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Chichi-jima (父島)


Unswerving cyclist
14 Mar 2002
The non-Japanese on Chichi-jima

This remote scythe-shaped island appears small and insignificant from the deck of a ferry. Visitors stagger down the gangplank after the 25-hour trip from Tokyo to find palm trees and white-sand beaches reminiscent of countless other specks of paradise dotting the Pacific.

A closer look at Chichi Jima's residents, however, reveals something a bit incongruous. Among the local Japanese citizens shopping on the sleepy main street or waiting at one of the two stoplights are many distinctly European features. They sport Japanese variations of such names as Washington, Gonzalez and Savory and use language laced with the occasional English, Polynesian and Melanesian word.

These foreign-looking citizens, numbering fewer than 200, are descendants of beached sailors, swashbucklers and ne'er-do-wells who settled here decades ahead of the Japanese; their rich legacy befits the island's strategic location on 19th-century whaling routes at Japan's edge.

Along with the beer cans, mail sacks and packaged noodles arriving every few days from Tokyo, however, are powerful currents that in recent years have threatened this unique corner of Japan: the introduction a decade ago of television; growing intermarriage with mainland Japanese; the gradual dying off of the older generation; and the exodus of youngsters for better jobs and brighter lights.

"I'm just trying to teach my children our customs before it's too late," said Abel Savory, 73, the great-grandson of original 1830 settler Nathaniel Savory. "Since we went through so much trouble, I don't want them to forget."

Today the "Westerners" -- as descendants of the original settlers call themselves, despite being a mix of European, Polynesian, Melanesian and Azorean stocks -- are increasingly integrated into mainstream Japanese society. They once lived in distinct neighbourhoods. Their homes are now sprinkled throughout the island's modest residential district. One of the few visible reminders of the past is the Yankee Town bar near an area that once held a Westerners neighbourhood of the same name.

For decades, the Westerners spoke a mix of English, Japanese and Polynesian. Today, Japanese is the only language used by almost everyone under 40. And while the old-timers still converse in the local patois among themselves, they're under strong pressure to speak standard Japanese, particularly when outsiders are within earshot.

More info on Chichi-Jima and its population

Chichi-jima (父島) is part of the Bonin islands, 1000 km south of Tokyo and north of the Marianas. "Shima/jima" means island, I think "Chichi" means father, probably it's just a name.

You are right, "shima" means island, however, under certain circumstances the 'sh' is transformed into 'j' if a prefix is added to the word.

Shima, but Chichi-jima, Iwo-jima etc...

Someone correct me please. :)
Hehe, good point, Peter! :)

Seems to be an exception, apart from the fact that it's a city and prefecture. Perhaps Miyuki-san will enlighten us.
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