The Bonin Islands (Ogasawara Gunto to the Japanese) properly are the central group of Nanpo Shoto comprising Muko, Chichi, and Haha. The southern group, which includes Iwo Jima, is called the Volcano Islands, but Bonins is often used for the entire chain. Jima or Shima means an island, Shoto an archipelago, Gunto an island group.
The Volcano Islands (Kazan Retto)
The Bonin Islands might have been an American possession if President Franklin Pierce's administration had backed up Commodore Matthew Calbraith Perry. Chichi Jima was first settled from Honolulu in 1830 by two New Englanders -- Aldin B. Chapin and Nathaniel Savory -- a Genoese, and 25 Hawaiians, who made a living raising provisions for sale to passing whalers. Commodore Perry called at Port Lloyd on 14 June 1853, next day purchased for fifty dollars a plot of land on the harbor, stocked it with cattle brought over in U.S.S. Susquehanna, set up a local government under Savory, promulgated a code of laws, and took possession for the United States. He intended to make Chichi Jima a provisioning stations for the United States Navy and American mail steamers. But this action was repudiated by the Pierce administration in Washington. Thus, in 1861 Japan was able to annex the Bonin Islands without opposition. The government did not disturb the American colony, and serious colonization of the group by Japanese did not start until the arrival of Japanese fisherman and sulfur miners in 1887. Kazan Retto was formally annexed by Japan in 1891 and administered as part of the Tokyo prefecture.
Iwo Jima, central island of the Volcano group, had great value as a strategic outpost, but for nothing else. Situated in lat. 24° 45' N, long. 141° 20 E, shaped like a bloated pear or a lopsided pork chop, Iwo is only 4 1/2 miles long and 2 1/2 miles wide (8 square miles). The largest of the Volcanos, Iwo Jima is known in legend as the "island of the demons".
The volcanic crater of Mount Suribachi, 550 feet above sea level, at the stem of the pear, remained inactive during World War II, but numerous jets of steam and sulphur all over the island suggested that an eruption might take place at any moment. The northern part of the island is a plateau with rocky and inaccessible shores, but beaches extended from the base of Mount Suribachi for more than two miles north and east. These beaches, the land between them, and a good part of the terrain are deeply covered with brown volcanic ash and black cinders which look like sand, but are so much lighter than sand that walking is difficult and running impossible. Marston mat had to be laid to accommodate wheeled and even tracked vehicles. Up to 1944 the island was inhabited by about 1100 Japanese civilians who raised sugar and pineapples, extracted sulphur and ran a crude sugar mill; but all were evacuated by mid to late 1944.
Following the lost of the Marianas (Guam, Saipan, Tinian, etc.) in June 1944, Iwo Jima was heavily fortified as part of Japan's inner ring of defenses. The Peace Treaty of 1951 recognized Japan's "residual sovereignty", but the United States maintained its occupation and control from 1945 to 1961 when the island were formally returned to Japanese control.
The Volcano Islands are administered as part of the Tokyo prefecture by the [Self Defense forces] and are normally off limits to visitors.
Lionel B. Cholmondeley History of the Bonin Islands (London 1915).
Transcribed and formatted ofr HTML by Patrick Clancey, HyperWar Foundation