Heading to the store? Don’t forget your gas mask. Despite the high level of volcanic activity that causes poisonous gas to leak from the earth and in 2000 forced 3,600 residents to evacuate the island of Miyakejima, Japan, some island denizens just can’t stay away.
Resting atop a chain of volcanoes, Miyakejima is a hub for volcanic activity. 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 erupted. 17,500 earthquakes followed the eruption, which hit the island between June 26 and July 21.
During the assault of eruptions and earthquakes, ash plumes soaring 10 miles high enveloped Miyakejima, and heavy ash fell as craters collapsed. Later, high levels of toxic sulfur dioxide would regularly rise up through the ground, making 20 percent of the land uninhabitable. After three months, the government took action and forced a mass evacuation in September.
More On Miyakejima, The Town Where Everyone Wears A Gas Mask
For five years, Miyakejima 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 sulfuric 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.
Some opted to remain in their relocated houses in Tokyo, but about 2,800 chose to return – this time with gas masks. Despite the re-populating of the island, nearly a third of Miyakejima remains permanently off-limits and the government conducts regular health checks and enforces age restrictions in certain areas.
While life in a gas-soaked village poses a number of dangers, it hasn’t kept tourists away. Gas mask tourism is a huge draw for the region, with disposable masks sold at ferry stations and local stores.
Visitors can also take tours of abandoned houses, flattened cars and a school gym half-destroyed by lava, as well as hot spring baths – ostensibly for when self-awareness hits and visitors realize that they find disaster enjoyable enough to pay for.