Bonin Islands

Bonin Islands
Ogasawara Islands *
UNESCO World Heritage Site
Country Japan
Type Natural
Criteria ix
Reference 1362
Region ** Asia-Pacific
Inscription history
Inscription 2011 (35th Session)
* Name as inscribed on World Heritage List
** Region as classified by UNESCO
The Ogasawara Islands, south of Japan

The Bonin Islands, known in Japan as the Ogasawara Group (小笠原群島 Ogasawara Guntō?) are an archipelago of over 30 subtropical and tropical islands, some 1,000 kilometres (540 nmi; 620 mi) directly south of Tokyo, Japan. Administratively, they are part of Ogasawara Municipality (mura) of Ogasawara Subprefecture, Tokyo. The total area of the islands is 73 square kilometres (28 sq mi), with a population of 2,440 (2000 on Chichijima, and 440 on Hahajima).

The Ogasawara Islands were added to UNESCO's list of World Natural Heritage sites in July 2011 as animals and plants there have undergone unique evolutionary processes since these islands have never been connected with a continent, thus often dubbed as the "Galapagos of the Orient".

The only inhabited islands of the group are Chichi-jima (父島), the seat of the municipal government, and Haha-jima (母島) includes what is within Ogasawara Village.

In Japanese, the archipelago is called Ogasawara Group (小笠原群島 Ogasawara Guntō?). By contrast, the term Ogasawara Archipelago (小笠原諸島 Ogasawara shotō?), is a wider, collective term for all islands of Ogasawara Municipality, which also includes the Volcano Islands and a few isolated islands. The common English name for Ogasawara Guntō is Bonin Islands, from bunin, an archaic reading of 無人 (mujin), that means "no people" or "uninhabited." Rich of unique forms of life, the archipelago was nominated as a natural World Heritage Site on June 24, 2011.[1]


Administrative and geographic taxonomies

Administratively, the Volcano Islands, Nishinoshima (Rosario Island), Okinotorishima (Parece Vela) and Minamitorishima (Marcus Island) are today part of Ogasawara municipality. Geographically, they are not traditionally considered part of the Bonin Islands, which are the Mukojima, Chichijima, and Hahajima island clusters.[2] In other words, the historical ambit of the Bonin Islands (Ogasawara Guntō) is not the precise equivalent of the Japanese governmental unit.[3] The Bonin Islands is a geographical term excluding the other islands which are today associated within the boundaries of a collective term, Ogasawara Shotō.

The Bonin Islands consist of three subgroups, which are listed along with their main islands:

  • Mukojima Group (聟島列島 Mukojima Rettō) - formerly Parry Group
    • Mukojima (聟島, literally: Bridegroom Island)
    • Yomejima (嫁島, literally: Bride Island)
    • Nakōdo-jima or Nakadachijima (媒島, literally: Go-between Island)
    • Kitanojima (北ノ島 or 北島, literally: Northern Island)
  • Chichijima Group (父島列島 Chichijima Rettō) - formerly Beechey Group
    • Chichijima (父島, literally: Father Island) (Main I./Peel I.)
    • Anijima (兄島, literally: Elder Brother Island) (Hog I./Buckland I.)
    • Otōtojima (弟島, literally: Younger Brother Island) (North I./Stapleton I.)
  • Hahajima Group (母島列島 Hahajima Rettō) - formerly Baily Group
    • Hahajima (母島, literally: Mother Island)
    • Anejima (姉島, literally: Elder Sister Island)
    • Imōtojima (妹島, literally: Younger Sister Island)


