National / Politics

Canoeists begin another attempt to replicate ancient sea migration between Taiwan and Japan

Kyodo

Museums in Taiwan and Japan on Sunday launched a third attempt to replicate a hypothetical human migration from Taiwan to Okinawa about 30,000 years ago.

The voyage in a dugout canoe is one of multiple research projects signed in 2017 between Taiwan’s National Museum of Prehistory and Japan’s National Museum of Nature and Science.

The Taiwanese museum said in a statement that five paddlers — one Taiwanese and four Japanese, including a woman — aboard the 7.6-meter-long wooden canoe made in Japan set off from Taitung County, southeastern Taiwan, at 1:30 p.m.

The plan is that the paddlers will not use any modern equipment such as a compass, watch or smartphone to navigate but instead rely on the stars and wind. If all goes well, the 205-kilometer-long journey to Yonaguni Island in Okinawa Prefecture is estimated to take less than three days, it said.

Yosuke Kaifu, leader of the Japanese team, said Japanese archaeologists have found that early humans migrated to Japan via three routes.

One is from the Korean Peninsula across the Tsushima Strait about 38,000 years ago, another is from Eurasia across the Tsugaru Strait that separates the islands of Honshu and Hokkaido, and the third follows the course of the Black Current, which begins off the Philippines and flows northeastward past Japan, about 30,000 years ago.

The discovery of relics dating back to more than 30,000 years ago on several islands of the Ryukyu archipelago has made archeologists speculate that a group of ancient settlers migrated to Japan from what is now Taiwan in the Paleolithic era, which extends from some 2.6 million years ago to around 15,000 years ago.

However, even if the project is successful, Kaifu said he will not jump to the conclusion that some ancestors of Japanese people came from Taiwan, but it would at least show the possibility is quite high and shed light on how difficult the journey would have been.

Before Kaifu persuaded the two museums to fund the project, he initiated a similar project in 2016 when two primitive canoes made from local straw departed from Yonaguni Island bound for Taiwan.

They only managed to reach the neighboring island of Iriomote, about 75 km away.

Since the two museums signed the agreement in 2017, two attempts have been made. The boat of the 2017 voyage, made of bamboo and rattan grown in Taiwan, made it from Dawu Township, Taitung County, to Green Island, which is about 66 km away.

The 2018 boat was also made of bamboo and rattan grown in Taiwan, but it was smaller and carried fewer people. It did not last long in the open sea.