Sonkichi Sakihara recalls chancing upon some of the last refugees to arrive on Yonaguni: four men who had sailed more than 2,000 kilometers from Vietnam to reach Japan's westernmost inhabited island. It was 1977.

"I was out checking for stowaways from Taiwan when I found them," Sakihara, 80, said at his family store near the port where he encountered the group, among 113 Vietnamese to make the journey after the war ended.

Today, some residents of Yonaguni foresee another refugee crisis that they say their isolated outpost and its dwindling population of less than 1,700 would be ill-equipped to handle. Just 110 kilometers to the west, and occasionally visible from Yonaguni, is Taiwan, the self-ruled island of 24 million that China asserts is its territory and which Beijing is menacing with simulated missile strikes and other displays of military firepower.