Minamijima, a small island in Chichijima group


Discovery and colonization

  • Prehistoric tools and carved stones, discovered on North Iwo Jima at the end of the 20th century, as well as stone tools discovered on Chichi-jima, indicate the islands might have been populated in ancient times.
  • The first European discovery of the islands is said to have taken place in 1543, by the Spanish explorer Bernardo de la Torre.[4] At that time, the islands were not populated.
  • 1593 (Tensho 20): Ogasawara Sadato (小笠原 貞任 Ogasawara Sadato?), a Ronin claiming to descend from Ogasawara Sadayori (小笠原 貞頼 Ogasawara Sadayori?), claims in 1727 that the islands were discovered by his ancestor at this date, and the territory was granted as a fief by Toyotomi Hideyoshi. Further examinations show a forgery, as a punishment Sadato is exiled by the shogunate in 1735, and the very existence of Sadayori is doubtful.
  • 1670 (Kanbun 10) : The islands are discovered when a ship bound for Edo from Kishu is blown off course by a storm.[5]
  • 1675 (Enpō 3): The islands are explored by shogunate expedition, following up the "discovery" in Kanbun 10. The islands are claimed as a territory of Japan.[6] They are then referred to as Bunin jima (無人島 Buninjima?), litt. "the uninhabited islands".
  • 1827, the islands are claimed by the British Empire.
  • 1830, Nathaniel Savory, an American, lands on the island of Chichijima in 1830 and forms the first permanent colony there along with 29 other people from Hawaii and Europe.[7]
  • 1846, a group of settlers arrive on board the whaler Howard. They established themselves initially in South Island. One of them, a woman from the Caroline Islands called Hypa, died in 1897 aged about 112, after being baptized on her deathbed.[8]
  • 1853, on his way to Yokohama, Commodore Perry visits the islands and buys property at Port Lloyd from Savory for $50. A "colony of Peel Island( Chichijima)" is created and Savory is elected the head of the colony for the United States.
  • 1862 (Bunkyū 1): The islands are reclaimed as a territory of Japan, following "discovery" of the islands in Kanbun 10 (1670) and the shogunate expedition to the islands in Enpō 3 (1675).[9] The Japanese naming of each island as a "family member" is settled. 38 settlers from Hachijojima are sent the following year.
  • 1876 The islands are put under the direct control of the Home Ministry.
  • 1882 All islanders of European and American ancestry obtain the Japanese nationality.

The first published description of the islands in the West was brought to Europe by Isaac Titsingh in 1796. His small library of Japanese books included Sangoku Tsūran Zusetsu (三国通覧図説 An Illustrated Description of Three Countries?) by Hayashi Shihei.[10] This book, which was published in Japan in 1785,[11] also briefly described the Ogasawara Islands.[12]

In 1832, the Oriental Translation Fund of Great Britain and Ireland supported the posthumous abridged publication of Titsingh's French translation of Sankoku Tsūran Zusetsu.[13]

These groups were collectively called Islas del Arzobispo (Archbishop Islands) in Spanish sources of the 18th–19th century. Japanese maps at the time seem to have been rather inaccurate and therefore considered by some[14] to be deliberately misleading. It is thought that this was an attempt to discourage colonization attempts by foreign nations. Frederick William Beechey used the Spanish name as late as 1831 and believed that the Japanese Boninsima referred to entirely different islands.[15]

The Ogasawara Island communities were under-developed in the early Shōwa period.

The history of the islands was compiled by Lionel Cholmondeley over the course of several years; and his work was published in London in 1915.

A Bonin islander of American or European descent around 1930

In 1917, approximately 60–70 island people claimed ancestry among the 19th century English-speaking settlers; however, in 1941, no Bonin people would acknowledge descent from these early colonists.[16] The current residents include some who claim to be related to Nathaniel Savory.[17]

The Ogasawara islanders were relegated to an insignificant status up through the early Shōwa period.

World War II to present

In this photograph, the man at the well draws attention; but the photo also shows the "thatched roofs, weather-beaten unpainted sides and paper partions and windows" which were characteristic of the village in pre-war 1941.

