The City Of Gas Mask - Japanese People Against Mount Oyama

The eruption of volcano Mount Oyama forced inhabitants of the nearby city to wear gas masks on a daily occasion. Japanise had a choice: to leave their home town or adjust. They have chosen the second option deciding to integrate gas masks into their regular lives.

Is the City of Gas Masks Real?

While it may seem incredible at first, the town of Miyakejima is a real place in which every human being wears the gas mask almost all the time. Weddings, classrooms, playing in schoolyards, or waiting in the queue are all activities featured by faces behind gas masks.

Wedding in Miyakejima town where everyone wears gas masks.

A wedding ceremony in Miyakejima town where everyone wears gas masks.

Where is the Town of Miyakejima?

The town of Mijakejima is situated around 180 kilometers south-east of Tokyo on the same-named volcanic island which is part of the Izu archipelago.

Story of Miyakejima

The eruption of Oyama Volcano which caused the creation of a city where people always wear gas masks

The eruption of Oyama Volcano which caused the creation of a city where people always wear gas masks.

In the middle of the island, there is a big volcano called Mount Oyama. In the year 2000, the volcano erupted with its full force. The explosion resulted in the creation of sulfur dioxide cloud that sprawled above the island making it practically impossible to live. At its highest peak, the pollution produced by Mount Oyama was 42 000 tons of sulfur dioxide per day. It is why in the time range from 2000 to 2005 all people were evacuated from the island. However, after 2005 most of the people came back. Since pollution was far from over they had to accept wearing gas masks as a measure of health preservation. in 2015 the city had a population of 2775 people. Despite a highly hostile living environment, this island became an attraction for tourists who wanted to see the city of masks with their own eyes.

Miyakejima as Touristic Attraction

While not so great in number, tourists from all around the world come to the Miyakejima only to walk amongst its citizens and see for themselves how it is to live on a place where gas-masks are always carried. Before coming to this place, potential tourists are noted about sulfur dioxide cloud and the damaging effect of the pollution. After being informed that their health is going to be seriously jeopardized they are highly advised to do go to the doctor and do a health check with an emphasis on their respiratory system. When they arrive, tourists are obliged to wear gas masks.

Gas Mask

Volcano Pattern

Observing the volcano allowed scientists to extract some behavioral patterns of Mount Oyama. It was established that volcano erupts every twenty years which would mean that the next interval for the explosion would be 2020. However, this claim that emerged on social media turned out to be false as a deeper overview of the history provided different information.

Mount Oyama History

Mount Oyama with 775 meters high peak dates back to a period between 15-10 thousand years B.C as that was the time when the island appeared. There were numerous volcanic activities reported throughout history. The oldest ones date back to Japan Nara period which encompassed time between 700-900 years A.D. In the last 500 years Oyama erupted 13 times from which 5 times were in a period from 1868 until today. By rough average eruption time calculation, 30 years would be the right time to expect an explosion. A lava flow in 1940 killed 11 people, while other eruptions occurred in 1962 and 1983. The last was in 2000.

Earthquakes On Island

The last eruption was not only featured by explosion and lava but also with the earthquakes. To be more precise, the eruption was followed by seventeen thousand subsequent earthquakes which lasted for over a month. From it, major cracks in earth’s crusts beneath the island ensued. This raised the likelihood of new eruptions.

A photograph of volcano eruption taken from a plane flying above the Miyakejima town also known as town of gas masks

A photograph of volcano eruption taken from a plane flying above the Miyakejima town also known as the town of gas masks.

Miyakejima Culture – New Way Of Living

After the last eruption, 2/3 of the island became uninhabitable due to the pollution and radiation. Gas masks should be carried all of the time. However, some citizens decided to remove them on an occasion or two. The problem is that level of sulfur dioxide can increase rapidly in a matter of moments and turn breathing air from acceptable to deadly. It is why there is a station that always follows the pollution 24/7 and sounds the alarm when gas masks become absolutely necessary.

Why did People Choose to Return?

After being evacuated, citizens of the island were given new homes in Tokyo. The question that emerges is why did most of them, after five years, decided to come back to a place where their lives are jeopardized on a daily basis. There is no place like home would be one answer to this question. However, psychologists have another explanation.

Collective Trauma and Micro Culture Founded in Common Past

Being involved in natural catastrophes and barely evading their fatality can leave a permanent trace in one’s psychology. This also applies to situations where traumas are endured as a member of a group or the community. In this case, a community encompasses all inhabitants of a desolate town who lived on the island for generations. Since their ancestors faced similar obstacles as this island was known for its natural hostility, the role of tradition was highly important. It enhanced the bond between the people who together overcame the traumatic obstacle and pushed them towards going back to the place that became the prominent part of their identities. In Tokyo, they were just a little bunch of people, but on the island, they were much more. Miyakeyima people formed a whole culture of their own. It might have been the reason they have decided to come back.

Mental Disorder

A similar theory suggests that it is a kind of mental disorder. According to this point of view, the inhabitants of the island developed a strange addiction to the state of emergency. Similar disorders were recorded in cases of soldiers who went to war but couldn’t get used to peace after returning from battlefields. Some of those soldiers went to that extreme that they even made killing sprees in their home countries believing that regular citizens are actually terrorists. While this is not the war, the concept is similar. There is a constant struggle with volatile nature without witch inhabitants just wouldn’t know what to do. Some scientists even suggest that the need to be under the pressure of natural disasters is a matter of genetics as their ancestors had a similar way of living for generations back.

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