Monday, May 15, 2017



It is a story full of intrigue and scandal. It was made into a movie. But hardly anyone remembers it.

Thirty Japanese men or so, stranded on a tiny volcanic island in fighting a war that was over, struggled in deathly competition over the one and only woman left on the island. She was called the Queen Bee, with the men willing to fight and kill over her.

Prior to all this, the island of Anatahan had been used by the Japanese before the war for copra production. Some forty Chamorros and Carolinians worked the copra farms on Anatahan under Japanese supervisors. Eventually, the islanders left Anatahan and only the Japanese remained.

One of the few Japanese who remained on Anatahan was a woman of Okinawan background, Kazuko Higa, married to a man named Shoichi Higa. Concerned about his sister who was living in Saipan, where the war would bring all its death and destruction, Shoichi left Kazuko on Anatahan while he went to Saipan to check on his sister. He never came back. Kazuko then came under the roof of another man named Higa, with the given name of Kikuichiro.

The Japanese population of Anatahan increased dramatically in June of 1944 when a convoy of Japanese ships was attacked by American planes. As the ships sank, the 30 Japanese crewmen swam to safety at Anatahan.

As the only woman on the island, surrounded by thirty-some men, trouble was bound to happen.

First off, her romantic partner Kikuichiro was shot and killed by Gensaburo Yoshino in 1946. Yoshino in turn was stabbed to death by Morio Chiba. Chiba then died naturally. In order to prevent more fighting over her, she "married" a few more men. One of them, Riichiro Yanagibashi, "drowned" in the ocean (but who really knows if that was truly accidental?). In all, around 11 men died on Anatahan throughout those years. Some were accidental and some were murdered. Feuding was not just over Kazuko, but also over who would be the leader of the small colony.

By 1950, the talk was that the men were done competing over Kazuko. If she were eliminated, they thought, the men would spare each other! When Kazuko found out that her life was in danger, she fled into hiding and in time flagged a passing American ship to rescue her. Another account says a Japanese working for the US government went to Anatahan and convinced Higa to surrender.

Kazuko after her rescue

The man 2nd from the left is Gregorio Sasamoto, a Japanese resident of Saipan married to a Chamorro, Genara Aguon. I know his son very well.

The Japanese men, however, refused to give themselves up, thinking that American claims that the war was over were just lies. Slowly, a few of the men changed their minds and thought of surrendering, but a hard-core patriot dominated them and threatened to kill any man who thought about surrendering to the Americans.

But on June 30, 1951, the remaining 19 Japanese men finally called it quits. When the Americans dropped letters from the men's own family members urging them to surrender since the war was over, the Japanese men then believed. They waved white flags upon seeing American planes after that. The Americans sent boats up to Anatahan to pick up the Japanese men. World War II finally ended for them, six years after the fact!

It is said that, in time, Kazuko made it back to Okinawa, where she ran into her first husband, quite by chance. They became husband and wife again. Life has a way of bringing things full circle.


Surrender of the 19 Japanese stragglers on Anatahan in 1951

One last gesture for Anatahan

The portrayal of Kazuko's saga on Anatahan, with its mixture of sexual intrigue and murder, was ripe for the marketing of books and movies on the subject.

French version of von Sternberg's movie. The French title says,

A book on Anatahan and the drama over Kazuko


  1. Intriguing. I love the ending. The dropped letters, the surrender, the woman reuniting with her real husband. Good tale telling. One note: At first I didn't know whether you were referring to the the woman or the island when you mentioned Anatahan the first time. If you added "The island of ..." before the first mention, that would help!

  2. This is an incredible tale, but the ending is so typical. The remaining men decided to blame the woman. The men, so egoistic they could not accept they lost the war, then blamed the woman for their own desires and ambitions. Men started the war, remember? Hmph.