During World War II, most of the inhabitants were forcibly evacuated to the mainland. There was a Japanese military base on Chichijima, whose officer in charge, Major Sueo Matoba (的場 末男 Matoba Sueo?), was known for performing cannibalism and other acts on prisoners of war and was executed for his crimes after the war.[18] Future President George H. W. Bush's plane crashed in the ocean near Chichijima, but he was rescued by an American submarine.[19] The Battle of Iwo Jima in 1945, one of the fiercest battles of World War II, was fought on an uninhabited island in this region of the Pacific.[20]

The islands were occupied by the U.S. Navy from 1945, at which point the inhabitants of "Western" (mainly of mixed White American or European, Micronesian and Polynesian ancestry) were allowed back.[21] The islands were returned to Japan in 1968, at which time Japanese evacuees were allowed to return.

Now nearly all inhabitants, including those of Western ancestry, are Japanese citizens, and the Japanese language is used. Research indicates that an English-lexified pidgin (creole) was spoken on the islands during the 19th century.[22] During the 20th century, islanders of Western ancestry increasingly mixed Japanese with island English, resulting in a mixed language that can still be heard today.[23] Younger speakers are monolingual in a variety of Japanese closely resembling the Tokyo standard.[24] A bilingual dictionary, Talking Dictionary of the Bonin Islands Language (with CD-ROM), was published in 2005.[25]

A 25m-diameter radio telescope is located in Chichijima, which is one of the stations of the VLBI Exploration of Radio Astrometry (VERA) project, and is operated by the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan.

Recent developments

The giant squid (genus Architeuthis) was filmed off the Ogasawara Islands for the first time in the wild on September 27, 2005, and was captured in December 2006.[26]

Fictional references

The Ogasawara Islands have been referenced in a number of works of fiction. Bonin, by Robert Standish, describes itself as 'a novel', but claims 'this book is an accurate history of the Bonin Islands' based mainly on information from Nathaniel Savory's great-grand-daughter, and includes descriptions of maltreatment of the Anglo-Polynesian population by the later Japanese settlers and authorities, and a detailed map of the Chichijima group (on the back end-paper), including over 50 English place-names.[27] The Sevii Islands from Pokémon, Fire Red and Leaf Green are based on the Bonin Islands. In the 1968 Godzilla film, Destroy All Monsters, Monsterland is located in the chain. In an English-dubbed version, it is referred to as "Ogasawara Island" as if it were a lone island of that name. In the television series The Super Dimension Fortress Macross, a fictional island in the chain, South Ataria Island (which would have laid at the southernmost position in the chain, surpassing Minami Iwo Jima), is the landing site of the SDF-1 Macross.[28] In the 1963 film Matango, a luxury yacht is set adrift and lands on an island. Upon approaching the island one of the crew members shouts: "I wonder if it's the Bonin Islands?"[29] The English subtitles for the film misspell Bonin "Bonan".


One can get from the main Japanese islands to Chichijima by way of the Ogasawara Maru liner, run by Ogasawara Marine Transportation. The ship leaves from Takeshiba port in Tokyo Bay, and the trip takes around 25.5 hours (in good weather). There are four or five crossings each month. The Ogasawara Maru is a 6,700 long tons (6,800 t) vessel, 131-metre (430 ft) long, with a capacity of 1,031 passengers.[30] To get to Hahajima, one must first get to Chichijima, and then cross by the liner Hahajima Maru.

Because a trip from the main Japanese islands to the Ogasawaras is very difficult, when people get severely ill or otherwise have an emergency, word is conveyed to Iwo Jima Japan Maritime Self Defense Force post, and a helicopter is sent to the islands. Emergencies can also be handled from the main Japanese islands by Japan Air Self-Defense Force airplanes or the Maritime Self Defense Force base in Iwakuni can convey evacuees to the main islands by seaplane, the ShinMaywa US-1. This seaplane is also used to transport the Tokyo governor and other VIPs.

Ogasawara Village operates a bus service on Chichijima and elderly passengers may use a "silver pass." There is also a sightseeing taxi service, a rental car company, motorized scooter rental services, a bike rental service, and other amenities. Bringing one's own automobile onto the island is extremely difficult and costly.

