Just a hop, skip and a 24-hour ferry ride from mainland Tokyo, you’ll find the exotic Bonin islands, better known as Ogasawara. Despite transport to the 30-island archipelago being discouragingly expensive and tedious, it’s impossible to oversell this little subtropical paradise.
It’s 1,000 km away, but this volcanic chain of islands still comes under the administration of Tokyo – and it couldn’t be more different. The name ‘Ogasawara’ comes from a ronin (masterless samurai) named Ogasawara Sadato who falsely claimed in 1727 that the islands were discovered by his ancestors. He was later exiled from Japan when his fraud came to light eight years later, but hey, the name stuck. The islands passed through the hands of several European imperialists after the first recorded visit by a Spanish fleet in 1543, meaning that some of the current residents are descended from European settlers. There are also some World War II ruins on the islands, which you can explore.
Since 1875 the islands have been an official part of Japan, although they were controlled by the US military for 23 years after World War II, and they became a Unesco World Heritage Site in 2011. Although the 2,000-resident main island (and our focus here) is Chichijima, keep in mind that there are dozens of other islands in the archipelago – including Hahajima, the only other inhabited island – which are also worth a visit if you have time.
But you probably won’t be coming here for the history. The wildlife on the islands is the main draw – it’s rife with endemic species, many of which have undergone a unique evolution, earning the archipelago the nickname ‘the Galápagos of the Orient’. So if the enchanting remoteness and emerald waters aren’t enough to lure you here, there’s always the chance of getting a pic with a giant squid. Yes, that’s a real thing – the first ever photo of the 12-foot-long sea creature was taken off these islands in 2004.
Since the islands are subtropical rather than tropical, don’t expect year-round balmy temperatures. The best time to go is early summer (June/July), just before the tourist season kicks in and when the weather is superb. But even if you make it out as early as late-March it should be warm enough to swim in the sea and relax on the beach.
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