Ogasawara Becomes a World Heritage Site

May 11, 2011 Juju Kurihara 1 Comment

chusonjiTwo Japanese heritages, Hiraizumi (平泉) in Iwate prefecture (岩手県) and Ogasawara Islands (小笠原諸島) in Tokyo prefecture (東京都) are likely to be registered as UNESCO´s world heritage sites. The official committee will be held in Paris from the 19th of June this year.

This is a good news especially in the situation Japan has right now. 

Japan has a beautiful nature. Tokyo is interesting and cool. It´s one of the major destination foreign people want to visit or to live. However the nature of Japan is also amazing, and there are many sites that are untouched my human. I haven´t seen them all yet.


For example, I haven´t been to Hiraizumi. The temple called Chuusonji (中尊寺) is situated in the heart of Oushu (奥州/ old way of callin Touhoku/東北).

Ogasawara_islandsI haven´t been to Ogasawara Islands either but I have a special feeling for one of the islands, Haha-jima (母島). There are 30 islands in Ogasawara islands but there are only four islands are habitable, and in the reality, only two islands have residents, they are Chichi-jima (父島) and Haha-jima.

Chichi is father in Japanese and Haha means mother, and as the name shows, Chichi-jima is bigger and has more population than Haha-jima.


Ogasawara became a part of Japan in 1876 (year 9 of Meiji period) and at that time most of the westerners lived in the islands asked for naturalization and all became Japanese. This is why the people from Ogasawara look slightly different, a little similar to the people in Okinawa (沖縄).

They were quiet and pacific islands, people were growing coffee, cocoa, lemons, bananas, mangos, pineapples and sugar cane… until Japan got involved in the WWII.



The US army landed on Iou tou (Iwo jima/硫黄島) and managed to occupy this small island in 1945. Some people might´ve seen the film about this island.

Since then Ogasawara went under US occupation for 22 years.

Now there is a Japanese military base in Iwo jima and no civilians are allowed to enter.



ogasawara beachIt was when I started uni when I first met someone from Ogasawara. Until then, I only had a knowledge about these islands from the geography class at school.

I didn´t even know that those islands were considered as a part of Tokyo.

She was from Haha-jima and she is from Tokyo.

The stories she told us were amazing. The life there sounded completely different from my daily life.

In Haha-jima, there was only one traffic light. They had set it for the children in the island to teach them the traffic rules. As there is no high school in the island, all children had to go to Chichi-jima when they finish the secondary school. They start living away from their family. Of course there are more people and cars in Chichi-jima, so they need to learn the traffic rules. However, she laughed, in Haha-jima whenever you want to cross the street, cars will stop and let you cross wherever you are.


populationThe population in Haha-jima was 451 in 2009.

There is a ferry comes along to the island once a week. Her aunt who lived in Tokyo inland would sent her all TV dramas for a week recorded in a tape. She told us that to send her a card, we wouldn´t need to put the address, just need to put her name on and the card will be safely delivered. 

Everyone knows everyone, she laughed.



Her grandfather used to catch turtle and cooked it on the beach, well baked it in the fire. She said that turtle cries in the fire and she´d never be able to eat them but it was a sort of delicacy and her grandpa liked them.

Needless to say, I assured her, ¨eat turtles?¨


Then I understood the life in an island where there are not many resources. They have little space to cultivate, there is an uninhabited small island between Chichi-jima and Haha-jima where only goats live, then the rest is the ocean. Living in an island like that, catching and eating turtles is perhaps a surviving skill.


The best story she told us was the swimming class at her high school in Chichi-jima. As you would imagine, there is no swimming pool at the high school. They practice in the ocean.

So, what can it happen if you swim in a tropical open water?


ogasawara-keta whale

They just found themselves surrounded by a pack of dolphins or could even see a whale had a big jump over the water in a distance.


Once they did skin diving and saw a manta ray swimming across.

For me it was like a fairy tale. I couldn´t believe we could have such a different background. I couldn´t help asking her about her home town.




Not only the beautiful ocean they have, they also have a mountain where lots of wildlife is.

There are huge trees called Gajumaru (Ficus Microcarpa) in the mountain. Curiously enough, this mountain is called Chibusa Yama, means Mt.Boobs. Is that because it´s a bump in Mother island (Haha-jima)? It caught my attention.



Despite of the beauty of the islands, unfortunately young people are leaving there, including my friend. Now she lives in Tokyo inland with her own family.

But the islands attract many divers and at the same time, they preserve the nature. Another place to visit in my list. Tick.



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