The Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands

Recently I had a chance to take a few days of leave, just 3 hours away from Tokyo. I chose to visit Saipan, the largest island in the Commonwealth of Northern Marianas Islands...or CNMI for short. Here is some interesting history about the Marianas islands.

The Northern Mariana Islands is a chain of 14 tropical islands in the Western Pacific. During the three months and twenty days during which Ferdinand Magellan sailed 12,000 miles through open ocean, he did not encounter a single storm. Misled by this one experience he named the ocean of the Pacific. Magellan sighted the islands on march 1521 when he made his landfall at Guam. He claimed the islands for Spain and first christened the archipelago "Las Islas de las Velas Latinas" (The Island of the Latine Sails), because the triangular shape of the sails used native canoes were similar to those used on Mediterranean vessels. In anger over the islanders taking property from his ship, Magellan renamed the islands "Las Islas de los Ladrones", (The Islands of the Thieves), a place name which remained on maps for many years thereafter. In 1668 their name was changed a third time to Las Marianas in honor of Mariana of Austria, widow of Philip the 4th of Spain.

The islands were sold by Spain to Germany in 1899 and so remained under the German flag until the start of World War One in 1914 when the Japanese moved against the German administration in the islands and forced out. Defeated Germany was stripped of all overseas possessions at the end of the war in 1919.
The Mariana Islands were turned over to the newly created league of nations to be administered as the Japanese Mandated Territory. Japan had become an ally of the United States, Great Britain and France shortly before the end of the war and was named as the pacific area's administering authority. By 1919 the islands were being administered Japan as a mandate under the League of Nations.

Japan withdrew from the League of Nations in 1935 after it had virtually annexed the Islands into the Empire. By 1936 a thriving fishing industry had developed as well as a sugar industry which occupied 68 percent of the arable land on Saipan, 80 percent on Tinian and 33 percent on Rota. The resident population grew to 23,800 on Saipan (of which only 3,222 were originally from the islands); 1,530 on Tinian (25 Chamorros) and 5,600 on Rota (791 Chamorros). By the time the dark clouds of war had gathered over the western Pacific, some 29,692 Japanese military personnel were garrisoned on Saipan. The islands were assaulted by American forces on June 15, 1944 and one of the most hotly contested battles of the entire war was fought on its sandy beaches and mountainous terrain. American forces gained control of the island on July 1944 and the construction of bases and airfields began. It was from such airfield on Tinian that the first nuclear weapon was dropped on Hiroshima by the B -29 aircraft Enola Gay hastening the end of hostilities. The airfields on Tinian which in 1945 were the busiest in the world are now largely abandoned.

There was a tremendous amount of warfare done on Saipan during WWII. A good summary of this fighting and history can be found here:

Hours after the Attack on Pearl Harbor, Japanese forces from the Marianas launched an invasion of Guam on December 8, 1941. Chamorros from the Northern Marianas, then under Japanese rule for more than two decades, were brought to Guam to assist the Japanese administration. This fact, combined with the harsh treatment of Guamanian Chamorros during the brief 31-month occupation, created a rift between the two populations that would become the main reason Guamanians rejected reunification referendum approved by the Northern Marianas in the 1960s.

After Japan's defeat, the islands were administered by the United States as part of the United Nations Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands; thus, defense and foreign affairs are the responsibility of the United States. The people of the Northern Mariana Islands decided in the 1970s not to seek independence, but instead to forge closer links with the United States. Negotiations for territorial status began in 1972. A covenant to establish a commonwealth in political union with the U.S. was approved in 1975. A new government and constitution went into effect in 1978. Similar to other U.S. territories, the islands do not have representation in the U.S. Senate, but are represented in the U.S. House of Representatives by a delegate (beginning January 2009 for the CNMI) who may vote in committee but not on the House floor.


The Northern Mariana Islands, together with Guam to the south, compose the Mariana Islands. The southern islands are limestone with level terraces and fringing coral reefs; the northern islands are volcanic, with active volcanoes on Anatahan, Pagan and Agrihan. The volcano on Agrihan has the highest elevation in the islands at 3,166 feet (965 m). About one-fifth of the land is arable, another tenth is pasture. The primary natural resource is fish, some of which are endangered species, which leads to conflict. Also, development has created landfills which have contaminated groundwater on Saipan, which might contribute to disease.

Anatahan Volcano is a small volcanic island 80 miles (130 km) north of Saipan and is about 6 miles (9 km) long and 2 miles (3 km) wide. Anatahan began erupting suddenly from its east crater on May 10, 2003, at about 6 p.m. (0800 UTC). Since then it has continued to alternate between eruptive and calm periods. On April 6, 2005, approximately 50,000 cubic meters of ash and rock were ejected, causing a large, black cloud to drift south over Saipan and Tinian.

Other data on Saipan can be found here:

Saipan is only 3 hours away from Tokyo, so it made it a quick and relatively inexpensive flight to a tropical location away from the bustling city of Tokyo. I went online and reserveda room at the Fiest Resort, overlooking the beach.
This is a view of half of the resort, looking from the beach towards the south building. I got a room on the sixth floor, looking down upn the beach and reef.
Here is a picture from my balcony, looking down upon the beach of Garapan, as the sun sets.
Looking straight down, each evening from 6:30 to 8pm was a Hula Dancing dinner show, with fire dancers, and the like. It was a pretty cool show.
For several days I rented a large scooter and toured around the island. Here is a shot from the top of Government Hill, looking down upon the city of Garapan. you can see the lagoon stretching out for over a mile before the reefs drop off into deep water.
Here is a self taken picture of me, the scooter, and the western reefs in the background. You can see Magahara Island in the background as well.

