Bonin Islands

Feb 06, 2015, 7:00AM EST
Bonin Islands
The Galapagos of the Orient

 The Bonin Islands, also known as the Ogasawara Islands, are an archipelago of 30 tropical and subtropical islands in the western Pacific about 550 nautical miles almost due south of Tokyo.  They are the most isolated of the inhabited Japanese islands.  The islands are volcanic in nature and formed about 50 million years ago above the subduction zone where the Pacific Plate is subducted or forced under the Philippine Sea Plate.  The unique volcanic rock of the islands, composed largely of magnesium oxide, chromium, and silicon dioxide, is referred to as boninite.  Much of the flora and fauna of the islands are endemic, including unique palms and broadleaf trees and shrubs.  It is home to the Bonin Petrel, the Japanese Woodpigeon, and the Bonin White-eye birds, as well as the Bonin flying fox (a species of fruit bat).  There is some indication that the islands may have been inhabited in prehistoric times, but the first recorded landing was by the Spanish navigator Bernardo de la Torre on 2 October 1543 when sailing the carrack San Juan de LetrĂ¡n from the Philippines to New Spain (Mexico).  The islands were uninhabited at that time.  Bonin (or bunin) in Japanese means “no people” or “uninhabited”.  In 1830, Nathaniel Savory founded a colony on the largest of the Bonin Islands, Chichijima, with 29 others from Hawaii, the continental United States, and Europe.  In 1853, Commodore Matthew Perry, US Navy, visited, established the Colony of Peel Island, purchased a small portion of land, and appointed Savory as governor.  In 1862, Japan formally claimed the islands and sent some its citizens to settle there.  The current inhabitants (about 2,440 living on Chichijima and Hahajima) are largely descendants of the original American and Japanese settlers and speak the Ogasawara Mixed Language, an English-lexified creole version of Japanese.  The inhabitants were forcibly moved to the main Japanese islands during World War II, but allowed to return later.  The Japanese Government regained control over the islands in 1968.  In 2013, a new island formed by volcanic eruption, but eventually expanded and joined with the nearby Nishinoshima.  Travel to the islands is largely restricted to weekly calls by a ship from Tokyo.

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