Issues with improved transportation

The world's first 'techno superliner', the Super Liner Ogasawara (which was to be commissioned in 2006), with a maximum speed of 38 knots (70 km/h; 44 mph), 14,500 tons gross tonnage, was expected to shorten the voyage to Ogasawara to about 17 hours and carry up to 740 passengers.[31] However, the project was canceled in July 2005 due to rising fuel prices and the loss of ¥2 billion.[32]

The Ogasawara Islands have no airport, and there is no prospect for one being constructed. However, there was talk for several decades of building one.[citation needed] Anijima and Chichijima were once designated possible construction sites, but because there are numerous valuable, rare, or endangered plant species forming a unique ecosystem in the vicinity of the proposed sites, issues of nature conservation were raised. Although construction of an airport was desired by some, a desire to keep the natural beauty of the islands untouched created a movement to block it. The airport issue was quite controversial on the islands.[33]



The Ogasawara Islands were formed around 48 million years ago. They are a part of the Izu-Bonin-Mariana Arc known geologically as a fore arc. They lie above a subduction zone between the Pacific Plate and the Philippine Sea Plate. The Pacific Plate is subducting under the Philippine Sea Plate, which creates an oceanic trench to the east of the islands. The crust of the Ogasawara (Bonin) Islands was formed by volcanic activity when subduction began 45–50 million years ago, and is composed mostly of an andesitic volcanic rock called boninite, which is rich in magnesium oxide, chromium, and silicon dioxide. The Ogasawara Islands may represent the exposed parts of an ophiolite that has not yet been emplaced on oceanic crust. The rocks of the Volcano Islands are much younger; Iwo Jima is a dormant volcano characterized by rapid uplift and several hot springs.

Most of the islands have steep shorelines, often with sea cliffs ranging from 50 to 100 metres (160 to 330 ft) in height, but the islands are also fringed with coral reefs and have many beaches.[34] The highest point lies on South Iwo Jima, at 916 metres (3,005 ft).



Flora has evolved differently on each of the islands. The Ogasawara Islands are sometimes referred to as the Galapagos of the Orient.[35]

These islands are home to the northern most outliers of the Clinostigma genus of palms. C. savoryianum is endemic and has been planted in mediterranean climates often with success. As well species of Metrosideros live here as well.

The Ogasawara Islands form a distinct subtropical moist broadleaf forest ecoregion, with a high degree of biodiversity and endemism. The islands are home to about 500 plant species, of which 43% are endemic. The forests are of three main types:

  • Type I: Elaeocarpus-Ardisia mesic forest is found in the moist lowland areas with deep soils. The forests have a closed canopy with a height of about 15 metres (49 ft), dominated by Ardisia sieboldii. Elaeocarpus photiniaefolius, Pisonia umbellifera, and Pouteria obovata are other important canopy species. These forests were almost completely destroyed by clearing for agriculture before 1945.
  • Type II: Distylium-Raphiolepis-Schima dry forest is found in drier lowland and upland sites with shallower soils. It is also a closed-canopy forest, with a 4-to-8-metre (13 to 26 ft) canopy composed mostly of Distylium lepidotum, Rhaphiolepis integerrima, Schima mertensiana, Pouteria obovata, and Syzygium buxifolium. The Type II forests can be further subdivided into:
    • Type IIa: Distylium-Schima dry forest occurs in cloudy upland areas with fine-textured soils. These forests contain many rare and endemic species, with Pandanus boninensis and Syzygium buxifolium as the predominant trees.
    • Type IIb: Raphiolepsis-Livistona dry forest is found in upland areas with few clouds and rocky soils. Rhaphiolepis integerrima is the dominant tree species, along with the fan palm Livistona chinensis var. bonensis, Pandanus boninensis and Ochrosia nakaiana.
  • Type III: Distylium-Pouteria scrub forest is found on windy and dry mountain ridges and exposed sea cliffs. These forests have the highest species diversity on the islands. Distylium lepidotum and Pouteria obovata are the dominant species, growing from 0.5 to 1.5 metres (1.6 to 4.9 ft) tall. Other common shrubs are Myrsine okabeana, Symplocos kawakamii, and Pittosporum parvifolium.


