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Special Report  
The Modern Body:Have You Noticed the Changes? Height Increase Result of Intermarriage?
Increase in Population Leads to Shorter People?
Japanese Women Increasingly Curvaceous?
Change Due to Sedentary Lifestyle?
The Perils of Eating Whatever One Wants To

The Modern Body How healthily we can lead our lives is a matter of major interest to people throughout the world, and it is that interest which first prompted the World Health Organization to announce its "healthy life expectancy" rankings. Japan came out on the top of this new index, but it needs to be wary of resting on its laurels. The Japanese physique has in recent years undergone dramatic changes, the likes of which have rarely been matched in the history of mankind. In this article we take a look at the factors which have prompted this "revolution of the body", and its significance for present day Japan, and the world at large.

Height Increase Result of Intermarriage?

Imagine that you were the inadvertent witness of a crime, and had caught a glimpse of the culprit. Eager to know what he or she looked like, one of the first things that the police are bound to ask you is, "How tall was the suspect?"
Of all the features of the human body, height is something that we tend to take immediate note of—whether someone is tall, short, or about average, or whether he or she is taller or shorter than oneself and so forth. We each probably have our own criteria for measuring the height of others at a glance.
The average height of Japanese people is about ten centimeters shorter than that of Westerners. Short stature compared with Westerners is in fact a feature shared by most Asian peoples. One of the reasons why Japanese—particularly Japanese women—visiting Europe or America are often taken for being younger than they actually are is that their shorter stature makes them look somewhat childlike.
Let's take a look at the way the body height of Japanese has changed over the ages, an exercise which will take us almost 20,000 years into the past.
Fragments of a human skeleton found in Okinawa in 1967, and dated as being some 17,000 years old, are considered to be the oldest human skeletons ever discovered in Japan. The acidity of Japan's soil ensures that discoveries of bone fossils of any kind are few and far between, but the Okinawa bones are nevertheless the oldest of determinate age of any modern human skeletons found in East Asia. Their owner is thought to have been between 150 and 155 centimeters tall, and to have possessed thin upper limbs and relatively robust lower limbs, a physique ideal for life in narrow mountainous terrain.
The next oldest human remains hail from what is known in Japanese archeology as the Jomon period, which lasted from ca. 12,000 B.C to 300 B.C. The height of these humans is estimated to have been from 155 to 156 centimeters for the early Jomon period, and from 157 to 158 centimeters for the late Jomon period-in other words, a difference of only a few centimeters from the 17,000 year-old skeleton.
Despite the fact that 5,000 years separate the two Jomon fossils—5,000 years for evolution to work its ways on the human form-here too, the Jomon people grew in physical stature by only a few centimeters at most.
It was only after entering the subsequent Yayoi Period (ca. 300 B.C.–A.D. 300) that the height of the Japanese began to increase significantly. The average height of the Yayoi people was approximately 164 centimeters for men, and 150 centimeters for women. In other words, the Yayoi people were five to eight centimeters taller than the Jomon people. The Jomon Period Japanese were still mainly hunter-gatherers, and it was only after the start of the Yayoi period that agriculture began to take off in a big way. The steady supply of food guaranteed by the cultivation of crops is thought to be one of the factors behind the sudden spurt in growth in the Yayoi period.
But Dr. Hisao Baba, curator and chair of the National Science Museum's Department of Anthropology, thinks that another factor was of even greater significance: "In the Yayoi Period, Japan experienced a large influx of immigrants from continental East Asia. The newcomers were of larger build than the Jomon people, and I think that we owe the increase in height in the Yayoi Period to them. If you look at human bones from the Yayoi Period, the owners of those found in western Japan where the newcomers settled were relatively tall, whereas the size of Yayoi Period bones found in northern Japan suggest people of much the same average height as those of the Jomon Period. The Japanese people are the product, in other words, of a mixing of Jomon people and Yayoi people. But even now the two strains are not totally intermixed. For example, even looking only at facial features, there are regions where one finds a large proportion of people with the thin and rather flat faces of the Yayoi-type, and others where people possessing the pronounced features of Jomon-type faces abound. Recently we've been analyzing the DNA of various bones, and the results of these studies also reveal the existence of regional differences."

Histonical changes in the height of Japanese males

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