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Ogasawara / Bonin Islands

Ogasawara, also known as the Bonin Islands, is a chain of subtropical islands, 1,000 km from downtown Tokyo, is the most remote region governed by the Metropolitan Government. Formed volcanically, the islands of Ogasawara were never connected to any continent, meaning that competition from outside plants and animals was limited. The only way to get there is by ship as there is no airport. It really is secluded. It takes about 25 hours and a half to get to Futami Port of Chichijima Island by the ferry “Ogasawara-maru” from Takeshiba Pier in Tokyo.

Ogasawara Islands consist of about 30 mostly uninhabited islands of various sizes centered on inhabited islands of Chichijima and Hahajima. The islands are clustered within three island groups of the Ogasawara Archipelago: Mukojima, Chichijima and Hahajima, plus an additional three individual islands: Kita-iwoto and Minami-iwoto of the Kazan group and the isolated Nishinoshima Island. These islands rest along the Izu-Ogasawara Arc Trench System. One island in the Ogasawara Archipelago is Iwo-jima, which was a famous battleground during WWII, and much memorialized in the US.

Chichijima Island (Father Island) is the largest of the Ogasawara Islands. The mountainous island is covered in subtropical forest, white sand beaches and steep rocky cliffs. The remoteness and natural beauty of the island's green forests and deep blue oceans, combined with a relaxed island character make Chichijima a perfect place to escape from the speed of modern life. Futami Port in the north of Chichijima. The port is surrounded by the only major village on the islands where most hotels, pensions, shops and restaurants are located. Stone-age tools found on the islands seem to indicate that the islands were inhabited in ancient times but when the islands were discovered by a Spanish explorer in 1543, and by the Japanese in 1670, they were uninhabited. Some Americans, Hawaiians, and Europeans formed the first permanent settlement here in the 1830’s.

The Bonin islands, whose name appears to be a corruption of the Japanese, Muninto or Munin-jima, i.e. empty of men, lie between 26° 30' and 27° 55' N about 550 miles SSE. of Yokohama. The Japanese later called them after their first discoverer (or possessor) Ogasawara, and had been acquainted with them since the year 1593. The name of O-gasa-wara-sima, or the O-gasa-wara islands, was given to them after the navigator who was claimed to have first visited them, and who was said to have prepared a map of them.

It is quite clear that the Japanese were the first discoverers of these islands. They probably settled and then subsequently abandoned them. It is possible that the early Spanish, Portuguese, and Dutch navigators may have been acquainted with the Bonins, and in later years they have been visited occasionally by the Americans, English, and Russians. The fact of a Spanish visit would seem to be proved by the name of Arzobispo or Archbishop, by which the islands are sometimes distinguished.

In 1727, a masterless samurai named Ogasawara Kunai Sadatou made a petition to the feudal government for passage to the islands on the claim that he had an ancestor called Ogasawara Sadayori, who supposedly had discovered the deserted islands in 1593. Sadatou recorded some baseless fantasies in his Tatsumi Bunin Tou Sojou narabi ni Koujou Tomegaki (“Dictated Petition for the Deserted Islands to the Southeast”), which he submitted to the magistrate’s office, in addition to some fake maps and other falsified documents.

Captain Beechy landed on one of them, from the Blossom, on June 9, 1827, gave it the name of Peel Island, and called the harbor Port Lloyd-, determining its situation to be in lat. 27° 5' 35" N. and long. 142" 11' 30" E. There are three groups of small islands, which since Beechy's time were distinguished on maps as the Parry, Beechy and Coffin islands, and lie in the direction of the 142nd meridian from north to south. Before Beechy left the islands he affixed to a board which he nailed against a tree at Port Lloyd, a copper sheathing, bearing the following inscription : " H.M.S. Blossom. Captain Beechy took possession of these islands in the name and on behalf of His Majesty King George, the 14th June, 1827."

This was a pretty liberal distribution of honors by an accidental visitor in 1827, to a group of islands that had been known, and with authentic accounts as early as the seventeenth century. According to Kaempfer, these islands were known to the Japanese at a period as far back as 1675, and were described by them under the name of Buna Sima, signifying. The Japanese accidentally, about the year 1675, discovered a very large island, one of their barques having 'been forced, in a storm, from the island Fatscyo, from which place they computed it to be three hundred Japanese miles distant, toward the east. They met with no inhabitants, but found it to be a very pleasant and fruitful country, well supplied with fresh water, and furnished with plenty of plants and trees, particularly the arrack tree, which, however, might give room to the conjecture that the island lay rather to the south of Japan than to the east, as these trees grow only in hot countries.

The Japanese marked it as an uninhabited place, but they found upon its shores an incredible quantity of fish and crabs, some of which were from four to six feet long. The description of Kaempfer, as well as that of an original Japanese writer, was found by Commodore Perry to correspond exactly with the present appearance of the island. The arrack, or areca tree, alluded to in the extract, is found upon Peel Island.

In the year 1830, the first colonists, a mixed company of one Englishman, one Italian, two Americans, one Dane, five men and ten women from the Sandwich Islands, came at the instigation of the English consul to the Bonin islands. Whale fishers sometimes landed and left behind certain individuals of their crews, but the English government gave itself no further concern about its distant colony. When in 1875 Robertson, the consul at Yokohama, visited the islands he found a company of sixty-four persons, consisting of English, French, Americans, Spaniards, South Sea Islanders, Negroes, two Japanese women and cross-breeds. Among the inhabitants there was but one, named Webb, who was still capable of reading and writing.

The English government since 1861, when the Japanese government asserted its right of possession, dropped all claim to these islands. In June 2011, the World Heritage Committee of UNESCO inscribed Ogasawara Islands (Ogasawara-mura, Tokyo) and Hiraizumi (Hiraizumi-cho, Nishiiwai-gun, Iwate Prefecture) on the World Heritage List as a Natural Heritage site and a Cultural Heritage site respectively. Following the inscriptions of Shiretoko (Hokkaido) in 2005 and Iwami Ginzan Silver Mine and its Cultural Landscape (Oda City, Shimane Prefecture) in 2007, it increased the number of the World Heritage sites in Japan to sixteen.

The islands offer a variety of landscapes and are home to a wealth of fauna, including the Bonin Flying Fox, a critically endangered bat, and 195 endangered bird species. Four-hundred and forty-one native plant taxa have been documented on the islands whose waters support numerous species of fish, cetaceans and corals. Ogasawara Islands' ecosystems reflect a range of evolutionary processes illustrated through its assemblage of plant species from both southeast and northwest Asia, alongside many endemic species.

The Ogasawara Island Group is sometimes likened to the Galapagos Islands, because there are a number of striking similarities. Both sets of islands are volcanic, were never part of any continent, house many species of endemic flora and fauna, and went through a unique evolutionary process. Like the Galapagos, each island in the group has its own related but separate species. Rather than the well-known and varied tortoise species of the Galapagos, the Ogasawara Islands are famous for their many endemic species of land snails.

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