Japan’s Terrifying Gasmask Islands

“Down here, with a roof to cover us and a gasmask handy, it is our business to puncture gasbags and discover the seeds of truth.” —Virginia Woolfe

In a Nutshell

Off the coast of mainland Japan, a chain of islands called the Izu Islands sits beneath a cloud of sulphur. For the gasmask-wearing residents, every day is a challenge of survival.

The Whole Bushel

Japan’s Izu Islands exist somewhere on the scale between ‘endlessly fascinating’ and ‘utterly terrifying’. Formed from the raised tops of an underwater volcanic chain, the islands are lush, beautiful and exceedingly deadly. Infrequent eruptions devastate whole islands. Earthquakes shake the entire archipelago. But deadliest of all are the clouds of sulphur which hang like a fog across the island of Miyakejima, trailing chaos in their wake. It’s the sort of place you’d have to be exceedingly mad or exceedingly dead to call ‘home’ – yet nearly 3,000 people choose to live there, at the fringes of human endurance.

Most of their lives are spent hidden behind gasmasks. On the few occasions when the sulphur levels drop low enough for normal breathing, they’re legally required to have a mask within arm’s reach. At least a third of the island is still uninhabitable following a 2000 eruption that forced all three thousand residents to flee for five years. Even in those areas where things are almost back to normal, an air-raid siren can sound at any time, warning of approaching gas-cloud-death. Yet most islanders don’t want to leave. In fact, the opposite occurs: every year, a whole bunch of tourists show up, hoping to play out their apocalyptic fantasies. How many of them make it through the holiday alive is a statistic we’d rather not know.

Show Me The Proof

Atlas Obscura: Gas Mask Tourism on the Izu Islands
io9: On one Japanese island, everyone always carries a gas mask
Guardian: Residents ordered to flee volcano island

  • moistmulattoman


    • HotBirm

      Last :))

  • I was under the impression, from articles I read previously, that the islands were abandoned. Odd to discover some choose to live there. Good article.

  • Allie Boom

    All that picture made me think of is “Are you my mummy? Muuuummmyyy…”

    • justsomerandomname

      That was such a heartbreaking episode…

  • rhijulbec

    Greatly interesting and unsettling as well. Not sure whether to think they are brave or perhaps a little crazy!

  • Dj rapper

    This disturbingly reminds me of V for Vendetta.

  • malti001

    So do writers get paid for nuts? Or are they like contributions

    • anonymouse72


  • Marozia

    I believe the people moved back to those islands recently.

  • anonymouse72

    Why exactly DO people live there? The only reason I can call up is the living space issue in Japan (I think there is.).

  • Bored

    Why would you want to live there? Family? Tradition? They already had to flee once, I would think that would be enough of a wake-up call.

  • Malcolm Garrison

    It is like in ONEPIECE (punkhazard) an island controlled by someone who has a deadly gas. Only Anime fan will know ^_^ This article is Great by the way!

  • Adult punter

    It must be hard for them to live there.Some people they have such a good live like http://adultpunter.com/ and others they need mask gas.

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  • in case of containment they will be protected from virus

  • Ramesh Chandramowli

    This is a heartbreaking episode. Now what people are doing?
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  • Ihsan YoungsterPro

    I believe the people moved back to those islands recently.
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