THE OGASAWARA ISLANDS (1000 kilometers south of Tokyo) are a group of remote volcanic islands belonging to Japan that lie in the middle of the Pacific about halfway between Japan and Guam. Technically part of Tokyo, they include Chichijima, Haha-jima and Ani-jima and are known as the Bonin Islands in the West. They have some guest houses and mainly attract scuba divers and birdwatchers

The subtropical Ogasawara Islands have been dubbed the Galapagos Islands of the East, because the contain a large number of flora and fauna found nowhere else in the world. Created by undersea volcanos, they have sheer cliffs covered by layers of oval-shaped pillow lava and have never been connected to any mainland bodies. Until the arrival of man all the flaura and fauna on the islands evolved from organism carried by the wind or sea.

The Ogasawara Islands were designated as a World Natural Heritage Site in 2011. Tetsu Joko wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun, “Approaching Chichijima island one sees a gigantic rock wall rising into the sky out of the cobalt blue ocean. A large, reddish-brown, heart-shaped feature that looks like it has been engraved in the wall is known as "Heart Rock" among residents of the Ogasawara Islands, of which Chichijima is a part. The rock surrounding Heart Rock is mostly a type of andesite called "boninite," a fine-grained rock that was created by underwater volcanoes about 48 million years ago and then rose to the surface of the sea with crustal movement. Such a massive amount of boninite in the ground is quite rare.

Much of the islands are composed of boninite s produced when magma cools near the Earth’s surface. Of the 447 plant species found on the island chain, 161, or 36 percent, are found nowhere else. The islands are also home to an unusually high number of land snail species. In the forest of Chichijima island, needle-thin burgundy plants shoot up from the mossy ground. There are suzufuri hongoso [Sciaphila okabeana Tuyama],an indigenous species only about four centimeters tall, and adorned with flowers and fruits just three millimeters wide.The recent UNESCO designation of the islands is expected to bring more tourists, which could also mean a threat of destruction of the natural environment.

The Ogasawara Islands are comprised of 30 large and small islands, which are divided into four groupings: the Chichijima Islands, the Mukojima Island, the Hahajima Island and the Ninamitorish Islands. Only Chichijima and Hajima---with population of just over 2,000---are open to tourists, Chichijima can be reached a once-a-week ferry from Takeshiba pier in Tokyo. The ferry lands at Futami Port to Chichijima and takes 25 to 30 hours and cost between $200 and $550 one way. Plans to build an airport and introduce high speed boats have been shelved for environmental and cost reasons.

Minamijima is an uninhabited island located about 1.5 kilometers from Chichijima. There already too many tourists have trampled plants and exposed the island’s red soil. Japan’s Environment Ministry and the Tokyo metropolitan government have teamed up to protect the environment on the island by limiting walking routes as well as the number of tourists. The efforts have gradually paid off as the plants are coming back.

Hahajima is famous for birds. Minamjima Island boasts a rare underwater limestone sinkhole and beautiful white sand beaches and dunes There is good snorkeling at Anijima island underwater park A number of World War II wrecks lie on the ocean floor. .

In December 2006, Tsunemi Kubodera, a scientist at the National Science Museum, caught a giant squid at dept of 650 meters about 27 kilometers off the northeast coast of Ototojima island in the Ogasawara Islands. The squid was not fully grown. It measured 3.5 meters despite have its two longest tentacles severed. It is is estimated that of the tentacles were intact the squid would have measures seven meters in length.

Websites: Government National Park Site National Parks of Japan ;Wikipedia Wikipedia Bonin Islands; Dive Japan Dive Japan Map: Wikipedia Wikipedia Bonin Islands; Getting There: The Ogasawara Islands are only accessible by ferry. The airport on Iwo Jima is not used by commercial aircraft. Lonely Planet Lonely Planet

Chichi Jima

Chichi Jima (one the Ogasawara Islands) is home to a handful of Japanese with European features. Descendants of whalers and adventurers who came to the island in the 19th century and married local Polynesian and Japanese women, they have names like Washington, Savory and Gonzalez and speak a language that mixes Japanese, English, Polynesian and Melanesian words.

Chichi became an important whaling station in the early 19th century after good supplies of freshwater were discovered there. Among those that stopped there were Commodore Matthew Perry and the writer Jack London. In 1944, former U.S. President George Bush, then a 20-year-old pilot, was shot down offshore and rescued by a submarine. During World War II, there were reports of cannibalism taking place there.

Chichijima is home to Japan’s only aquarium dedicated to turtles, particularly green turtles, and most of the hotels in the Ogasawara Islands. Activities on the island include swimming with dolphins and whale watching and turtle watching. The number of green turtles coming ashore to lay their eggs is increasing at a rate faster than anywhere else in the world. Sperm whales are often seen at a site about one hour from Chichijima. In the late autumn mothers are spotted with their calves.

Humpback whales breed in waters off the island from December to May, peaking in February and March. According to Oasawara Whale Watching Association about 20 whales a day can be seen from the Chichijima island observation tower if the conditions are good. The waters off the island are 200 meters of shallower with gentle waves, providing good breeding conditions.

Website: John LaPlant Tripod.com ; Getting There: Lonely Planet Lonely Planet ; Ogasawara whale watching Ogasawara whale watching

Iwo Jima

The beach where
American forces landed
Iwo Jima (170 miles south Ogasawara, 1,250 kilometers south of Tokyo, halfway between the main islands of Japan and Guam) is where the famous World War II battle took place. Part of a group of volcanic islands called the Bonins, it is still off limits to travelers because of high number of unexploded shells on the island.

