The Legend of how Lake Titicaca got its name from Japanese (Jomon period) settlers

Lake Titicaca

Lake Titicaca


A Japanese documentary recently broadcasted on NHK terrestrial TV, featured the theory of the origin of the name Lake Titicaca, and various lines of evidence supporting the theory that Japanese settlers arrived to populate the Americas (forming one of several waves of Asian migrants). The article “Establishing Japanese Ancestry”by Ariel Takada sums up the same points examined and made in the documentary:

– Waves of migration from Asian Siberia to the American Alaska occurred approximately 14,000 years ago. From then on, a slow movement southward began to take place all the way to Chile itself.

– In a substantial Brazilian project of ethnic research, for instance, researcher Heinz Budweg affirms that across the ocean “the Japanese, Chinese and even Indians traveled constantly to South America between 2,000 and 3,000 B.C.”

– Some of these migrants arrived via the land bridge, others by sea. The Japanese are thought to be later arrivals on the American continent

——展示其提出发现痕迹nce have become increasingly more significant. Of these, here are a few examples:

1) Japanese vases of the Mid-Jomon period (1,600 B.C.), excavated at Napo, Ecuador. [Much earlier work focused on the similarity of Valdivian pottery to the Jomon period pottery of Japan]

2) The use of Japanese words for place names in the Americas. Here are two examples: “water” in Japanese is “mizu,” and it is suggested that it may have been the root basis for naming the Missouri River. The name of Mount Suyama in Bolivia is thought to have been derived from “yama,” which means “mountain.”

3) At the end of the ’70s, archaeologist Charlotte Emerich lived with a tribe of the Upper Xingu, proved that they communicated by way of an ancient Japanese dialect.

4) In December 1999, a team of Japanese scientists led by Kazuo Yajima of the Center of Cancer Research of Nagoya discovered Chilean mummies, buried more than 1,500 years ago, that were infected with the HTLV-1 virus (a leukemia variant), which is particular to certain regions of Japan and a few other spots in Asia. (The Chilean mummy — “Miss Chile” — infected with the virus can be found at the Museo San Pedro de Atacama in Arica.)

The Legend of the Japanese naming of Lake Titicaca

Excerpted from “Establishing Japanese Ancestry: “A Japanese myth that we grew up with and that mentions Chile talks about one of those possible currents. Additionally, the story brings to light a number of geographical names that remain in use, as well as the possible realization of a dream that may have given grounds for genetic and cultural influences over the Amerindian peoples:

“It is said that the oldest son of a great Japanese lord, obsessed with a prophecy foretelling that he was destined to be the founder of an empire across the ocean, set sail, accompanied by several faithful followers, around the year 1,100 B.C. The ocean current ‘kuro-shiö’ brought them to a beach they called ‘Arika’ (Arica), which can be translated as ‘here it is.’

Later, they traveled south while looking for the promised land, but they came to a halt at “Asaban” (“morning and night” – Azapa [in Spanish] to us) after surmising that they were on the wrong track. They retraced their steps and traveled northwest from the ‘Yutoo’ (Lluta) River, which means ‘something better’ or ‘better than the other.’ They crossed desert and mountain ranges, finally arriving at a great lake they called ‘Chichi-haha’ (‘Dad and Mom’ — Lake Titicaca), which was supposed to have been the divine sign that would lead them down the final route to the place where the prophecy would be fulfilled.”

Chichi means “father” and haha means “mother” in Japanese. Lake Titicaca a.k.a. Titiqaqa (Quechua) is a lake in the Andes on the border of Peru and Bolivia. By volume of water, it is the largest lake in South America.

Further reading:

存在D1 haplogroup (mtDNA)是直接evidence of genetic affinity between the Hokkaido Jomon and Native American populations

InAn Historical and Philosophical View of the Chinese Empire
by William Winterbotham, at p. 126, we are alerted to the existence of a district called Tcitcicar [also known as Jijihar] that extends over the Merguen and the Saghalien-ou-hotan, City of the Black River, located on the southern banks of the River Sakhalin, another possible cognate and indication that the use of the word may have been more widespread in ancient times.

