Ogasawara Islands: 50 Years After Reversion

An Ogasawara Chronology: From Settlement to UNESCO World Heritage Listing


The environmentally unique Ogasawara Islands have a complex human history stretching back some 200 years. Below we look at the chronology of the volcanic chain from early expeditions and colonization to the present.

The Ogasawara Islands are a remote volcanic chain in the Pacific Ocean about 1,000 kilometers south of Tokyo. Most of the inhabitants of the approximately 30-island group live on the two main islands of Chichijima and Hahajima, which support populations of around 2,000 and 500 residents, respectively. A weekly ferry service connects Chichijima, the archipelago’s administrative center, to Tokyo, with a one-way journey taking 24 hours to complete.

The islands were first colonized in the nineteenth century by a group of Western and Pacific Island settlers. Since that time control of the Ogasawaras has passed between Japan and the United States, most recently in 1968, when the US Navy returned the archipelago to Japan following two decades of occupation after World War II. Below we provide a chronology of the islands from their early discovery to the present.

1670 A merchant ship from Awa Province, present-day Tokushima Prefecture, lands on Hahajima after being blown off course.
1675 The shogunate sends an expedition headed by Shimaya Ichizaemon to survey the Ogasawaras based on reports from the merchant ship’s crew.
1830 A small band of Americans, Europeans, and Pacific Islanders sail from Hawaii to establish a settlement on Chichijima. The colony becomes an important resupplying point for whaling vessels.
1853 US Navy Commodore Mathew Perry stops at the Ogasawaras en route to Japan and claims the islands for the United States. Nathaniel Savory, one of the original settlers, is appointed governor of the colony.
1862 The Tokugawa shogunate sends the steamship Kanrinmaru to Chichijima and declares the islands Japanese territory. A group of Japanese settlers arrive from Hachijōjima in the Izu island chain.
1863 All Japanese settlers leave the islands after the shogunate orders the outpost abandoned.
1875 The Meiji government dispatches the vessel Meijimaru to the Ogasawaras and informs the colonists of Japan’s claim to the islands.
1876 The Ogasawara Islands are internationally recognized as Japanese territory.
1877 Colonization from the Japanese mainland begins.
1882 The Japanese government forces foreign settlers to take Japanese citizenship.
1890s Sugar cane farming and sugar production becomes the main industry in the Ogasawaras. Settlers flood in from the Japanese mainland and Izu Islands.
1891 The Meiji government claims the Volcano Islands, a group of outcroppings south of the main Ogasawara Islands including Iōtō (Iwo Jima), for Japan.
1910s The population of the Volcano Islands grow as sugar cane farming and sugar production becomes established.
1930s Vegetable farming, particularly during the winter months, takes over sugar production. Products shipped to the mainland generate huge profits for the local economy.
1941 The Pacific War breaks out with Japan’s December attacks on US and British territories.
1944 As the war progresses, 6,900 of the islands’ 7,700 residents are evacuated to the mainland. Those who remain are recruited into military service.
1945 In February US forces land on Iōtō in the Volcano Islands. The ensuing battle results in massive casualties on both sides.
1946 US occupation forces allow descendants of early Western settlers, but not Japanese residents, to return to Chichijima.
1952 The San Francisco Peace Treaty officially places Amami, Okinawa, and the Ogasawara Islands under administration of the United States.
1968 On June 26 the United States returns control of the Ogasawara Islands to Japan. The US Navy leaves Chichijima and Japanese Self-Defense Forces are stationed on Iōtō.
1970s Many former residents of Chichijima and Hahajima return to the islands.
1972 Regular ferry service begins between mainland Tokyo and Chichijima.
1984 An advisory committee of the National Land Agency (now the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport, and Tourism) advises against repopulating the Volcano Islands due to ongoing volcanic activity and unexploded ordnance.
2011 In June the Ogasawara Islands are registered as a UNESCO Natural World Heritage Site.

A village on Chichijima in 1939.

Ogasawara Islanders in 1941.

A Chichijima building that served as a social club during the US occupation.

Students at school during the US occupation.

US sailors prepare to leave Chichijima in June 1968 following the return of the Ogasawara Islands to Japan.

(Banner photo: Family members gather at Tokyo’s Takeshiba Pier to send off passengers of the Kuroshiomaru, returning to Chichijima for the first time in 24 years. © Jiji. All photos courtesy of the Ogasawara Visitor Center, unless otherwise noted.)

Tokyo Japan-US Ogasawara Islands