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Minatogawa Man


Photo: KANO Tatsuhiko

Homo sapiens of about 18,000 years ago. The first fossiled human bones found in Japan which let us describe in detail the appearance of Paleolithic men from their figures to their features. First discovered in 1968 in a quarry in Gushikami Village, Minatogawa1, four to seven bodies worth of bones were unearthed in a thorough investigation conducted in 1970. 

Their figure is small, 153cm for men and 143cm for women, and a bit long-torsoed. Their arms are rather slim but their hands are large. They have a brain smaller in size, about 90~80% compared to a modern Japanese. Their narrow forehead is somewhat tilted towards the back. 

The finder was Oyama Seiho, an amateur archaeologist who was born in 1912 in Nakagusuku village and passed away in 1996. Oyama immigrated to Canada with his father during his teens, where, as the war started, all of their properties were confiscated and taken to the concentration camps. After the end of the war, Oyama moved back to Okinawa and began working as an interpreter, eventually taking the position of the first general manager of Okinawa Residence Public Corporation. Subsequently, he founded the OK Transportation Partnership and build the first filling station in Okinawa, near the Tomari Takahashi intersection in Naha City. The OK gas station is open to this day. Also the producer and seller of NEW PAX, an automatic point-and-shoot camera, Oyama’s way of saying was that “Okinawa must promote its industries.” His spirit of “Okinawa can make this much…” is engraved in “MADE IN RYUKYU”.

Such enterprising spirit and his will to excavate the Minatogawa Man come from the same root. The reality of Okinawa burnt to its ground gave life to his nature as a researcher, that “Okinawa has a history and culture that is as ancient as any other country.”

While in life, Oyama has speculated on the death of the Minatogawa Man in such ways:

“…the bones were found in a crack, at its very bottom, 27~30 meters deep. So, why did the Minatogawa Man fall into such a crack? If they just fell, a human skull must break. But they weren’t. So, they must have fallen swept away by water. Then what water? A massive earthquake it was, a massive earthquake…” (From the “Ohayo Interview of Yara Etsuko,” Radio Okinawa, January 1996)

After Oyama passed away, the first paleolith in Okinawa was found in the Ginama sea-floor limestone cave near Hedo Point. The Ryukyu Shimpo of December 7th, 1996 reported on its first page: “Paleolithic found from 20,000 years ago”.

Regarding Oyama’s theory, the Paleolithic men inhabiting that cave may have sunk under the water due to the same massive earthquake that took the Minatogawa Man2 away. 

Editor’s Note:

  1. Today, the Yaese Town.
  2. In 2021, the Minatogawa Man was revealed to not to be a direct ancestor of the Jōmon people or modern Japanese. A thesis was published in a English science magazine, Scientific Reports.