10 responses to “The Legend of how Lake Titicaca got its name from Japanese (Jomon period) settlers

  1. I’m skeptical. Possibly some ANCESTORS of the Japanese travelled to South America (or FROM South America), but the whole notion seems pretty far-fetched to me.

  2. It used to be a far-fetched theory, but has been borne out by recent DNA studies. Direct links to Na-Dene tribe. Other tribes, not derived from Japanese, but shared Altaic or Inner Mongolia/Chinese ancestry. High resolution DNA studies can track ancestry very accurately, counting the number of mutational markers along branches of the phylogenetic tree upstream or downstream, so you can know how related the studied populations are. The Y or mtDNA haplogroup studies are also corroborated by other allelic or blood marker studies, and in this instance by virus marker studies which are highly unique markers, and the inferences of common founder stock cannot be denied. Prior to this, many common myths with too many common components had already made anthropologists suspect a common origin, archaeological evidence as well….with many lines of corroborating evidence to put related ancestors in the same region, it’s science not fiction … you can convict a man of murder in court on less evidence.

  3. it’s a completely freakish idea. 1) there was no Japanese in the period of Jomon yet; 2) there was Ancient Ainu so it would be more adequate to try to find some Ainu roots 3) huge distance between Japan and South America makes us to conclude of impossibility of such influence, people of late Jomon could cabotage but they didn’t cross ocean; at least if even some Jomon people came to Southern America they hardly could be source of some toponyms especially of inner regions such as Titicaca.

  4. Addressing your assumption of the impossibility of such a voyage with respect to the capability of Jomon seafarers, the exact opposite has been proven.

    Voyaging to South America the Jomon way (paddling a kayak) was first successfully simulated in what might have been prehistoric conditions by Jon Turk, the experience becoming the content matter for his book “In the Wake of the Jomon”

    And it was done yet again recently by Don Douglass.
    See Don Douglas’ study in which various routes are proposed, plus his Coastal and Island Hypothesis. He simulated that his hypothesis was viable by undertaking such a journey himself (with a Russian mate and his wife) in which he managed almost 11,000km in just a little over 200 days. From his paper:

    From the Sea of Okhotsk or Japan, the Aleutians can be reached via Sakhalin Island or Hokkaido Island, and island-hopping becomes relatively straightforward through the Kuril Islands. From the outlet of the Kamchatka River to the Commander Islands (Komandorski Islands)—Bering Island (55°N, 166°16ˊE) and Medny Island (54°42ˊN, 167°43ˊE)—and thence to Attu, the Aleutians would have served as “stepping stones” to the Alaska Peninsula and the Gulf of Alaska.

    An even more exciting study led by David Reich of Harvard Medical School came to light in the July 2012 issue of Nature magazine. The study by Dr. Reich et al compared DNA from 52 modern Native American populations and 17 Siberian groups. Results showed that Native Americans descend from three distinct ethnic groups from Asia, with 47 of the 52 populations carrying genetic markers descending from the first of three waves of Asian migrants. Archaeologist Tom Dillehay, quoted above, calls this a “monumental study.”

    Additional archaeological, anthropological and genetic research will further augment our understanding and perhaps lend credence to the five logical routes proposed above.

    The Coastal and Island-Hopping Hypothesis works
    as a model for navigating the entire Pacific Rim of Fire from the Strait of Malacca (near Singapore) to the Strait of Magellan, thereby explaining the first peopling of the New World. This paper is available with maps and illustrations on the Douglass’ website:

    Are you familiar with the kelp highway hypothesis?

