Miyake-jima – The island where everyone wears a gas mask

When you are trying to plan your next vacation, you obviously are thinking of rolling beaches with perfect tides and the right amount of sunlight. Maybe you prefer snow-covered mountains where you could eat marshmallows near a bonfire during the night and ski effortlessly during the day. There are slim chances of you wanting to take your family to Miyake-Jima, an island where everyone wears a gas mask. Located in the Philippine Sea towards the southeast of Honshu, Japan, Miyake-Jima is an inhabited volcanic island. 

Here are some facts about Miyake-Jima that might either force you to take this off your bucket list or move it to the top.

1 Despite being a volcanic island and covering only 55.50 square kilometers, Miyake-Jima is home to approximately 2,415 inhabitants (as on June 1st, 2016).

2. The residents of Miyake-Jima have to wear gas masks because of the poisonous gases that have polluted the air as a result of continued volcanic eruptions.

3. In the past century alone, different volcanoes that are littered across Miyake-Jima have erupted six times, the latest being the Mount Oyama in 2000.

4. Since the eruption in June 2000 — when Mount Oyama erupted 17 times — there’s been a constant release of sulfur dioxide across Miyake-Jima. This made 20% of the available land uninhabitable.

5. Post the 17 eruptions from Mount Oyama, Miyake-Jima was hit by 17,500 earthquakes in a span of less than one month. Yes. 17 thousand

6. It was only 3 months later in September that the government forced a mass evacuation of the Miyake-Jima residents.

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7. Out of the 4,000 residents, some residents stayed back in Miyake-Jima in spite of the fact that the toxic gases could potentially harm their lungs. 

8. For everyone else, Miyake-Jima was declared off-limits for 5 years. This was a smart decision considering that Mount Oyama emitted 10,000-20,000 tons of toxic gases every single day for two years. Even today, one-third of the island is permanently closed off to the public. 

9. The fumes and gases being discharged were so thick and risky that for 8 years, no flights were allowed to land at or take off from Miyake-Jima.

10. The government started lifting the evacuation order in 2005 and Miyake-Jima citizens who had been relocated to Tokyo were finally allowed to come back home. Out of the 3,600 that had left, 2,800 preferred returning to their homeland. 

11. In the accessible areas, the government requires every citizen to carry gas masks. Moreover, entry to quite a few areas is subject to an age limit. Also, regular health checks are undertaken by the government. 

12. As a matter of fact, tourists interested in visiting the island are recommended to undertake a respiratory medical exam before and after making the trip.

Authorities have managed to spin this natural disaster into a commercial venture. Gas masks for tourists are sold at local stores and ferry stations. One can also go on sight-seeing tours of the now-abandoned areas.