Japanese-Jewish common ancestry theory

The Japanese-Jewish common ancestry theory (日ユ同祖論(日猶同祖論) Nichiyu Dōsoron) appeared in the 17th century as a hypothesis which claimed the Japanese people were the main part of the ten lost tribes of Israel. A later version portrayed them as descendents of a tribe of Jewish Nestorians. Some versions of the theory applied to the whole population, but others only claimed that a specific group within the Japanese people had descended from Jews.

Tudor Parfitt writes that "the spread of the fantasy of Israelite origin... forms a consistent feature of the Western colonial enterprise",[1] stating,
"It is in fact in Japan that we can trace the most remarkable evolution in the Pacific of an imagined Judaic past. As elsewhere in the world, the theory that aspects of the country were to be explained via an Israelite model was introduced by Western agents."[2]

Researcher and author Jon Entine emphasizes that DNA evidence excludes the possibility of significant links between Japanese and Jews.[3]


During the Age of Discovery, European explorers attempted to connect many peoples with whom they first came into contact to the Ten Lost Tribes, sometimes in conjunction with attempts to introduce Christian missionaries. The first person to identify the lost tribes with an East Asian nation was João Rodriguez (1561-1634), a Jesuit missionary and interpreter. In 1608, he argued that the both the Japanese and the Chinese descended from the Lost Tribes of Israel. He believed that the Chinese sages Confucius and Lao-tse took their ideas from Judaism.[4] Rodriguez later abandoned this theory. In his Historia da Igreja do Japão he argued that Japan was populated in two waves of immigration from the mainland, one group originating from Chekiang, and the other from Korea.[5]

According to Parfitt, "the first full-blown development of the theory was put forward by Nicholas McLeod, a Scot who started his career in the herring industry before he ended up in Japan as a missionary."[6] In 1870 McLeod published Epitome of the ancient history of Japan[7] and Illustrations to the Epitome of the ancient history of Japan,[8] claiming that the Japanese people included descendants of the lost tribes of Israel, who formed the aristocracy and traditional priestly castes. Evidence cited for this theory included similarities between the legends of Emperor Jimmu and Moses, the presence of "Portuguese-Jewish" racial features on some Japanese, and similarities between Shinto and Judaism.[9]

Impact in Japan

These theories had little impact in Japan,[10] but were translated into Japanese and published in Japan.[11][12]

However, in 1908, Saeki Yoshiro (1872-1965), a professor at Waseda University, published a book in which he developed a variant on the theory. Yoshiro was an expert on Japanese Nestorianism. Saeki theorised that the Hata clan, which arrived from Korea and settled in Japan in the third century, was a Jewish-Nestorian tribe. According to Ben Ami-Shillony, "Saeki's writings spread the theory about 'the common ancestry of the Japanese and the Jews' (Nichi-Yu dosoron) in Japan, a theory that was endorsed by some Christian groups."[13]

There is no evidence available, including modern DNA analysis, to support this hypothesis. A recently published study into the genetic origins of Japanese people does not support a genealogical link as put forward by Saeki.[14]

Impact elsewhere

The Japanese-Jewish common ancestor theory has been seen as one of the attempts by European racial scientists to explain Japan's rapid modernization, in contrast to that of the other "inferior" or "degraded" Asians, especially the Chinese.[9] The theory itself, however, was taken in different directions.

Jews in China

The same year the book by Saeka on the theory was published an article promoting yet another version of the theory appeared in Israels's Messenger, a magazine published by the Shanghai Zionist Federation.[15] Whereas McLeod had claimed that the priest caste and ruling class of Japan were descendants of Jews, the article published by the Shanghai group offered a more proletarian version of the theory. Ami-Shillony writes that
"Its author claimed, contrary to what McLeod had written, that it was the outcasts of Japan, the Eta (or Ety as the article rendered the term) who were the descendants of Jews.[16]

The author of the article said that, like the Jews in the West, the Japanese Eta were hard working people, especially associated with the shoemaking industry who also lived in ghettos, "not that the Japanese compel them to do so, but they seem to prefer to be isolated from the rest of the population." The author also claimed that the Eta observed Jewish customs: "In the ghetto of Nagasaki, for example, the Ety observe the Sabbath very religiously. Not only do they not work on that day of the week, but they do not smoke nor kindle fires, just like the Orthodox Jews."[16]

According to Ami-Shillony, "This ludicrous and totally groundless story was neither challenged nor refuted in later issues of the magazine."[16]