    The technologies involved suggest that these early islanders were not members of the land-based Clovis culture, Erlandson said. No fluted points have been found on the islands. Instead, the points and crescents are similar to artifacts found in the Great Basin and Columbia Plateau areas, including pre-Clovis levels at Paisley Caves in eastern Oregon that are being studied by another UO archaeologist, Dennis Jenkins.

    Last year, Charlotte Beck and Tom Jones, archaeologists at New York’s Hamilton College who study sites in the Great Basin, argued that stemmed and Clovis point technologies were separate, with the stemmed points originating from Pacific Coast populations and not, as conventional wisdom holds, from the Clovis people who moved westward from the Great Plains. Erlandson and colleagues noted that the Channel Island points are also broadly similar to stemmed points found early sites around the Pacific Rim, from Japan to South America.

  5. 对印第安人的DNA数据……大多数啊f the genetic matches ARE in fact found in the Ainu genepool, however, there are also matches found in HLA alleles, and haplotypes that are found in current Japanese populations as well. We are not discussing statehood here, but genetic sampling from specific populations from specific locations with geographical boundaries, and while the Ainu bear key genes that show continuity through to Jomon times, so do the Japanese, so taking the modern Jp populations’ genepool into account while bearing in mind which are continental genotypes, is a valid move. Furthermore, your assumption that it is only safe to look at Ainu genes is faulty since the Ainu hold a substantial portion of DNA, especially mtDNA hg/haplotypes that are not found in the rest of Japan, and that entered the Ainu genepool fairly late, from around the Edo period (see Shinoda’s very detailed comparisons of genes through the periods). In any event, the scientific consensus is gathering regarding the overwelmingly East Asian (but not exclusively) origin of the founding genes. I merely gather some of the DNA data and offer up what has been analysed by the scientific community … you can read up on the scientific literature by following the links from these pages:
    // here:


    Again, I reiterate there are many lines of supporting evidence, ceramics, anthropology (coastal maritime ecology and seaweed, fishing culture), linguistics, lithics technology. We have not begun to touch the tip of the iceberg of research here.

  6. Finally, Dr. Turnbull addresses precisely the tendency towards be sceptical of long-distance Pacific maritiming capability and migration, and urges a new understanding:

    “Movement tends to be downplayed or even ignored in many accounts of the place of humans in the world and the ways to understand it[3]. Indeed, fixity in space and place has become the foundation of western rationality and epistemology. In this view, movement is equated with wandering, irrationality, and primitiveness, something that needs to be controlled and set in logical, linear order; whereas sedentism is taken to be the touchstone and precondition for civilization and modernity[4]. This privileges the “Neolithic Revolution” in Europe as the origin of all that counts as regularized and legitimate forms of moving and knowing. There is, however, another narrative; there were no revolutions, and humans and their ancestors were members of continuously interacting diaspora around the world. Furthermore, in this view, the social, technical, and cognitive capacities that enabled such movements were developed not in Europe, but in Africa and in Southeast and Southwest Asia…

    This article starts by looking at the colonization of the Pacific because of the incidence of NPC amongst Pacific islanders and their genetic links to South China[8],[9]. In theory, Pacific migration ought to be an ideal model of human migration….

    However, Pacific migration has proved to be remarkably complex. Indeed, investigators from many disciplines, including genetics, archeology, linguistics, anthropology, Paleoecology, sociology, history, zoology, botany, history of technology, architecture, mythology, indigenous knowledge, computer simulation, experimental voyaging, and so on, have encountered difficulties in understanding this diaspora. Pacific migration exemplifies the challenges of working backwards from a given demographic and linguistic state, such as the colonization of the vast expanse of Pacific Ocean islands by Melanesians, Micronesians, and Polynesians and the wide geographical spread of the Austronesian languages. The movement of people out of Southeast Asia has left a plethora of trails, markers, and proxies, which range from bacteria[11] to rats[12] and from breadfruit[13] to canoe design[14], but they do not tell the same story, instead pointing to differing origin points and routes of transmission. Thus, these diverse trails, markers, and proxies do not necessarily form a coherent, unified narrative.

