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Gas Mask Island: Inside The Place Where Residents Are Required To Carry At All Times

Weird History | April 7, 2020

For the most part, the island of Miyake-jima is like many of the beautiful enclaves of Japan. Its flora and fauna are awe-inspiring, and its people are friendly and warm. They just have to obey a particular rule: Whenever an air raid siren blares, everyone has to put on their gas mask. Images of what we know as "Gas Mask Island" are arresting, but its story is even more fascinating.

(India Today)

"Gas Mask Island" Is Home To An Active Volcano

Before it became home to the world biggest post-apocalyptic flash mob, Miyake-jima was simply a beautiful place to live and visit. Its most devastating inhabitant is Mount Oyama, an active volcano that's erupted multiple times over the last 500 years. Mount Oyama is such a known quantity that you can find mention of it in written histories of the island that reach back as far as the Nara period (710—784 BCE). In 1940, lava flow from the volcano killed 11 people, and eruptions occurred in 1962 and 1983. It was just the beginning.

(Head Space)

Mass Evacuation

Inhabitants of Miyake-jima have been living with the active volcano for generations, but in 2000, a series of eruptions forced residents to evacuate en masse. It wasn't just the explosions that forced the island's population to vacate their homes but the toxic gas that filled the air following the eruptions. Flights into the area were halted as high levels of sulphur made the place unlivable. They remained out of operation for the next eight years, but it only took until 2005 for residents to return home. 

(Slate)

Your Own Personal Gas Mask

After 2005, everyone who returned to their homes on the island were required to carry gas masks on their person at all times and don them when the noxious fumes reached dangerous levels. On top of the mask laws, the government performs regular health checks on the island's inhabitants. Even when they aren't wearing their gas masks, one-third of the island is still completely off-limits to humans.

(India Today)

Life Goes On

Most photos of Gas Mask Island show a population of people, young and old, staring down the lens of the camera with gas masks strapped around their heads. The visuals are eerie, suggesting a gloomy world where people are constantly contemplating their imminent deaths.

That's not really the case. It's certainly dangerous to live on Miyake-jima, but the residents aren't actors in a haunted house. They're just normal people who have chosen to live on an island with one strict, strange rule. Sure, it might make for some weird wedding photos, but it doesn't make the weddings any less joyous.

(Positive-Espresso)

It's (Mostly) Safe To Visit Gas Mask Island

If you have a penchant for dark tourism, Miyake-jima should be at the top of your bucket list. Aside from a place to walk around a large group of people wearing creepy masks, it's also a bustling town with a rich culture. If you don’t have your own gas mask, that's okay. You can pick one up when you arrive or at any of the gift shops across the island.

(Atlas Obscura)

An Island (Sort Of) Paradise

Aside from the giant volcano that’s constantly spitting sulfur into the air, Miyake-jima is home to many natural wonders. Rare birds and animals live all over the island even though they're constantly under threat from the volcano and tourists. The coral reefs beneath the island are especially beloved by visitors, who love to dive from the island to see dolphins swimming off the coast. The gas masks can make the island seem like a desolate no-man's-land, but it can be reached by overnight ferry or a simple helicopter flight from Tokyo. The whole "deadly toxins" thing notwithstanding, it’s a gorgeous place to visit.

Tags: japan | natural disasters | volcano

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Jacob Shelton

Writer

Jacob Shelton is a Los Angeles based writer. For some reason this was the most difficult thing he’s written all day, and here’s the kicker – his girlfriend wrote the funny part of that last sentence. As for the rest of the bio? That’s pure Jacob, baby. He’s obsessed with the ways in which singular, transgressive acts have shaped the broader strokes of history, and he believes in alternate dimensions, which means that he’s great at a dinner party. When he’s not writing about culture, pop or otherwise, he’s adding to his found photograph collection and eavesdropping on strangers in public.