Conditions remained difficult on Anatahan, but the timely crash of the B-29 saved the castaways who had faced slow starvation, until seemingly divine aid fell from the sky. In addition to the daily struggle for survival, the island’s demographics further complicated the castaways’ plight and gradually produced Lord of the Flies dynamics. Unsurprisingly, thirty men stranded for years on a small island that contained only one woman led to problematic interactions, as the men competed for her affections. Their love interest, Kazuko Higa, had arrived at the island with her husband in 1944. However, he disappeared in mysterious circumstances soon after the castaways washed ashore.
So she married a Kikuichiro Higa as protection against the other marooned men. However, one of the castaways shot and killed her new husband, only to have his own throat slit soon thereafter by yet another suitor. Over the years, Kazuko Higa became a full blown femme fatale, as she transferred her love and affections between a series of beaus. Each of them was violently assailed, chased off, or murdered, by some of the other frustrated guys. Matters were not helped when the men discovered how to ferment an intoxicating drink known as “tuba”, or coconut wine. As a result, they often drank themselves senseless into stupors that lasted for days, interspersed with bouts of alcohol-fueled rage and fights.
2. Promiscuous Marooned Guys Kept Stabbing Each Other for the Love and Affections of This Femme Fatale
By 1951, there had been twelve murders on Anatahan, in addition to numerous fights, as the men violently vied for the love and affections of the island’s only female. One of Kazuko Higa’s wooers was stabbed with a knife on thirteen separate occasions by jealous rivals, yet returned to his amorous pursuit as soon as he recovered from each failed attempt on his life. In the meantime, elsewhere in the Marianas, American authorities learned of the Japanese on Anatahan after natives from nearby islands informed the US Navy of their presence. However, the small island was off the beaten path, lacked military significance, and the Japanese marooned there posed no threat.
So the castaways were allowed to languish in isolation as the war passed them by and went on to its climactic conclusion elsewhere. After Japan surrendered, authorities remembered the castaways, so printed leaflets were airdropped on Anatahan to inform its denizens that the war was over, and direct them to surrender. However, the recipients dismissed the leaflets as propaganda, and refused to believe that their government had thrown in the towel. The island was even less important after the war than it had been while the conflict raged, and its inhabitants were just as isolated and harmless to the outside world. So American authorities did not think it was worth the trouble to send in US forces to root them out.
For years, the Anahatan castaways were left to their own devices. From time to time, an airplane would drop leaflets over the island, to tell the marooned Japanese that the war was over and that they should surrender. However, the shipwrecked soldiers and sailors continued to disbelieve the leaflets’ veracity, and thus matters continued for years. Finally, in 1950 Kazuku Higa spotted a US vessel as it passed nearby, raced to the beach, flagged it down, and asked to be taken off the island. It was only then that the authorities learned that the Japanese on Anahatan did not believe that the war was over.
Their families were contacted, and they wrote letters to their kin to assure them that it was no enemy trick, and that the war had, indeed, ended years earlier. The letters, along with an official message from the Japanese government, finally did the trick. They surrendered in 1951, and were shipped back to Japan, where their story became a sensation and resulted in numerous books, plays, and movies. The most well-known of the Anatahan castaways, Kazuku Higa, was nicknamed “The Queen Bee of Anahatan Island” by the Japanese press. She found temporary fame as a tropical temptress, sold her story to newspapers, and recounted it to packed theaters. However, after the public lost interest, she fell into prostitution and abject poverty, and eventually died at age of 51 while employed as a garbage collector.
Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources and Further Reading