Christian Zionism

Ami-Shillony also describes a letter subsequently published by the same magazine, written by Elizabeth A. Gordon, a former lady-in-waiting to Queen Victoria who was also a prominent Christian Zionist. Gordon attempts to link Japan to British Israelism, particularly the view that the British royal family were of Israelite descent. Gordon was well known in Japan, where she was researching Shingon Buddhism, which, she claimed, had Christian origins. In her 1921 letter she adopted a "fantastic chain of reasoning" to prove that "the meeting between the Japanese and British crown princes signified the long-awaited reunion of Judah and Israel." Gordon had some influence at the time in Japan.[17]

See also


  1. ^ Parfitt, p.162.
  2. ^ Parfitt, Tudor (2003). The Lost Tribes of Israel: The History of a Myth. Phoenix. p. 158. 
  3. ^ Abraham's children: race, identity, and the DNA of the chosen people
  4. ^ Ben Ami-Shillony, The Jews and the Japanese: The Successful Outsiders, pp. 134-5 (Rutland, VT: Tuttle, 1991)
  5. ^ C. R. Boxer, "Some Aspects of Western Historical Writing on the Far East, 1500-1800" in E. G. Pulleyblank (ed), Historians of China and Japan, Oxford University Press, London, 1961, p.317.
  6. ^ Parfitt, p.159.
  7. ^ McLeod, Norman. subtitle:Japan and the Lost Tribes of Israel, Nagasaki, 1876.
  8. ^ An article of this book can be seen at the Rare Books site of National Library of Scotland with search words "Norman McLeod Epitome", (accessed March 09, 2011).
  9. ^ a b http://east-asia.haifa.ac.il/staff/kovner/(9)Kowner2000a.pdf
  10. ^ Goodman, David; Masanori Miyazawa (1996). Jews in the Japanese mind: the history and uses of a cultural stereotype. The Free Press. p. 60. ISBN . 
  11. ^ Takahashi and McLeod 1997.
  12. ^ McLeod and Kubo 2004.
  13. ^ Shillony, pp. 136-137
  14. ^ Dual origins of the Japanese: common ground for hunter-gatherer and farmer Y chromosomes. pdf
  15. ^ http://www.jewsofchina.org/jewsofchina/Templates/showpage.asp?DBID=1&LNGID=1&TMID=84&FID=895
  16. ^ a b c Shillony, p. 137
  17. ^ Shillony, pp. 137-138.

Additional reading

  • Bandou, Makoto (2010). Yudayajin Torai Densetsu Chizu. Tokyo : PHP Kenkyuusho.
  • Eidelberg, Joseph (2005). Nihon Shoki to Nihongo no Yudaya Kigen. Tokyo : Tokuma Shoten.
  • Kawamorita, Eiji (1987). Nihon Heburu Shiika no Kenkyuu. (literally Research of Japanese Hebrew Verses.) Tokyo : Yawata Shoten.
  • Kojima et al. (1994). Shinpen Nihon Koten Bungaku Zenshuu (2) Nihon Shoki (1). Tokyo : Shougakkan, ISBN 978-4-09-658002-8.
  • Kojima et al. (1996). Shinpen Nihon Koten Bungaku Zenshuu (3) Nihon Shoki (2). Tokyo : Shougakkan, ISBN 4-09-658003-5 .
  • Kojima et al. (1998). Shinpen Nihon Koten Bungaku Zenshuu (4) Nihon Shoki (3). Tokyo : Shougakkan, ISBN 4-09-658004-2 .
  • Kubo, Arimasa. Israelites Came to Ancient Japan, chapters: 2 3 4.
  • Kubo, Arimasa (2011). Nihon to Yudaya Unmei no Idenshi. Tokyo : Gakken Publishing.
  • Kubo et al. (2000). Nihon Yudaya Huuin no Kodaishi (2). Tokyo : Tokuma Shoten.
  • McLeod and Kubo (2004). Nihon Koyuu Bunmei no Nazo wa Yudaya de tokeru. Tokyo : Tokuma Shoten.
  • Takahashi and McLeod (1997). Tennouke to Isuraeru Jyuu Shizoku no Shinjitsu. Tokyo : Tama Shuppan.
  • Yamaguchi and Kounoshi (1997). Shinpen Nihon Koten Bungaku Zenshuu (1) Kojiki. (literal translation : New edition of Japanese Classical Literature Series (1)). Tokyo : Shougakkan, ISBN 978-4-09-658001-1.
This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and USA.gov, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for USA.gov and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.