Okinawans seek return of forebears’ remains, collected decades ago for research | Science


Kyoto University has remains drawn from the Momojyana burial place in Okinawa, Japan, where members of the royal household of the Ryukyu Kingdom are thought to be buried.

Yasukatsu Matushima

In the late 1920s and early ’30s, scientists from Kyoto Imperial University collected 200- to 600-year-old remains of a number of hundred individuals from burial collapse Okinawa, Japan’s southernmost prefecture, which has its own culture and language. Now, in an echo of demands from Indigenous individuals all over the world for repatriation of the remains of their forefathers, 5 Okinawans are requiring that Kyoto University return the bones and pay settlement.

The complainants state Kyoto University rebuffed demands to go over the concern, so in 2018 they took the matter to court. The case is gradually making its method through the legal system, additional postponed by the pandemic. To put pressure on the university, last month the complainants pleaded for worldwide assistance at a rundown for foreign reporters in Japan.

Holding the remains breaches the constitutional right to liberty of religious beliefs, since the Okinawans don’t have the chance to venerate their forefathers, states Yasukatsu Matsushima, a financial expert at Ryukoku University who is one of the complainants. He includes that the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples calls for the repatriation of native human remains. The bones drawn from one of the websites, the Momojyana burial place, are thought to consist of those of members of the royal household of the Ryukyu Kingdom, which was based upon Okinawa Island. Japan taken in the kingdom into its empire in 1872 and liquified it 7 years later on.

Kyoto University just recently launched a declaration stating “the university does not consider that the bones were obtained illegally” which the remains are saved “in a manner appropriate to their preservation.” The scientists who collected the bones decades ago declared in their works to have actually gotten the approval of regional authorities. But Matsushima states remains were taken “without the agreement of families, relatives, or villagers.”

The anthropologists who took them to Kyoto wished to study bones to clarify resemblances and distinctions in between Japanese and Ryukyuans, Matsushima states. But today, they figure into long-running concerns about the origins of the Japanese individuals. Most scholars believe groups of Stone Age hunter-gatherers from northeastern Asia moved to the primary Japanese islands when land bridges linked them to the continent. Another theory holds that early Indo-Pacific mariners followed sea paths north, island hopping over Taiwan and Okinawa to reach Kyushu in southern Japan.

Whatever their origin, those early occupants were signed up with by later waves of migrants crossing into western Japan from the Korean Peninsula. It was long thought that the intermingling of these groups produced an unique, uniform Japanese population. However, current DNA research studies recommend “there is huge [genetic] diversity among Japanese,” states Mitzuho Ikeda, a cultural anthropologist at Osaka University. DNA analyses of the bones might clarify those early migration patterns, and Matsushima concerns Kyoto University is keeping the bones to extract DNA for analysis. For now, nevertheless, it appears that nobody is studying the remains.

Tsuyoshi Tamagushiku, a descendant of the Ryukyuan royal household and a celebration to the claim, states he was uninformed the bones had actually been gotten rid of from the Momojyana burial place till checking out news about the concern a number of years ago. It is still a custom, he states, for Okinawans to make expeditions to the burial place. “I feel extremely angry [to know] that I had prayed in front of the tomb when there were no ancestral bones within,” Tamagushiku states. He and the other complainants state Japan is out of action with the worldwide pattern of returning remains and artifacts to Indigenous groups.

The Japanese federal government, nevertheless, does not acknowledge the Okinawans as Indigenous. But from a cultural sociology point of view, “The Ryukyuans are an Indigenous people,” Ikeda states. For Tamagushiku it is more individual. He simply desires “to have my ancestors rest in peace in their own proper resting place.”

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