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Gajashima

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  • Japanese: 臥蛇島 (Gajashima)

Gajashima is a small uninhabited island in the Tokara Islands chain, today a part of Kagoshima prefecture. Located to the south of Yakushima, and to the north of Amami Ôshima, Gajashima was the northernmost territory ever held by the Ryûkyû Kingdom.

The island is roughly 4 square kilometers in area, and 497m above sea level. The island has few flatter areas, as the single mountainform that constitutes the island extends out to the shore in most areas. Some accounts suggest that members of the Taira clan might have fled here after their defeat in the Genpei War, but more reliable records indicating Japanese awareness of the island only begin to appear in the Muromachi period; the island is known, however, to have been inhabited in the past. The residents lived mainly in the northern parts of the island, where the land was somewhat less steep, and more inhabitable. They maintained fields or orchards, kept livestock, and fished.

A group of four Koreans drifted to Gajashima and became shipwrecked there in 1450, before being collected by Ryukyuan authorities and brought to Shuri (on Okinawa Island), before being returned to Korea. Their reports indicate that at that time, control over Gajashima was split between forces of the Ryûkyû Kingdom and those of Japan's Satsuma province. Their accounts also indicate that Amami Ôshima was already controlled by the Ryûkyû Kingdom, but that Ryûkyû was still fighting local resistance on Kikaigashima.

The island is recorded as having 133 residents in 1940, when a lighthouse was completed on the island. However, the population shrank as people left seeking places to live that were less subject to typhoons, and less difficult to live due to logistical isolation. By July 1970, the island became officially uninhabited. Some people still visit the island, mainly for fishing and diving.

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