Photo/IllutrationThe dugout arrives at Yonagunijima island in Okinawa Prefecture on July 9. (Provided by the team of “Holistic re-enactment project of the voyage 30,000 years ago”)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

Five exhausted canoeists proved July 9 it is possible Japan was settled 30,000 years ago by Old Stone Age people from Taiwan.

The canoeists set out from Wushibi on the eastern coast of Taiwan at 2:38 p.m. (Japan time) on July 7 and reached Yonagunijima island in Okinawa Prefecture after a 45-hour journey that covered 225 kilometers and involved navigating the Kuroshio, one of the world’s largest ocean and most perilous currents.

The project was aimed at shedding light on how the first settlers to Japan might have arrived in the southernmost islands.

The hardy team members, four men and a woman, paddled a few hundred meters off the coast of Yonagunijima for a while before beaching at 11:37 a.m. to a hero's welcome from a crowd that had gathered.

The voyage was initially expected to take about 30 hours.

The trajectory of the dugout was published on the website of “Holistic re-enactment project of the voyage 30,000 years ago” sponsored by the National Museum of Nature and Science in Tokyo.

The team members dispensed with watches, compasses, GPS equipment or other modern tools for the trip and navigated their position by looking at the sun and stars, as people in the Old Stone Age must have done.

The members took turns paddling the 7.5-meter-long dugout made of cedar. Throughout the voyage, the canoeists were trailed by a support vessel in case they got into difficulties but were not interfered with at any point.

The canoeists said they occasionally had difficulty figuring out where they were because clouds obscured the stars or the sun was right over their heads.

They crossed the Kuroshio current, which was streaming at a speed of 1 or 2 meters per second, and rejoiced when they spotted the faint outlines of Yonagunijima, the westernmost island in Japan, far out at sea.

An attempt to make the journey with a reed-bundle raft between Yonagunijima and Iriomotejima islands in the prefecture failed in 2016. The team tried two more journeys with a bamboo raft in 2017 and 2018, but they both failed.