Category Archives: Travel Diaries

The Island Where Everyone Wears A Gas Mask!

Mount Oyama

Resting atop a chain of volcanoes, Miyake-jima is an island in the Izu group, southeast of Honshū, Japan. About 160 kilometers south of Tokyo , this town is a hub for volcanic activity where over the past century, the volcanoes have erupted six times. The worst of these occurred in June 2000 when, after a repose of 17 years Mount Oyama which is an extremely active volcano spot erupted & 17,500 earthquakes hit the island between June 26 and July 21.

Inside of Mount OyamaEruption of Mount Oyama in Miyakejima Japan Picture

During the assault of eruptions and earthquakes, ash plumes soaring as high as 10 miles enveloped Miyake-jima, and heavy ash fell as the craters collapsed. High levels of toxic sulphur dioxide would regularly rise up through the ground, making 20 percent of the land not fit for habitation. Covered with a cloud of harmful sulphur dioxide gas, spewed into the air by volcanic eruptions, the islands heavy weather systems and cold make it worse. At one point, it was so bad that it was polluting the air with 42,000 tons of sulphur dioxide per day. Those who have studied the volcano’s patterns have found that it goes off in intervals of 20 years.  But even when Mount Oyama isn’t mid-eruption, it continues to emit sulfuric gas.

Miyakejima Panorama Photograph

The eruptions released so much toxic gas into the air that three months later in September, the government had to force a mass evacuation of the entire island. Over 3,600 people evacuated the island in 2000 because of the toxic gases which could harm their lungs. For five years, Miyake-jima was declared off-limits, with the barren island resembling a post-apocalyptic world. Dead trees and rusted cars peppered the derelict space. Mount Oyama continued to emit 10,000 to 20,000 tons of sulphuric dioxide gas from its summit every day for two years following the eruption. Slowly, though, the evacuation order began to lift, and in 2005 citizens were allowed to return to their homes.

6_gas mask town japanGas Protection

Despite the high level of volcanic activity that causes poisonous gas to leak from the earth, some island denizens just can’t stay away! Some opted to remain in their relocated houses in Tokyo, but about 2,800 chose to return, taking back the island’s abandoned buildings. They have adopted ways to suit the living conditions in the island.

8_gas mask town japan

Considering the re-populating of the island, nearly a third of Miyake-jima remains permanently uninhabitable and the government mandates regular health checkups and enforces age restrictions in certain areas. In terms of monitoring the air quality, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government has been watching the volcanic activity through videos, helicopter and satellite images.

Naval Leapfrog4_gas mask town japan3_gas mask town japan

In the meantime, civilians walk around with gas masks to protect themselves from the toxicity. All residents and visitors are required to carry gas masks, and an air raid alarm goes off when the sulfur levels get unhealthily high. So when the air quality gets bad enough, the town turns into a masked extra-terrestrial looking crowd of people seemingly attending the same themed costume party.

Miyakejima The Gas Mask Town

But all that poisoned air does have its perks. While many wouldn’t exactly call this an ideal spot for tourists, some curious about this town where the citizens wear gas masks do venture through. Gas mask tourism is a huge draw for people who want to pretend they’re living in the post-destruction age. With disposable masks sold at ferry stations and local stores, this gas-soaked village hasn’t kept tourists away. The city’s site advises visitors to learn about the harmful effects of sulfur dioxide before visiting as it can be quite damaging to one’s health. They even suggest tourists get a respiratory medical exam before booking the trip. Visitors can also take tours of abandoned houses, flattened cars and a school gym half-destroyed by lava or dip themselves in hot spring baths, until self-awareness hits and visitors realize that they find disaster enjoyable enough to pay for.

9_gas mask town japan