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MEMORIES ISLAND

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    Takashi Jonathan Sebore "Savory" at his ancestor's grave in the old cemetery of the Omura on the island of Chichijima on the Ogasawara Archipelago. Japan, April 2016.
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    On the ship that connects Tokyo to the Ogasawara Archipelago in the Pacific. Japan, April 2016.
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    A view of Tatsumi bay on the Ogasawara Archipelago from the Tennourayama mountain. Japan, April 2016.
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    Guns of the Japanese Imperial Army on the grounds of Mr. Akinori, Fujitani, a farmer of passion fruits and tomatoes on the island of Hahajima. Ogasawara Archipelago. Japan, April 2016.
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    A poster commemorates the first ship sent by the Japanese government during the EDO period in 1861. With the ship's arrival, the island's inhabitants were informed that from that moment forth, the islands belonged to the Japanese Empire. The first dispatch of settlers from Japan began the following year. Chichijima island. Ogasawara Archipelago. Japan, April 2016.
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    A view of Asahi Mountain from the port of Chichijima island. Ogasawara Archipelago. Japan, April 2016.
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    Louis Webb, 5th generation Obekei, in the "Bouga" bar on the island of Chichijima. Archipelago of Ogasawara. Japan, April 2016.
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    On a ship for the first official excursion to the volcanic island of Nishinojima, first enlarged in 1974, and further widened in 2013, by volcanic eruptions. By July of 2016, a volcanic cone formed on the island, raising the height to over 140 meters. Archipelago of Ogasawara. Japan, April 2016.
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    In the forest near the Tsutsujiyama mountain a WWII military truck is covered by vegetation. Chichijima island. Archipelago of Ogasawara. Japan, April 2016.
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    Mr. Minoru (Washington) Ikeda, born in 1926, is one of three living 4th generation Obekei still residing on the island of Chichijima. Archipelago of Ogasawara. Japan, April 2016.
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    The remains of a Japanese army freighter ship that sank in the bay of Sakura in 1944 after being hit by the airplanes of the American army. It had been traveling from Saipan to Chichijima to supply the soldiers of the Japanese army controlling the island. Chichijima. Ogasawara Archipelago. Japan, April 2016.
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    Omura beach, on the island of Chichijima. Archipelago of Ogasawara. Japan, April 2016.
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    A marriage is celebrated at the "Chapel of Peace" church, given to the island by the US Navy in 1968 before the reversal. Chichijima Island, Ogasawara Archipelago. Japan, April 2016.
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    A whale near the Tatsumizaki cape on the island of Chichijima. Ogasawara Archipelago. Japan, April 2016.
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    Fisherman in boats in the harbor of Chichijima. Chichijima Island, Ogasawara Archipelago. Japan. April 2016.
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    The WWII communication headquarters of the Japanese army in the Yoakeyama Mountains on the island of Chichijima, now buried under a wall of vegetation. Ogasawara Archipelago. Japan, April 2016.
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    Rance Washington shows WWII pictures of the Chichijima Island in his bar "Yankee Town." Chichijima Island, Ogasawara Archipelago. Japan, April 2016.
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    A view of the Asahi Mountain from the city of Omura on the island of Chichijima. Ogasawara Archipelago. Japan, April 2016.
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    Forest on the island of Hahajima near the abandoned city of Kitako. Ogasawara Archipelago. Japan, April 2016.
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    Hiroko Komats was born in Japan but moved to Hahajima 44 years ago. She is a farmer of vegetables and passion fruit. Hahajima. Ogasawara Archipelago. Japan, April 2016.
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    View from the island of Hahajima. Ogasawara Archipelago. Japan, April 2016.
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    On the island of Hahajima. Ogasawara Archipelago. Japan, April 2016.
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    Mr. John Washington, an "Obeike," stands with an American flag in his house in Omura on the island of Hahajima. Ogasawara Archipelago. Japan, April 2016.
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    In the bay of Omura near the port Chichijima. Ogasawara Archipelago. Japan, April 2016.
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    George Gelley, a 6th generation "Obekei," lives on the island and works as a whale tour guide guide. Chichijima island. Ogasawara Archipelago. Japan, April 2016.
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    The sight from Hard Rock, the most southern point of the island of Chichijima. Ogasawara Archipelago. Japan, April 2016.
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    Edith Washington, Rance Washington and his son Rocky Washington, three generations of Obekei, in front of their home in Chichijima. Ogasawara Archipelago. Japan, April 2016.
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    An Obekei dinner party at Earl Gilley's home in Chichijima island. Ogasawara Archipelago. Japan. April 2016.
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    The grave of Kunio Washington, a 4th generation Obekei, buried in the old cemetery of Chichijima where many Obeikeis rest. The island of Chichijima. Ogasawara Archipelago. Japan, April 2016.
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    The waterfront of the island of Chichijima. Every time a boat leaves, the inhabitants celebrate. Chichijima island. Ogasawara Archipelago. Japan, April 2016
Memories Island

Ogasawara, the Mother Islands: An Uncounted Story of the American-Japanese Community in the Subtropical Seas

Photos by Stefano De Luigi / VII, story by Alissa Descotes-Toyosaki

Isolated 1,000 km south of Tokyo in the Pacific Ocean, the archipelago of Ogasawara welcomes rare visitors who must travel over 25 hours by ferry. Without air connection, the former Bonin Islands, under the administration of the prefecture of Tokyo and classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2011, present a unique ecosystem: whales, dolphins, huge squid and some 400 endemic species were able to be protected thanks to the geographical estrangement and the very low population. In November 2013, a new island, Nishinoshima, 130 km west of the main island of Chichijima, appeared after a volcanic eruption. The island did not stop getting bigger and drew the attention of biologists throughout the world as a study of the genesis of the ecosystems.

Today, only two of the 103 islands are inhabited by approximately 2,300 Japanese and half-blood — the “Obeikei” or American-Japanese. Indeed, the Bonin Islands were the greatest colony of whalers from New England and Hawaii in the 19th century. The blood mixture between Westerners, Africans, and Asians for almost two centuries has given birth to a unique community on this island, in which culture, identity, and history is still alive. During World War II, 7,000 islanders were forced to evacuate Ogasawara. Living in exile, Obeikei people experienced the traumas of war through their double American-Japanese identity. Occupied by the US Navy, Ogasawara was officially returned to Japan in 1968. Only 129 Obeikei were authorized to return in 1946 and live under the US jurisdiction, whereas thousands of Japanese nationals couldn’t return home for 23 years. In the case of Iwo Jima, the 1,000 inhabitants could never return to their island after the war. Today, the “Sulfur Island” is occupied by Japanese self-defense forces, and former inhabitants, living in exile in Chichijima or Hahajima. They long for the annual journey there to mourn their ancestors and lost villages. It is the only time they are authorized to land on Iwo Jima.

As the pre-war generation of Obeikei and former Japanese inhabitants, at around 90 years of age, slowly disappear, it could be the last chance to witness the testimony of their unique history and identity, both deeply anchored in American and Japanese roots. A fantastic saga, from the fierce whalers’ ancestors to the whale watching sons, from the rum-drunken pirates to the fishermen, and the war-sacrificed farmers still longing for their homeland of Iwo Jima.

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