The town of Miyakejima, 110 miles south of Tokyo, has a population of around 3,000 and is like any other town in Japan, except that the denizens of Miyakejima are forced to wear gas masks all the time. Miyakejima sits on a chain of volcanoes that go off every once in a few decades.
The last eruption was recorded in 2000. It led to a complete evacuation of the town. In 2005, locals that chose to return were greeted by sights of burnt trees, ash-covered roads, rusted poles and other signs of desolation wrought by Mount Oyama’s eruption.
Today, poisonous sulfur dioxide vapors seeping from the ground have rendered 20% of the island uninhabitable and have made the air unfit for breathing without a gas mask.
While eating, drinking, gauging expressions and recognizing your mother in a crowd may not be easy with a gas mask on, the volcanic eruption has done some good. It has turned Miyakejima into a modern-day Pompeii.
Tourists flock to the city to see the well-preserved sites destroyed by earthquakes and the eruption. While other tourist sites may offer brochures, at Miyakejima, tourists disembarking from the ferry are handed disposable gas masks.
And where there are volcanoes, sulfuric hot springs are usually there too. The area’s hot springs are renowned for their curative properties.