer entitled “Jomon vs. Yayoi”, comparing the first two human cultures found on the Japanese archipelago. The Jomon (10,000 BC to 300 BC) are named after their distinctive “cord-mark” pottery. Yayoi culture (300 BC to 250 AD) followed the Jomon period and introduced organized rice cultivation to Japan. What I find interesting about the ad for the exhibition is that they use two young fashionable female models with looks approximating the dominant theories about the two cultural periods.
Archeologists and historians have become increasingly confident about the idea that the Jomon and Yayoi were entirely different ethnic groups. The most common theories make out the Jomon to be either related to the Ainu peoples, or perhaps, less plausibly Austronesians. Several parts of the Japanese language resemble South Pacific languages — especially reduplication like giri giri, butsu butsu, kira kira etc. — and having the Jomon not be from mainland Asia but from southern islands instead would give credence to the idea that the Japanese language has an Austronesian superstratum to go along with its Altaic/Northeast Asian base. (This theory, however, is currently out of academic vogue.)
The Yayoi, on the other hand, are believed to have come from an area approximate to the proto-Korean states of Koguryo and Paekche. Immigrants from these regions introduced many aspects of “Japanese” civilization to Japan — for example, wet-rice farming and Shinto beliefs. Most agree that there was some manner of immigration from Korea around 400-300 BC, but there is much debate on the size of this influx and its impact. For a while, the dominant idea was that four million people filtered into Japan through Kyushu, but now this is seen to be impossible in the recognized time span. The jury is still out: Did the Yayoi mix with the Jomon to form a new period of Japanese civilization or replace the Jomon culture completely? Regardless of the various theories, the model on the right in the ad representing the Yayoi looks stereotypically Northeast Asian with slender eyes and lighter skin.
I’m not sure which theory this exhibition is supporting, but the picture seems to indicate a belief in two distinct racial/language groups meeting in Japan.