    Rather, as Keith Dobney[15], who has followed the genetic trails of pigs kept by Pacific colonizers and who participated in a replica canoe voyage into the remote Pacific, said,
    “许多考古学家认为结合d package of domestic animals and cultural artifacts associated with the first Pacific colonizers originated in the same place and was then transported with people as a single unit…Our study shows that this assumption may be too s implistic, and that different elements of the package, including pigs, probably took different routes through Island South East Asia, before being transported into the Pacific.” [16]

    There are four reasons for the difficulties in reconciling these differing route markers. As humans move in a given environment, they are not simply moving through it; they shape and affect it just as the environment shapes them. This co-evolutionary adaptive process, or co-production, is historical, time-dependent, and, hence, irreversible. However, the process of movement is much more than an ecological niche construction or a gene/habitat interaction. As the anthropologist Gamble[17] argues, “what characterizes social life in humans rather than hominids is our ability to extend social relations across space and time.” Humans extend themselves in the world cognitively, socially, and linguistically, and in the process, they come to know the world and to alter it[18],[19]. Humans also deploy tools, materials, artifacts, and knowledge in complex systems of trade and exchange, thereby establishing “chains of connection” [20] in social networks[17]. In tracing these chains of connection, and in following the trails of languages, bacteria, or rats, humans are simultaneously creating cognitive trails that deploy the ontologies, epistemologies, and methodologies of their own disciplines. Many researchers dream of a grand synthesis, a consilience of inductions, and a convergence of all disciplinary data under one of the many banners that have been proposed, including archeogenetics, phylogeography, and genomic anthropology[21]. Such a synthetic consilience is an ideal towards which to aim, but one which should be subject to constant challenge. Rather than restricting the possibilities to a panoptic database or a subordination of all to phylogeny, understanding a complex adaptive system like human migration can be conceived as a system in which incommensurable, scale-dependent, and dynamic components produce emergent results through interacting feedback processes[22].

  7. Ohio

    The science of Japanese etymology leaves a lot to be desired. More often than not Japanese ‘etymologists’ still resort to the meaning of a word embedded in the Chinese characters used to write that word, not to its (oral) source. While there is little doubt that there were migrations of Asian peoples to the Americas there is a very long bridge to be crossed before we can equate words such as Titicaca to chichihaha – one would need to understand what titi and caca meant/means in the existing local (or historical) language to begin with.

    Ditto Missouri or Mississippi (not to mention Ohio

    • 词源解释并不是一个纯粹的科学least not in the sense we normally think of. It involves linguistics and the art of interpretation of patterns. You can only make inferences, and the words, meanings and sounds are merely circumstantial evidence to be looked at alongside of other evidence, traces of a similar civilization, burial rites, myth of origins, etc. Titicacan myths also feature similar divine descent and Sky Heavenly Father-deity vs. Earth deity myths which in outline resemble Japanese cosmology. In any event, even if the meaning of Titicaca in the local context were different from the Japanese meaning, it would not disprove the original theory. New arrivals may give new meaning or associations to old words and sounds, and with such a great lapse of around two thousand years, none of the add-ons or take-aways from corr shared beliefs would be surprising. Stephen Oppenheimer has illustrated best in his tome how the Chinese whisper effect of mythology/cosmology works corresponding to both distance and genetic dispersal from the core Urheimat. Today, the smoking gun is the genetic evidence or signal that puts the identified people in the area, bolstered by all the rest, literally like a CSI crime scene. After that, it is a question of statistical probability or improbability that the different kinds of lines of evidential proof point to such migrational event having taken place, or that such a possible genetic trail to such a source exists. For detractors, they should at least first undertake some intellectual rigour and come up with a competing or better theory, before dismissing a viable one. Even with all forms of scientific theory, the theory supported by best or most available evidence stands, until toppled or disproved.

