Administratively part of the Tokyo Prefecture, despite lying 1.000 km (600 mi) south of the city, the Ogasawara Islands are scattered over the Pacific Ocean south of the Izu Islands. The 30 islands in the group are arranged in three distinct blocks. The Ogasawara Archipelago consists of Muko-jima Island, Chichi-jima Island and Haha-jima Island. The two Islands (Volcano Islands) form the second blocks, while Nishi- no-shima Island, Minani-tori-shima Island, and Oki-no-shima Island belong to the last block. The whole area falls within the Ogasawara National Park.
The islands were claimed by the Japanese in the 14th or 15th century, but in 1827 a British warship came across the uninhabited islands and claimed possession until 1876 when they were handed back to Japan. During World War II, most of the inhabitants were evacuated to the mainland, and a Japanese military base was established there. The Battle of Iwo-jima, one of the fiercest battles of the war, was fought here in 1945. The islands were taken by the US Navy, who allowed the inhabitants of Western descent to return. The islands were given back to Japan in 1968, and the Japanese evacuees were finally allowed home. Nowadays, nearly all of the inhabitants, including those of Western ancestry, are Japanese citizens.
The islands are the highest points of an ancient underwater volcano, so sheer cliffs of up to 100 m (328 ft) characterize their magnificent coastlines. The islands are fringed with beautiful coral reefs, and many have lovely beaches. The highest peak is on South Iwo-jima, at 916 m (3.005 ft).
As the Ogasawara Islands have always been remote and have never been part of a continent, much of the flora and fauna is unique, with species varying between islands as they do in the Galapagos. For this reason, the islands are being considered by UNESCO to be added to the World Heritage List. Unspoilt and unpolluted, the waters surrounding the Ogasawara Archipelago are part of the Ogasawara Sea Park, and diving and snorkelling are very popular here as the visibility is very good and there are plentiful coral reefs and colourful tropical fish.
This is also a great place for whale watching – sperm whales can be spotted all year, while humpback whales and their calves are around from February to April. Many different types of dolphin inhabit the waters too, and it is sometimes possible to swim with bottlenose and spinner dolphins.
Population: 2.300 (2005)
When to go: Any time of year.
How to get there: By ship from Tokyo to Chichi-jima. The ship leaves once a week and the journey takes 25 hours.
Highlights: Swimming with dolphins – both bottleose and spinner dolphins can be found in the clear waters around the islands.
Whale watching – see sperm whales and humpback whales in their natural habitat. An organized tour will lead you to where the whales are most plentiful and increase your chances of seeing them. Snorkelling and diving among the coral reefs. Marine life is plentiful, and this is where the first-ever filming of a giant squid took place in 2004. At around 8 m (25 ft) long, these creatures are, luckily, only to be found deep in the ocean.
You should know: In English, the islands are called the Bonin Islands.