5th Marianas History Conference Day 7 - 10

Page 185

Japanese Archival Records and Archaeological Sites From the Pre-WWII Okinawan Diaspora on Tinian, CNMI

By Dr. Boyd Dixon, Alexandra Garrigue, and Robert Jones

Cardno GS and SEARCH, 425 Chalan San Antonio Rd., PMB 1004, Tamuning, Guam 96913, USA

ARCGEO, 901-2215 Okinawa-ken, Maehara 3-17-2, Yuai Bld 1F, Ginowan-shi, Japan

Cardno GS, 250 Bobwhite Court, Suite 200, Boise, ID 83706, USA

Abstract: This study looks at archival records and photographs from the preWWII Okinawan diaspora to Japanese sugarcane plantations in the Northern Mariana Islands to provide cultural context for interpreting recently recorded archaeological sites on the island of Tinian.


For those of you who know and love the quiet island of Tinian and its people today, the island is just a short flight south of Saipan (Figure 1). Very few Chamorro families remained after the Spanish returned to the Philippines with the arrival of Americans on Guam in 1898. However, it was once a busy Japanese plantation town and sugar refinery occupied between the German administration before WWI in 1914 and the American administration after WWII in 1945 (Dixon 2020; Dixon et al. 2020). Along the south coast at the location of a protected harbor, the Japanese established a company town modeled after a successful plantation founded on a small island east of Okinawa.

The story begins in 1903 when a young Haruji Matsue from a former Samurai family was awarded a scholarship to attend the Audubon Sugar School at Louisiana State University, returning with a Masters degree in 1905. Matsue began working in Taiwan developing new sugar manufacture techniques and employing local labor and Japanese immigrants. Meanwhile on Tinian in the early 1920s, initial Japanese investments in commercial farming had collapsed, leaving over 1000 Japanese workers near starving. With another member of a former Samurai family, Matsue (Figure 2) started a new venture that bought the two companies’ land and employed their abandoned workers, requesting an additional 2000 laborers from Okinawa already familiar with sugarcane (Matsue 1932).

Tinian Town and its Okinawan Businesses

By the late 1930s, the Nanyō Kōhatsu Kaisha or NKK – the Southern Seas Company – had imported almost 18,000 contract laborers on Tinian, mostly from Okinawa, and cleared over