How ‘circumpolar’ is Ainu music? Musical and genetic perspectives on the history of the Japanese archipelago

Patrick E. Savage, Hiromi Matsumae, Hiroki Oota, Mark Stoneking, Thomas E. Currie, Atsushi Tajima, Matt Gillan, Steven Brown

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)


Understanding the cultural and genetic origins of the Ainu of northern Japan has important implications for understanding the history of the Japanese archipelago. Ethnomusicologists have tended to emphasise connections between Ainu music and a ‘circumpolar’ culture area. However, the ‘dual structure’ model from physical anthropology describes the Ainu as descendants of the first inhabitants of Japan with minimal circumpolar influence. To examine Ainu musical diversity empirically from a comparative perspective, we analysed 680 traditional songs from two Ainu and 33 surrounding East Asian and circumpolar populations. The Ainu repertoire contained a majority (~50%) of unique stylistic song-types and lower frequencies of types shared with circumpolar (~40%) and East Asian (~10%) populations. These frequencies were similar to the corresponding frequencies of mitochondrial DNA types within the Ainu gene pool (~50%, ~30% and ~20%, respectively), consistent with an emerging ‘triple structure’ model of Japanese archipelago history.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)443-467
Number of pages25
JournalEthnomusicology Forum
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2015 Jan 1


  • Ainu
  • Circumpolar
  • Dual structure
  • Genes
  • Music
  • Triple structure

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anthropology
  • Music


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