Iwo Jima is also very active volcanically. Some geologists speculate that the volcanos on Iwo Jima are ready to blow any time and the island my be the next Mt. St. Helens or Pinitabu. Iwo Jima means “Sulfur Island.” The island rose 46 centimeters between June 2006 and January 2007, growing 12 centimeters in a one month period in November and December 2006. This was more than it rose before it erupted in September 2001. Evidence of a steam explosion was seen late in 2007.

Iwo Jima is five miles long and two and half miles wide and covers 22.4 square kilometers, with 550-foot-high Mount Suribachi being the highest point on the island. Many of the original inhabitants were New Englanders who got dropped here by whaling vessels. A man called Uncle Charley Washington, who was 87 in 1968, for example, was the son of a black cabin boy who jumped ship in 1843.

beach euption on Iwo Jima
Before World War II there were 202 inhalants with American ancestry known as "Yankees" and about 6,000 Japanese colonists. Some of the Yankees fought for the Japanese army but most were evacuated to the Japanese mainland. After the war the United States controlled the island the let descendants of the original island---135 of them---return. In 1968 the Bonins and Iwo Jima were given to Japan, which to control of the islands so it can claim the fishing rights for the waters around them. [Source: Paul Sampson, National Geographic, July 1968]

Iwo Jima is now a Japanese military base as it was at the beginning of World War II. Iwo Jima can be visited only with military permission and usually only on military transport, usually a C-130 Hercules from Okinawa. U.S. Marines make periodic visits there to boost morale.

Visitor can visit the cave of the Japanese commander. It sits I 30 feet below the surface of the land and is still littered with possessions of Japanese soldiers who died there in the 1944 battle.

See World War II Website: Wikipedia Wikipedia


Torishima eruption
IZU ISLANDS is a group of seven main volcanic islands---Oshima, Hachijojima, Miyakejma. Kozushima. Mikurajima and Toshima---about 100 miles south of Tokyo. All of them are essentially the peaks of submerged volcanos. They have a relatively warm, dry climate the entire year and were used for penal colonies in the Edo period (1603-1868). The islands are administratively part of Tokyo. The largest islands---Oshima and Hachijojima---are regarded as “towns” while the smaller islands---Miyakejma. Kozushima. Mikurajima and Toshima---are considered “villages.” The islands can be reached by ferry or plane. Websites: Tokyo Islands tokyo-islands.com ; Wikipedia Wikipedia ; Wikitravel Wikitravel Getting There: Lonely Planet Lonely Planet

Oshima Island (reached in two hours on 300-seat catamaran from Tokyo) is the largest island in the group (91 square kilometers). It is a charming laid-back place with 10,000 people, small fishing villages and large camellia fields. Many of the local people like to hang out at public outdoor onsen near Motomachi Port. The ferry services does not take vehicles, which means there are few cars on the island. Mt Mihara is a barren volcano. It takes about an hour of hiking to reach the crater. It last erupted in 1986, when all the residents were evacuated to Tokyo. Websites: Oshima Town site town.oshima.tokyo.jp ; Wikipedia Wikipedia

Toshima Island (18 miles southwest of Oshima) is the smallest of the main Izu islands, with a circumference of only eight kilometers. The island is mountainous and there are no swimming beaches.

Niijima (35 miles south of Oshima) is pleasant island that covers 27 square miles. Among its attractions are quaint fishing villages, mountain scenery, flowers, hot springs with ocean views, beaches, friendly guesthouses, houses made of volcanic rocks, bird rookeries and a museums with artwork from imprisoned artists and a collection of surfboards.

The islands has also long been a favored destination of Japanese surfers. There are also some good roads for cycling and mountain bikes. Several bike shops rent bicycles. There are over 200 minshukas and guest houses on the island. Websites: Wikipedia Wikipedia ; Tokyo Islands tokyo-islands.com

Shikine-Jima Island (4 miles south of Niijima) is small, covering only 3.8 square miles. It boasts swimming beaches, hot springs and lots of guest houses.

Kozu-Shima Island (7 miles south of Shikine-Jima Island) is a small 18-square-kilometer island. It has nice beaches and is dominated by an extinct volcano, Mt. Tenjo.

Miyakejima eruption
Miyakejima Island (120 miles south of Tokyo) is a volcanic island with 240 species of wild bird and dolphin swimming tours. The island has a circumference of 36 kilometers and is the third largest of the Izu islands.

My. Hyotan last erupted in 1983, destroying 400 houses with reddish-black lava. In July 2000, 813-meter-high Mt. Oyoma began erupting. One explosion sent smoke 15,000 meters in the air. All the 3,800 residents on the island was evacuated. Eleven million cubic meters of volcanic ash fell on the island. For several years island remained evacuated. See Volcanoes Websites: Tokyo Islands tokyo-islands.com

Mikurashima (20 miles south of Miyakejima) is known as the "island of the dolphins." Many dolphins live in the waters off the island. Dolphin-viewing trips are popular. Website: Tokyo Islands tokyo-islands.com ;

Hachijo-jima Island (175 miles south of Tokyo) is the second largest and southernmost of the Izu islands (68 square kilometers). The site of a penal colony from the 17th and 19th century, it boasts spectacular volcanic scenery, thick subtropical greenery and deep blue waters. Attractions include a dormant volcano, shrines and temples. Bicycles and cars can be rented. Bull-versus-bull fights are frequently held here. Scuba divers can observe underwater lava formation, spot turtles dolphins and see schools of tuna. The lack of beaches doesn’t keep surfers away. Website: Tokyo Islands tokyo-islands.com

Image Sources: 1) 3). 4) 5) Wikipedia 2) Ogasawara National Park 6) 7) Tokyo University Volcano Research

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Daily Yomiuri, Times of London, Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO), National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

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© 2013 Jeffrey Hays

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