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Five distinct changes in the paleoenvironment of the Japan Sea within the last 85,000 years are revealed from the sedimentary record of a piston core recovered from the Oki Ridge. Changes in both surface and deepwater conditions are registered by changes in lithology, calcium carbonate content, organic carbon content, oxygen and carbon isotope ratios, and microfossil assemblages including calcareous nannoplankton, diatoms, radiolaria, and foraminifera. Between 85 and 27 ka the warm Tsushima Current did not flow into the Japan Sea, and cold surface water conditions prevailed. Environments at the seafloor fluctuated between dysaerobic to weakly oxic conditions. Between 27 and 20 ka, freshwater input to the Japan Sea, probably from the Huang Ho River in China, stratified the water column, and the severe anoxic conditions eliminated most benthic fauna. Between 20 and 10 ka the cold Oyashio Current flowed into the Japan Sea through the Tsugaru Strait, reestablishing deepwater ventilation. Shallow water benthic assemblages of the North Pacific Ocean subsequently colonized the Japan Sea and occupied the vacant niches of the deep basins. Between 10 and 8 ka the foraminifer compensation level (FCL) gradually rose to a depth shallower than 1000 m, and bottom conditions changed from dysaerobic to oxic. At 10 ka the warm Tsushima Current started to flow into the Japan Sea through the Tsushima Strait to establish the modern oceanographic regime which has existed since 8 ka. The eustatic sea level during the last glacial maximum was above the sill depths (130 m) of the Tsushima and Tsugaru straits, assuming that tectonic movements at these straits were negligible for the last 20 ka.