Leaning over the railing on the top deck of a five-story ferry, I watch the southern most tips of the two peninsulas that border Tokyo Bay fade into the distance of the gray-blue sea. The gargantuan vessel rocks gently beneath my feet, the steady ocean breeze a comfort on my skin I had almost forgotten existed in the concrete clog of the big city.

I’m just beginning my voyage to Ogasawara, also known as the Bonin Islands. This chain of subtropical islands, 1,000 km from downtown Tokyo, is the most remote region governed by the Metropolitan Government. Formed volcanically, the islands of Ogasawara were never connected to any continent, meaning that competition from outside plants and animals was limited. This has led to independently-evolved ecosystems full of unique species, earning it the appellation Galapagos of Asia.

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