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Taiwan-Okinawa log canoe voyage to reproduce Japan ancestor crossing to begin soon

Project members practice rowing a canoe on May 31, 2019. (Photo courtesy of the National Museum of Nature and Science)

TOKYO -- A project to reproduce the voyage assumed to have been made by the ancestors of the Japanese people to the archipelago about 30,000 years ago will take place sometime between June 25 and July 13, announced the National Museum of Nature and Science on June 18.


Project members will try to row a dugout canoe from Taiwan to Yonaguni Island, in Japan's southernmost prefecture of Okinawa. It is expected to take about 30-40 hours to complete the at least 200-kilometer route using just manpower. The date for departure will be finalized depending on the weather and ocean current.

The team mulled using a dried grass canoe or a bamboo raft, but instead chose a dugout, which has durability and can travel at around 4 kilometers per hour. On the assumption that ancestors who came to Japan settled and reproduced here, the five people who will row the vessel will include at least one woman.

Although Yonaguni, Japan's westernmost island, cannot be directly seen from the point of departure, project members will try to reach their destination without the use of GPS and other technology, and navigate their way using the stars, swell and wind.

Project leader Yosuke Kaifu, head of the Division of Human Evolution at the museum, stated, "By now, we have learned how difficult it is to travel by sea. Not only will this be an important experiment when talking about the origin of the Japanese people but also the history of human beings born on land that had set out to sea."

It is believed that Homo sapiens traveled from Africa and ended up in Japan around 30,000 years ago -- on three possible routes to either the northernmost prefecture of Hokkaido, the Nagasaki Prefecture city of Tsushima in southern Japan, or Okinawa. Kaifu and other members launched the full-scale project in 2016 and chose the route to Okinawa, which is considered the most difficult one.

(Japanese original by Ai Oba, Science & Environment News Department)

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