  8. Hi

    I’m not quite sure what you mean by ‘interpretation’, as in ‘Etymology interpretation’, nor what you mean by etymology not being a ‘pure science’. Etymology is a branch of linguistics and, as such, is a discipline with recognisable parameters – as is any discipline (or science) worthy of the name. As such I doubt if ‘interpretation’ plays much of a part in it. One cannot, therefore, accept (or interpret) that the meaning of a word lies in its similarity to other words nor, in the case of Japanese, in the Chinese characters with which it is written. The Chinese characters used to write the word ‘arigatoo’, for example, give no clue to the etymology of the word itself. When we do understand the etymology, however, we come a little closer to understanding the thinking and cultural associations that lie behind the word. While the original meaning of arigatoo conveys (though now probably forgotten by most who use it on a daily basis) a sense of being ‘obliged’ to whomsoever the recipient of the word is, as a loanword it does not provide, nor even lead us close to, an original Japanese word for the act of thanking someone (though one or more such words must surely have existed, and probably still do exist, in some regional Japanese dialects). As an aside, the ‘thank’ in the English ‘thank you’ means ‘thought’. That is to say that ‘thank you’ in English means ‘I have thought of you’ and therefore I am indebted or grateful to you (a concept not too far removed from the original Portuguese source of the word arigatoo).

    I’m neither an etymologist nor a linguist in the more general sense by the way, and my knowledge of Japanese is limited, but I do find the leap from Titicaca to chichi/haha a leap too far (well, at least until we have a more thorough study of the age and origin of those words in Bolivian, Japanese and Peruvian (DNA evidence, archaeology etc might reinforce the validity of the theory under discussion but they are separate areas of study and should not be confuse with the linguistic evidence). On the linguistic point, and delving a little deeper, do we even have any idea of the actual age of the Japanese words chichi and haha? Indeed, do we know that those words are of Jomon origin (a point on which the Titicaca/chichihaha theory seems to be centred) and are not words belonging to a later linguistic influence? Why, also, assume the ‘Titi’ of Titicaca equates with chichi, meaning ‘father’ in Japanese. Chichi has two meanings; one is father but, if I remember correctly, it formerly also had the meaning of ‘breasts’. Indeed, in modern Japanese, we still have the word ‘chichi’ meaning ‘mother’s milk’ and chichikusai meaning ‘smelling of milk’ – ie ‘babyish’. The Titi of Titicaca could (if it is of Japanese origin) therefore mean ‘breasts’, ‘milk’ or ‘father’. Consequently, the Sky/Father – Mother/Earth myth would then have to be reconsidered. It hardly needs saying but the Mother/Earth and Sky/Father myths are very widespread and could easily have originated independently in the Titicaca/chichihaha case. Interestingly, and on another aside, there’s a geographical usage for the word ‘breasts’ in Gaelic place names. For example in Ireland there are two mountains known as Dha Chioch Anann (The Paps of Anu) whilst in southern England there’s a plethora of hills called Ann’s Hill, St Ann’s Hill and Milk Hill – all entomologically linked to the goddess Anann or Anu.

    I hope I do not appear as a ‘detractor’ in the Titicaca/chichihaha debate (indeed I find it fascinating) but, while accepting the migrations to the Americas by Asian peoples as a fact, I think we should be very wary of seeing similarities in words and place-names as somehow confirming that link. Further, rather than the proof of burden lying with the sceptic, is it not the case that those advancing a theory such as the Titicaca/chichihaha one should first examine the evidence thoroughly, and in detail, and then submit their findings for (peer) review rather than the other way round. I’m sure none of us would want to follow in the footsteps of ‘philologists’ such as Motoori Norinaga (pioneer though he may have been) with his whacky ideas on the innate superiority of Japanese culture and language, and it is therefore incumbent on amateurs such as ourselves (well, perhaps just myself in this case ) to keep a watchful eye on new theories such as this when they come along.

    Having said that, thank you for bringing this item to our attention. I for one look forward to hearing of any further developments on the theory.

