Travel with turtle
Find Yourself on the Journey
Even from the air, the Ogasawara Archipelago is out of this world, but you will probably have to take my word for that as very few people outside of the Japanese security forces ever fly near enough to them to see them from above. There is only one airport in the entire archipelago and it is both off limits and far removed from the inhabited islands where tourists visit. You may have heard of Iwo Jima, but despite the immense historical value and natural beauty of this small island, you should not have it on your bucket list unless the Japanese government ever makes it accessible to civilians. I have been there but not as a tourist (See story at the bottom of this blog).
Top Things to do in the Ogasawara Islands
The cinematography and images on this are excellent.
Click below to read more, please.
Visiting the Ogasawara Islands is not inexpensive, but it is a great value.
I do fly free which in many cases offsets the costliness of travel. However, none of my common travel hacks that I teach about in the Travel 101 blogs does much to offset the costs of the 26-hour boat ride to and from Tokyo to Chichijima, the largest of the inhabited islands. The costs of this are high compared to many other similar options and the comfort onboard is proportional to what you pay for the transit. Base tickets are well over $500 round trip for the most basic berthing and do not include food and beverages.
History Preserved on the Ogasawara Archipelago
Despite being claimed by a ronin samurai named Ogasawara Sadayori in 1593, the remoteness of this no man’s land made it just that until the 1830 when a group of Americans and Pacific Islanders fonded a village on Chichijima. Primarily a fishing and farming community, the people of the Bonin Islands, as they were called, live relatively free from governance until hostilities rose leading up to WWII. At this point, the Japanese, who had re-asserted the Islands as a territory in 1875, developed the islands into an important naval base for the deployment of resources in the battles to come.
Here on these remote islands, the Japanese built fortifications, sheltered ships, and built a strategic airfield on Iwo Jima. This brought a war to these peaceful shores in the Winter of 1945, when American forces invaded and eventual wrestled control of the archipelago from the Japanese and left many of the ships to be memorialized on the bottom of the ocean. History buffs hike to the battlemants through broadleaf forests in which nearly 40% of the plant species and several of the animals are found nowhere else, while even the least historically motivated travelers cannot resist the urge to snorkel and dive on the ships that harbor ample sea life.
An Underwater Paradise in the Pacific
The clarity and color of the water are also celebrated by watersports enthusiasts. These waters are claimed to be the clearest in the pacific and the blue tones are seldom rivaled, although the Mediterranean blues off Capri give them a run for their money.
But, for me, it is the ships and the nature that is transforming the ships into pristine reefs that hold me spellbound. Being fortunate enough to have dived in Chuuk (Truk Island) and Pohnpei where wrecks are also relatively accessible, I can tell you these dives are thrilling, and with so many here, this is one of the premier places to dive them. In fact, many are right off shore and only require a mask and snorkel to enjoy.
The Clearest Night Skies in the Pacific
Finding Your Own Beach
Okay, so, you probably cannot lay claim on any of the beaches as your own, but with a little effort, you can have one to yourself. Numerous trails of all difficulties are available and most end or pass by beaches where humans are rarely sunbathing. The vistas over the beaches will make your Instagram blow up, but the real joy comes in the relaxing solitude of lapping waves without the incessant chatter of tourists. “Find Your Beach”, although it will be easier to do it with a Sapporo than a Corona.
My 25 minutes in Iwo Jima and another life saved
As you read more of these my blogs, you will come to realize that I am interested in exploring every corner of our globe. Extensive travel and an education in anthropology seem to engender an extraordinarily strong case of wanderlust. Thus, I would normally have been keen to look around Iwo Jima, if it were not for two factors; diplomatic pressure and the inherent hero complex that every good Coastie feels when on a Search and Rescue mission.
Our crew was deployed to Guam, again. I had been to Guam a half dozen times already, but I enjoyed every chance to “visit” this beautiful place. Most times we were there for law enforcement, but this deployment was last minute and for a purpose that we all loved so much more. It was time to try to save a life. No more then 36 hours beforehand, the SAR alarm had sounded at Coast Guard Air Station Barbers Point in Kapolei, Hawaii. We were briefed that a group of fishermen from Chuuk (Truk Island for my fellow history buffs) had been missing for 2 days and were presumed to be in trouble. We were to fly 11 hours to the Naval Air Station in Guam, then, head out the next day and hopefully find these people so they could come home safely.
We climbed down through the jungle to our favorite beach and, no sooner than we hit the water, the Satellite phone rang with news that we were being called back to base for a different Search and Rescue case.
Apparently, a man had fallen overboard from a freighter hundreds of miles North of Guam and we were going to go look for him. This is what makes the job among the best in the World. Saving lives is the best high. There is always such excitement on these missions, and anyone who has saved a life will know why there is a smile on my face every time I share a story like this.
However, these things take time and you end up flying and searching for hours and even days sometimes. This case was no different. In fact, this day was 13 hours in the air and we did not even find the gentleman by the time we drug ourselves into bed that night. We did, however fly over a couple gorgeous, uninhabited islands in the Ogasawara Islands on our way to refuel on Iwo Jima. The color of the water really stands out. They call it Bonin Blue. These green islands were something magnificent and in the deep blue water and I remember being awestruck as I gazed out the window. It was a welcome distraction from the search window and the radar screen which we rotated between for the preceding 8 hours or searching. I remember promising myself that I would return to these islands and while it will be difficult, I will someday.
The next day we set out again with renewed vigor but less expectation than before. The longer it takes to find someone, especially someone in the water, the less chance of survival, but today was to be great. After two hours on scene, there was a bleep on the radar that kept returning, but it did not belong to any boats in the area. It was in a large drift of sargassum (sea weed) and garbage, an unfortunately common sight in the open ocean, that the slightest reflection was blinking at the crew and our radar. On close inspection, there was a person in a large cooler with a signal mirror on the side. My shipmate (sorry, I do not remember which one marked the position) and we redirected a ship in the area to pick him up. He was very ill but lived, and while I was not directly responsible for the rescue, I loved being a part of it and I assume it will make my return visit to Ogasawara that much more rewarding.
Have you been here or are you going? Please share your stories and questions in the comments section below.
Not the least interesting man in the World; Turtle is a Coast Guard Veteran, Maya archaeologist, museum curator, and world traveler. His passions for culture, history, preservation, and the welfare of people drives his desire to travel widely and share his travels for the inspiration of others, like yourself.