The range of the Bonin Petrel extends beyond the Ogasawaras to include other islands in the northern Pacific region.

There are two restricted-range species of birds on the islands the Japanese Woodpigeon (Columba janthina) and the Vulnerable Bonin White-eye (Apalopteron familiare), formerly known as "Bonin Honeyeater". The Japanese Woodpigeon was extirpated in the Iwo Island groups in the 1980s.

A small bat Pipistrellus sturdeei is only known in one record and has not been seen since 1915. The Bonin flying fox (Pteropus pselaphon), also called the Bonin fruit bat, is endemic to the islands. It is currently listed as Critically Endangered, and a survey published by the Ogasawara Office of Education in 1999 estimated their number to be around 100.[36]


Ogasawara Village operates its public elementary and junior high schools.

Tokyo Metropolitan Government Board of Education operates Ogasawara High School[37]

See also

  • 2010 Bonin Islands earthquake


  1. ^ Japan Times. "Ogasawara Islands Join World Heritage family". Retrieved 26 June 2011. 
  2. ^ Freeman, Otis W. (1951). Geography of the Pacific, pp. 229-235.
  3. ^ "Bonin Islands," Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved July 06, 2009.
  4. ^ Welsch, Bernhard. (2004). "Was Marcus Island Discovered by Bernardo de la Torre in 1543?" Journal of Pacific History, 39:1, 109-122.
  5. ^ Tanaka, Hiroyuki. (1993). "The Ogasawara Islands in Tokugawa Japan," Kaiji Shi Kenkyuu (Journal of the Maritime History).
  6. ^ [see above]
  7. ^ Asia Society of Japan, Long lecture.
  8. ^ Hypa, the Centenarian Nurse, by Rev A F King, The Mission Field, 43, 415-421, 1898
  9. ^ Tanaka, Hiroyuki (1993). "Edo Jidai ni okeru Nihonjin no Mujin Tou (Ogasawara Tou) ni tai-suru Ninshiki" ("The Ogasawara Islands in Tokugawa Japan"). Kaiji Shi Kenkyuu(Journal of the Maritime History). No. 50, June, 1993.
  10. ^ WorldCat, Sangoku Tsūran Zusetsu; alternate romaji Sankoku Tsūran Zusetsu
  11. ^ Cullen, Louis M. (2003). A History of Japan, 1582-1941: Internal and External Worlds, p. 137. at Google Books
  12. ^ Morris-Suzuki, Tessa. (1998). Re-inventing Japan: Time, Space, Nation, p. 24. at Google Books; Kublin, Hyman. "The Discovery of the Bonin Islands: A Reexamination," Annals of the Association of American Geographers, Vol. 43, Issue 1 (March 1, 1953). pp. 27-46.
  13. ^ Klaproth, Julius. (1832). San kokf tsou ran to sets, ou Aperçu général des trois royaumes, pp. 256-286. at Google Books
  14. ^ Beechey, Frederick William (1831). Narrative of a voyage to the Pacific and Beering's Strait, to co-operate with the polar expeditions: performed in His Majesty's ship Blossom, under the command of Captain F.W. Beechey, R.N., F.R.S. &c. in the years 1825, 26, 27, 28. London: H. Colburn and R. Bentley. pp. 237–240. 
  15. ^ Rein, J. J. (1884). Japan: Travel and Researches, pp.533-534.
  16. ^ National Geographic, October 1944, pp. 387–388, 404.
  17. ^ "父島の宿". Retrieved 2007-09-05. 
  18. ^ Welch, Jeanie M. "Without a Hangman, Without a Rope: Navy War Crimes Trials After World War II," International Journal of Naval History. Vol. 1, No. 1 (April 2002).
  19. ^ "Story of George H. W. Bush World War II Experience". CNN. December 20, 2003. 
  20. ^ Nicol, C. W., "The far-out Ogasawaras", Japan Times, 7 August 2011, p. 10.
  21. ^ Trumbull, Robert. "Bonin Islanders Seek U.S. Tie But Remain International Pawns; Descendants of Americans Ask Citizenship in Vain--Fight Return of Japanese," New York Times. March 11, 1956.
  22. ^ Long, Daniel; Peter Trudgill (2004). The Last Yankee in the Pacific: Eastern New England Phonology in the Bonin Islands. Duke University Press. doi:10.1215/00031283-79-4-356. 
  23. ^ Long, Daniel (2007). English on the Bonin (Ogasawara) Islands. Duke University Press. ISBN 978-0-8223-6671-3. 
  24. ^ linguistic culture
  25. ^ Long, Daniel; Naoyuki Hashimoto (2005). Talking Dictionary of the Bonin Islands Language (with CD-ROM). Nanpo Shinsha. ISBN 978-4861240447. 
  26. ^ "Japanese Researchers Capture Giant Squid". Fox News. 2006-12-22.,2933,238263,00.html. Retrieved 2007-09-06. 
  27. ^ Standish, Robert (pseudonym of Digby George Gerahty). (1943). Bonin, A Novel, London: Peter Davies.
  28. ^ Macross Compendium Atlas Listing
  29. ^ Matango - 00:17
  30. ^ "おがさわら丸 (Ogasawara Maru)". Retrieved 2007-09-06. 
  31. ^ "Super High Speed Ship (Techno Super Liner) for Ogasawara Line Naming and Launching Ceremony". Archived from the original on 2007-09-26. Retrieved 2007-08-24. 
  32. ^ "Japan pulls plug on Techno Superliner". Retrieved 2007-08-24. 
  33. ^ McCormack, Gavan (August 1999). "Dilemmas of Development on The Ogasawara Islands". Japan Policy Research Institute. Retrieved 2008-01-17. 
  34. ^ coral reefs
  35. ^ Yamaoka, Fumiko (May 12). "Saving an endangered bird in 'Orient's Galapagos'". The Japan Times. 
  36. ^ "Ogasawara subtropical moist forests". World Wildlife Fund. Retrieved 2008-01-17. 
  37. ^ "Chichi-jima". 

