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Residents of Ogasawara island show pride in dual US-Japan ancestry

Kenny Ikeda, who returned to the Ogasawara Islands after 48 years, stands in the shop he inherited from his mother, on Chichijima, part of the village of Ogasawara, Tokyo, on June 27, 2018. (Mainichi)

OGASAWARA, Tokyo -- On the Ogasawara Islands, there are many residents whose roots trace back to the Americas and others who moved to live here during the 19th century.

Those remote islands, lying some 1,000 kilometers south of Tokyo but administratively still part of the capital, celebrated the 50th anniversary of being returned by the United States to Japanese sovereignty this year.

In 1830, five Caucasians and 20-some Hawaiians came to live on the previously uninhabited island of Chichijima, one of the main islands in the Ogasawara Island chain. The government of Japan declared the islands part of its territory in 1876. Six years later, all of the non-Japanese residents on the Ogasawara Islands had received Japanese citizenship.

Among their descendants, as well as those who were born and raised on Chichijima while it was under U.S. military rule after World War II, there are many who struggled with language and cultural differences after the return of the territory to Japan in 1968. Somewhere between the "winner" and "loser" of the war, two men with diverse roots told the Mainichi Shimbun about their life on the island.

"Of course, the draw of island life is the people. I've confirmed once again that this is the place for me," said Kenny Ikeda, 60, with a laugh. He is the operator of Mitsu Store, near Chichijima's Futami port -- a 24-hour ferry ride from Takeshiba Passenger Ship Terminal in Tokyo's Minato Ward. Two years ago, following his mother's death, Ikeda moved from the center of Tokyo back to the island to take over the shop.

Between Japanese beer and snacks, imported goods such as spam line the shelves. These items are remnants of the era when the islands were under U.S. military rule. After the end of the Pacific War, of the thousands of islanders who had been forcefully evacuated to the mainland Japan in 1944, only 129 non-Japanese islanders were allowed to return in 1946.

Ikeda was born in 1958 to an island-native father who worked on the U.S. military base and a mother who had come from mainland Japan to marry. He could trace his ancestry back to the U.S., and at home, the family spoke Japanese with a mix of English.

The first school he attended was the nine-year Admiral Arthur W. Radford Primary School established by the military, and classes there were conducted completely in English. However, after the islands were returned to Japan in June 1968, classes were conducted in Japanese at the new Ogasawara municipal elementary and junior high schools. Unable to read the script written on the blackboard, Ikeda wrote it down phonetically in roman letters in order to understand the classes.

Three years after the islands' return to Japan, faced with the obstacle of continuing his education, Ikeda traveled to the mainland and entered the first year of junior high school again -- one year below his actual education level. However, he could not get used to the hierarchical customs of Japanese society, and when watching the Olympics with his friends, he found himself cheering for the American athletes in his heart of hearts. After graduating from university, he worked for foreign financial institutions and other firms, and during his travels back and forth between Japan and the U.S., he came to wonder just who he was -- he had Japanese citizenship, but in his head, he was American.

It was when he returned to live on the island after nearly 40 years that he found the answer. While interacting with islanders with various roots -- those who had come from Japan before the war and their descendants and the new islanders who crossed the ocean after the war -- he realized that there was no need to pay so much attention to things like heritage or citizenship. People just come to match the place where they live.

The director of general affairs of the village of Ogasawara, 60-year-old Takashi Savory, on the other hand, is the descendant of one of the very first Americans to come to live on Chichijima, and his birth name is Jonathan Savory. He was 10-years-old when the island was returned to Japan, and his entire family chose to become Japanese citizens. At the time, they chose the name of the district where their home was located as their family name -- Okumura -- but it did not quite stick, and they soon changed it back. Close friends still call him Jonathan.

Naturally, Savory as well came to wonder who he was as a person with two ancestral lands. He enrolled in university on mainland Japan, but felt that "as the descendant of a pioneer" he had to work for the benefit of his home, and chose to work at the village municipal government.

In addition to his work, Savory traveled to the U.S. in search of documents related to his ancestors and even found his family tree at a church on the island. Now, he feels proud of his roots. Blessed with a total of nine children and grandchildren, Savory has high hopes for the next generation of islanders, "We have overcome a tumultuous history to have the calm island we have now. I want at least one more person to have pride in these islands."

(Japanese original by Kentaro Mori, City News Department)

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