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Museum aims to raise 30 mil. yen to re-enact migration voyage by Japanese ancestors

Project members row a bamboo raft, which was stable but did not gain enough speed, on June 6, 2018. (Photo courtesy of the National Museum of Nature and Science)
Yonaguni Island is seen from Haulien Country in Taiwan at an altitude of 1,200 meters on Aug. 27, 2017. (Photo courtesy of the National Museum of Nature and Science)

The National Museum of Nature and Science in Tokyo aims to raise 30 million yen for a project to re-enact a voyage using a wooden dugout canoe thought to have been made by Japanese ancestors when they first came to the country.

The museum announced on July 8 the plan for a voyage between Taiwan and Yonaguni Island in Okinawa Prefecture next summer. The journey, over approximately 110 kilometers in the canoe, plans to re-create the path thought to have been taken by Japanese ancestors. The museum intends to compile a detailed voyage schedule by March next year.

The project was first launched by the same team in 2016 to scientifically research how Homo sapiens traveled from Africa to other parts of the world and ended up in Japan. After working with sea kayaking experts, the team tried in 2016 to complete the 75-kilometer route between Yonaguni Island and Iriomote Island in a dried grass canoe, and the 50-kilometer route between the city of Taitung in Taiwan and its remote islands on a bamboo raft in 2017. However, both of the voyages using just manpower resulted in failure due to strong winds, tides, and safety concerns at night.

Project members verified that a stone axe used more than 30,000 years ago can be used to cut down a large tree to make a dugout canoe on Sept. 13, 2017. (Photo courtesy of the National Museum of Nature and Science)

Through their experience, the team learned that they need a speed of at least three knots, or 5.6 kilometers per hour, in order to cross the Kuroshiro Current, which runs between Taiwan and Yonaguni Island. The bamboo raft had minimal weight but lacked speed, so this year they are making a dugout canoe, which is thought to be faster.

Last September, the team used a special stone axe to cut down a Japanese cedar tree one meter in diameter. The same type of axe is believed to have been historically used in Taiwan as remains of the tool were found in ancient ruins on the main island of Honshu in Japan dating back more than 30,000 years. The team started to hollow out the tree from May this year, and plans to finish the canoe by September. Visitors will be able to view the work process at the museum in Taito Ward in Tokyo from July 26 to Aug. 6. A test run in Japan is scheduled for October.

The voyage planned for next summer is expected to take two to three days, even if members continue to row all through the night. Project representative Yousuke Kaifu, the head of the Division of Human Evolution at the museum stated, "In addition to how to choose a suitable vessel, we plan to teach the rowers about the Kuroshiro Current, and have them experience night navigation."

A replica of a stone axe used more than 30,000 years ago is seen in this photo taken on Sept. 12, 2017. (Photo courtesy of the National Museum of Nature and Science)

The project team aims to raise 30 million yen through crowd funding on the internet to re-enact the voyage and is accepting donations through Sept. 14. For more information about the project and the fund, please go to: (in Japanese).

(Japanese original by Ai Oba, Tsukuba Bureau)

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