Friday, November 4, 2011
The Ogasawara Islands (小笠原諸島, Ogasawara Shotō), also known in English as the Bonin Islands, are a chain of volcanic islands in the Pacific Ocean, about 1000 kilometers south and administratively part of Tokyo. The sole way to reach the islands is by a weekly 25.5 hour ferry ride from Tokyo. Only the two largest islands, Chichijima (Father Island) and Hahajima (Mother Island) are inhabited.
Located on a similar geographical latitude as Okinawa, the Ogasawara Islands offer a subtropical climate with warm temperatures year around. The islands attract visitors with their remoteness, relaxed hospitality, beautiful beaches, coral reefs and jungle covered hills, and offer various outdoor activities such as whale watching, swimming with dolphins, hiking, sea kayaking, snorkeling and diving.
Because the Ogasawara Islands were never connected to the Japanese mainland or any continent, they feature many unique plants and animals that are only found here, including various birds, insects and crabs. In order to maintain the unique environment, visitors must pay attention not to import any seeds or alien species to the islands and refrain from collecting or otherwise harming the local plants and wildlife. For this reason camping and off-trail hiking are strictly prohibited throughout the islands.
The Ogasawara Islands were discovered in 1593 by Ogasawara Sadayori, who claimed them for the Tokugawa Shogunate. But they remained largely uninhabited until 1830 when a small group of Westerners and Pacific Islanders established a colony on Chichijima. The islands officially became Japanese territory in 1875, and later served as military bases during the Second World War. After the war, they were occupied by the United States until 1968 when they were returned to Japan.
The remoteness of the islands comes with a few minor inconveniences. Credit cards are accepted only by a small number of hotels and shops; however, cash withdrawal is possible through the postal ATMs found at the JA Bank branches on both islands (note limited business hours). Cell phone coverage is poor and limited to Docomo and au on Chichijima and Docomo only on Hahajima. Internet access is available at the visitor center on Chichijima and a small number of shops and hotels.