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Migration by sea in the north Pacific: from 2500 BC

It is not known when human beings first make the crossing from the Asian mainland to the islands of Japan. However the first human traces reveal a society capable of producing neolithic wares but still living by hunting and gathering.

This society is known as the Jomon culture from the cord design of the pottery, which has similarities with archaeological finds in eastern Siberia. It is probable that people make the first crossing to the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido in about 8000 BC, either from Sakhalin or along the line of the Kuril Islands.

From about 250 BC a different neolithic community is found in Japan. It is known as the Yayoi culture, from the street in Tokyo where the first traces of it are discovered. These people cultivate rice and are therefore assumed to have reached Japan from the south, along the line of the Ryukyu Islands.

A century or two later another wave of immigrants arrives. They come through Korea, bringing the bronze culture of China, soon to be followed by iron. From this time onwards there are constant links with Korea, including Japanese invasions of the mainland.

Sumo: 23 BC

In this year, according to tradition, Japan's spectacular national sport of sumo wrestling has its first contest. It is won by a legendary figure, Sukune, regarded ever since as the patron saint of sumo wrestlers.

The date is too precise and too early, for this is still a prehistoric period in Japan. But sumo tradition also tells of dramatic events in early historic times. In AD 858, for example, two sons of the emperor Buntoku wrestle for the throne, and the winner succeeds his father. In subsequent centuries sumo is closely linked with the training of the samurai, the military caste.

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