Miyake-jima: The “Gas Mask Island” of Japan

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About 110 miles (180 kilometers) south of Tokyo, Japan, in an area of the Pacific Ocean known as the “Devil’s Sea,” you will find a small island with a big story to tell. Miyake-jima is part of the volcanic Izu Islands, and host to Mount Oyama, an active volcano that sits at the very heart of the island. Because it emits poisonous sulfuric gas with very little warning, the 3,000 residents (as well as any visitors) are required to carry gas masks with them at all times.

Gas masks

The island itself is a stratovolcano, made up of layers of pumice and ash- and as volcanoes go, stratovolcanoes are some of the most volatile and unpredictable. Mount Oyama has a long history of eruptions, with the last major eruption (requiring a mass evacuation) occurring in 2000. The volcano consistently spews sulfur dioxide into the sky, however, causing alarms to sound for inhabitants to don their masks when the air quality becomes toxic.

Aerial photo of Miyake-jima Island in Japan.

Despite its unpredictability and reputation as the “Gas Mask Island,” the residents of Miyake-jima are fiercely proud of their island home and dutifully carry their gas masks as they go on about their daily activities of fishing and farming.

Miyake-jima sees its fair share of tourism, thanks to its beautiful dive locations and breathtaking rocky landscape. Beachgoers and snorkelers are often greeted by the pods of friendly dolphins that reside in the deep blue waters surrounding the island’s black sand beaches.

While almost a third of the “Gas Mask Town” remains restricted from visitors and residents, the remainder of the island has hiking trails, bike paths, and beautiful scenery at every turn. The residents of Miyake-jima are proud of their island’s history, preserving the culture in their many restaurants, fish markets, and religious shrines.