On the north eastern part of the island are several golf courses. Looking north from this one, you can see the famous Suicide Cliffs, where frightened Japanese civillians threw themselves off the cliffs to avoid capture by the American Soliders who took the island in 1945.

Looking down from the cliffs at the northern tip of Saipan. A US Coast Guard c-130 flew by so I snapped this action shot.

A self shot of me on the cliffs. I was a little sun kissed by this time....but not too bad...:)
My scooter waits for me under a shady tree on the top backside of the Suicide cliffs.
Looking down from the cliffs to the north east, where the city land fill and cattle ranches exist.
Driving along back dirt roads below the cliffs.
Looking down onto "Forbidden Beach" and Bird Island.

Everwhere along the island was beautiful coral reefs, extending out in 5 to 10 feet of depth until the reef edge. On the east side of the island, the reefs were short, extending out 100 feet or so. On the west side, the reef extended out a mile on average.

A fellow tourist took my picture for me with my camera.

Looking down to the south, at the top of the Grotto dive site.

Climbing down into this collapsed sink hole area is a salt water cave, that connects to the outside ocean. The connection is under water, about 15 feet down. It is a deep hole, but very popular with divers and snorkelers. The water temperatures in Saipan are very can just lay in the water with just swim trunks on and not get chilled at all.

At water level in the grotto You can see sunlight from the underwater connection to the outside ocean in the top left side of the water in the grotto..
Under the cliffs was the location of the last Imperial Japanese command post to be lost to the US Marines invading the island. The island's military commander commited suicide rather than be taken prisoner and lose his honor.
The remains of a WWII Japanese tank. The tank was pretty light weight, most of the tank is engine. The armor was less than a half inch thick.
Here is the stone bunker that had the last Command post....
Again I pose as someone takes my picture for me.
There is a large Shinto/Buddist/Christian graveyard and memorial area over looking the north coast. The cliffs here are rugged and the water deep.
The cliffs were beautiful tho...
Most of the nights had beautiful colors, but a few of the nights were overcast and stormy.
Another day exploring the island. My legs were getting a little too red, so I wore long jeans this day.
Here is Ladder Beach...a great place for some snorkeling and relaxing reading a book.
On the southern tip of the island, down a long dirt road I found Obyan Beach, which became my favorite hangout. Usually there was only one or two other people on this beach which stretch for over a mile. The reef was about 5 feet deep, and the edge dropped down to about 60 feet. The island of Tinian was the in the distance, very little current and swell. I spent quite a bit of time here.
Me on the beach between snorkeling and reading episodes....
Heading out to a golf course for lunch....
Then back for more snorkeling....
I also went for a submarine trip. I had been on a few other submarines here and there, and decided to try the one in Saipan as well. Magahara Island is in the background. It's a popular place for tour groups to go out and do snorkeling and beach lounging.
Here is the inside of the sub. We went down about 60 to 80 feet for the most part of the hour long ride.
There was alot of coral and fish. I ran these photos thru a spectral filter to help bring out the color and clarity.
More coral and fish
Large coral mounds
Bright colors are not so easily seen without additional lights or freqency filters.
One of many wrecks inside the Tanapag reef which stretches along most of the western part of the island is the Shoan Maru—This intriguing shipwreck photos are of the Shoan Maru, a 407–foot long WWII Japanese freighter torpedoed in 1944.
More shots of the Shoan Maru.
Next was some airplane wreckage. Although it doesn't look like it, these propellers are over 20 feet in lenth. Commonly claimed to be part of the wreckage of a B-29 SuperFortress, the wreckage is actually that of a Japanese Kawanishi H8K Flying Goat...a very large aircraft in it's own right..

Here is a second propeller assembly. The seaplane originally had 4 of these massive propellers and engines, and was built only until 1945. It had over a 124 foot wingspan. Here is a link to some information about this large Flying Boat.

More coral
A self shot of myself looking out of the submarine window. I've not shaved in a few days...going all relaxed and "native".....:)
The DeepStar 48...our submarine to the underwater world around Saipan!
Looking north towards Suicide Cliffs from teh deck of the submarine.
Some days were a bit rainy. You can't tell it here, but it's actually raining pretty hard.
During a break in the rain, I got a chance to go jog on the beach and then took a nap under an umbrella in a lounge chair.
On my last night there, a city festival happened right outside my hotel.
I strolled along for several hours trying all sort of local food, candies and snacks.
It got quite crowded, with lots of entertainment by dancers and singers on a nearby stage.
The night sunset was a deep royal blue....
Looking out at Magahara island from the beach located in front of the Hyatt Regency Resort. I ate there many times, and I beleive it has the best food in the area. But it is also a bit on the expensive side...both to stay there and to eat there.
Looking out my front of my hotel room at the city of Garapan.
The beach in front of the resort...
All shaved and ready to fly back to Tokyo....
Back in Tokyo I arrive....a huge difference between Saipan and Tokyo....
Even tho both are on the ocean, and both are in the is a totally different world. It was alot of fun, and I definately was able to relax and recharge my batteries....