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Sunday, September 4, 2016

Japan's Bonin Islands - 1955

There’s an old saying that simply states that “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” - George Santayana (1863-1952).

I think that’s a great bit of advice. But what past? There’s a lot of it. I suppose I have taken things a bit farther and have wanted to learn as much about everything - just to make sure.

So… just in case…

A good friend of mine send me some old Nippon Times newspapers of October 1955 vintage. I wondered if they were ever a white broadsheet, but these past 61 years have turned them a yellowy color, but have maintained a suppleness that belies their age.

From the October 21, 1955 edition of the Nippon Times - an English-language newspaper published in Tokyo, with I assumed limited distribution elsewhere, we have an interesting newspaper article about Japan, WWII reparations, and the Bonin Island people.

First… a bit of background, because the newspaper article does not give the reader any to prepare them for what it considered important enough to be a front page story - granted one of 20, in this throwback visual look that newspapers had.

Bonin Islands… I’ve written about the place twice - both times in 2013. One was about an extinct bird that lived there - GONE, and the other time about Japan claiming rights to a new island that just popped up - HERE.  Since my original writing, this new island was named “Niijima” - for a while.

That new volcanic island rose to 20 to 25 meters (66- to 82-feet) above sea level, and, as of December of 2013, had an area of 56,000 square meters (13.8 acres)… and by December 26, 2013,  it had joined with the closeby island of Nishinoshima. While it has not been officially named, that conjoined island is now being called… well… I assume it wouldn’t have a new name. It would be called Nishinoshima, and island that just became larger with the joining of Niijima.
The Bonin Islands are approximately 30 islands—it depends on what sort of rocky outcropping one considers to be large enough to be an island or small enough to be a shipping hazard—and is located about 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) south of Tokyo in a volcanic zone known as the 'Ring of Fire.'

The Bonin Islands are also known as Ogasawara Islands (小笠原群島 Ogasawara Guntō).

And... as you can see from the image at the top, these islands are really quite lovely.  It shows the submerged karst around Minamijima Island of the Ogasawara Islands chain.

Guess where I found the image? That's right: the Ogasawara Islands website - HERE.

Coincidentally for this blog story—but not mentioned in the news article, is the fact that word “Bonin” is derived from a Japanese word ‘bunin’, which means ‘uninhabited’ or ‘no people’ - aka 無人島, Buninjima. Jima and or shima means 'island'.

However, there was a WWII Japanese military base on the main island of Chichijima, and (while there is more info on the islands (later), just note that after WWII, the islands were controlled by the United States Navy, which had expelled all residents except those descended from the original settlers and/or related to them by marriage.

Original settlers? What does that mean?

The British claimed it in 1827. The Japanese claimed them in 1862 (renaming them the Ogasawara Islands). So… do they mean any of the Brits or these Japanese? Or do they mean the Spanish who discovered the island back in 1543- maybe. Or did they mean those related to the prehistoric tools and carved stones found on North Iwo Jima and Chichijima?

In 1917, there were between 60 to 70 island people who claimed ancestry among the 19th-century English-speaking settlers. But, by 1941, no Bonin people would acknowledge descent from these early colonists.

Here’s the original newspaper article:

Bonin Islanders’ Chance To Go Back Home Slim
WASHINGTON, Oct. 20 (Kyodo-UP)—American authorities said yesterday there was very little possibility that the United States would agree at this time to permit the return to the Bonin Islands of 7,000 former residents who were evacuated to Japan during the latter phases of the war.
They said the Department of Defense still maintains that this cannot be permitted on the grounds of security.
The question was raised yesterday when a Japanese delegation, headed by President Tatsuo Yokota of the “League of Bonin Evacuees for Hastening Repatriation” called on Senate Department officials. Other members of Yokota’s group are Tokuyasu Fukuda, Deputy Secretary-General of the Liberal Party and member of the House of Representatives; Hozen Fujita, Executive Director of the League; and Michinori Ishii, Secretary-General of the Southern Areas Liason Bureau of the Prime Minister’s office.
They called yesterday on Robert McClurkin, Director of Northeast Asian Affairs for the State Department. Today they will visit Deputy Undersecretary of State Robert Murphy and Assistant Secretary Walter Robertson.
At present the Bonins are devoid of all native inhabitants except Eurasians who are considered good security risks by the American authorities.


See? If you just read that story you would wonder just what the heck is going on…

The islands reverted back to Japanese control in 1968, at which time Japanese citizens could once again set foot on these rocky outcrops.

My big question is: Who are these Japanese people that waited 23-plus years to return to the Bonin/Ogasawara islands?

I would assume, that most people who have, in the ensuing 20+ years—created a new life for themselves… a new home… new jobs… schools…family… friends… kids. Now, just because these island were given back by the US for Japan to lord over, people go back?

Is that Japanese allure to be in the place where one’s ancestors were so strong?

As we already know, it couldn’t be. Those islands were once uninhabited, but someone had to leave their ancestral home on the mainland(s) to make the islands their home.

Still... if you look at the photo at the top... you'll understand why they would want to go back. 

So what have we learned about history? Well… Japan has long had an issue of who owns what island - a problem it currently has with both China and Russia over a bunch of other useless rocky outcrops that only mean it extends one’s international boundaries a little farther - a fact I admit is important from a strategic sense.

Just share the islands… create a tourist mecca one each, share administrative costs and turmoil as well as the profits.

As for the Bonin now Ogasawara Islands... you CAN visit them. Check out the website link above... it's in English!

Andrew Joseph

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