  9. “因此我怀疑‘解释’的a part in it.” This is a very curious statement. I would beg to differ, and suggest that interpretation comes into almost every task, objective a linguist sets out to achieve. Since a common method or practice of linguists is to begin with a word-list comparing the target language studied and the proposed source or origin, the interpretation of data begins right here, and the choice of whether to include a specific word in the lexicon frequently causes scholars to fight and quarrel among themselves. One linguist puts nani, ne (what) and nugo (whom) in Korean on the same lexicon list. I might object strenuously that “what” means something quite different from “whom” and the words sound utterly different as well, except for the first consonant sound. From the outset, interpretation of what data to include or exclude comes into play, and I would argue that it us fairly easy to come up with a lexicon of 20-50 words without much effort. Then there is the matter of once you have found a whole list of cognates, one could interpret the list “out” of the source of the language, for example, one scholar argues that another’s list of proto-Indo-European “source” words likely came from a later date and impetus, perhaps due to the Indo-European kurgan movement since the bulk of the words are related to horse and chariot terminology, or yet another might object that the words relate to the latest Hun incursions from the East. Thus some might look at a list and see the earliest strata of agriculturally related stem words, another might interpret that list to be part of a pan-Silk Road wheat or millet or spice trade, etc, etc. Yet another list takes in all the geographical location names associated with a particular culture from a certain time period. Which brings us to how migrating peoples tend to name a newly arrived locale after the one they left, eg., how there are many Nisa/Nisas and Meroe/Meru/Su-Merus all over West-Eurasia and CAS. Or between the many Karas, Karagum, Karakunlun to Karakuni to Karak in. Korea we can find on the Altaic trail. For the most part, the names relate often to the similar astral-cosmology mythic belief systems of the connected migrating peoples, but rarely can you find a perfect correspondence of meaning, since meanings change and are quickly assimilated to local landscapes and events, which brings me to my original assertion that it is sufficient to point to the cognates in either side of Beringia. The prehistoric people share a common genepool and in that interaction zone, we find possible cognates of Chichihaha. In fact, there was once also within the interaction zone of the Jomon-Ainu with the northern neighbouring tribes in Amur, an extended district and capital of the Tanguts called Tcitcicar / Jijihar along the southern banks of river Sakhalin. How much correspondence of sound or meaning should we demand, when a passage of at least over a thousand years has passed, or do we consider that common sense tells us, the meaning of a name may easily lost to us unless it was chosen by an obscure ancestral forefather reminiscing over a favorite landscape, but more easily retained where the tales are told over and over again as part of an epic song or genealogical telling as was the tradition in many of the courts of the chieftain kings. In any event, I have seen many of the lexicons and find many of the inclusions in the linguistic lexicons to be highly questionable, and they make far more tenuous or twisted connections than this here offered. There are probably more hypotheses and different theories of origins of the Japanese language (Tamil-Dravidian, Akkaidan, Turk-Mongol – Altaic, Tungus, Eurasian, Indo-European, Austronesian, Polynesian-island SEA, and more Koreanic Koguryo or Baekche or Gayan) than any other, just survey their lexicons and you should soon gather why. Common sense tells us not all of them can be correct, but if even three or four of those lexicons are somewhat reflective of some parts of the Japanese language, we still have to interpret what that apparent borrowing of package of words means, who it belonged to (to the elite kings or scribes, to the traders, or blacksmithing craftsmen, or to warring horsemen, to the farmers, weavers, etc) and we may either have to conclude that some are downright wrong, or that they reflect the multifaceted and multilayered creole-like realities corresponding to the complex settlement patterns over time and space. By the way, if you read the original reference article, you would have noticed that the Brazilian linguist was said to have drawn up a list over 2,000 cognates between Japanese and native American ones. I have not seen that list, but it is certainly larger than all of the other hypothesized paired word lexicons for the Japanese language.

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