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Japan's subtropical Bonin Islands

Arriving at Asia's busiest airport, Narita, I took the 2-hour bus ride to the Shiba Park Hotel, located near the dock terminals of Tokyo Bay where I would catch my ship to Japan's Bonin Islands.

The Ogasawara-Maru to Chichi-jima

A short walk the next morning put me in a situation like a salmon going upstream. I negotiated the army of white-collar workers streaming ant-like off the J-train on their way to office buildings.

I boarded the Ogasawara-Maru to find my numbered bed-site in a most organized fashion. The ship was very clean. Most passengers were Japanese college students getting in a vacation before school resumed.

There were large halls with blankets and little brick-like pillows. The sleeping platforms were carpeted. We all left our shoes in the aisles. There were plenty of spaces to leave personal items. It was the first time on my circumnavigation that I felt safe leaving my money and passport. The floor felt hard, but I kept telling myself that it was good for my back. In my com-

Downtown Chichi-jima.

partment there were approximately 100 passengers. I was the only "gijen," non-Japanese. I felt like I was at an adult slumber party.

In every nook and cranny there were coin-operated machines selling everything from soup to nuts, including a toothbrush.

In lieu of "all ashore that's going ashore," there was a mechanized gong. The point was quite obvious.

To visit the Ogasawara Island chain, also called the Bonin Islands, you must take the Ogasawara-Maru to Chichi-jima. A smaller ship can take you to Haha-jima where the population is only 500.


The little harbor on the island is three blocks from the beachfront "downtown" area. The island was clean, colorful and casual -- quite a contrast with Tokyo. There are a dozen or so guest houses in the village. Surrounding the hamlet is a nice park with miradors overlooking the harbor.

There is talk of an airport for Chichi-jima, but most feel that would ruin this special island.

Most of the guest houses use tatami mats for sleeping, with men in one room and women in another. The meals are Japanese only and are excellent! The couple who ran my guest house, the Nangokuso, were super-helpful and made it sad to say "Goodbye."

One day I rented a mountain bike and rode all, over the hilly island. Everywhere I looked I could see tunnels from WWII that reminded me of Rabaul and other Japanese military bases.

While out swimming on the local beach, I heard the ship's P.A. come on and I felt it must be an important message. The voice echoed as the town speaker reverberated a 2-second delay. In the middle of the message, I understood "typhoon." Upon returning to my guest house, I was told by the owner that the following day would be cut short and we would leave six hours earlier to avoid Typhoon 17.

Chichi-jima is a special experience; scuba diving and whale watching are highlights. February to April is the best time to see the humpbacks. The fall is good for sperm-whale watching. Swimming with dolphins is a year-round activity.

There is a small but excellent visitor center Which, acts as a museum, giving the history and nature of the island. The sidewalks are like Hollywood Boulevari but with the "stars" being tiles of birds, animals and historical events inlaid in the sidewalks.

As for the downside, well... lots of Marlboros and Asian toilets.

Like the Marquesas Islands with the freighter Aranui let's hope Chichijima, with the Ogasawara-Maru, never sees plane service. It just wouldn't be the same.

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