Monday, July 28, 2014


Saipan was the scene of a minor international incident in 1897.

By the 1890s, Japanese merchants and adventurers were making the Marianas, and other islands in Micronesia, their home.

For merchants, copra was one of the big draws to the islands. The Nonaka South Pacific Trading Company had set up shop in Saipan to deal in copra. Ten Japanese were living in Saipan when, on New Year's Day in 1897, they gathered to celebrate. They wanted to drink to the health of the Emperor of Japan and, knowing they were in Spanish territory, also to that of the Spanish king. For this reason they looked for flags of both nations.

Lacking a Spanish flag of their own, they made one up using paper, and hung it up crossed with a proper, much better-looking flag of Japan.

A passing Spaniard (some wonder if he was really a Spaniard or rather someone working for the Spanish government) witnessed this and saw the shabby condition of the Spanish paper flag compared to the Japanese flag, and considered it an insult. He told the Japanese just as much, and insisted that they take down both flags. The Japanese didn't see what the trouble was, and shrugged it off.

But the Spaniard returned with others and arrested them. Key among them was Mr Miyazaki, the company manager on Saipan. The Japanese were sent to jail on Guam, capital of all the Marianas at the time.

Japan protested this, and the news made it to many journals across the globe. Look at this headline, for example, in a Hawaii newspaper in 1897.

Those "Spanish dungeons" spoken of in the headline above were the jail cells in Hagåtña, Guam, described as being "foul smelling" and "ill ventilated."

Apparently, nothing became of the matter in the end.

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