See also


External links

Coordinates: 26°59′53″N 142°13′05″E / 26.99806°N 142.21806°E / 26.99806; 142.21806

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Bonin Islands — /boh nin/ a group of islands in the N Pacific, SE of and belonging to Japan: under U.S. administration 1945 68. 40 sq. mi. (104 sq. km). Japanese, Ogasawara Jima. * * * Japanese Ogasawara gunto Island group, western Pacific Ocean. Located about… …   Universalium

  • Bonin Islands — or Ogasawara Islands geographical name islands W Pacific about 600 miles (966 kilometers) SSE of Tokyo; belong to Japan; administered by United States 1945 68 area 40 square miles (104 square kilometers), population 1507 …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • Bonin Islands — Bo′nin Is′lands [[t]ˈboʊ nɪn[/t]] n. pl. geg a group of islands in the N Pacific, SE of and belonging to Japan: under U.S. administration 1945–68. 40 sq. mi. (104 sq. km) …   From formal English to slang

  • Bonin Islands — /boʊnən ˈaɪləndz/ (say bohnuhn uyluhndz) plural noun a group of Japanese islands in the western Pacific. 103 km2. Largest island, Chichijima. Japanese, Ogasawara guntō …   Australian English dictionary

  • Bonin Islands — /boh nin/ a group of islands in the N Pacific, SE of and belonging to Japan: under U.S. administration 1945 68. 40 sq. mi. (104 sq. km). Japanese, Ogasawara Jima …   Useful english dictionary

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  • Bonin — may refer to: *Bonin Islands, Japan *Eduard von Bonin (1793 1865), Prussian Minister of War *Bogislaw von Bonin (1908 1980), German officer and journalist …   Wikipedia

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