Miyakejima 三宅島

Text & photos: Daniel Simmons

It’s a rainy June morning in Miyakejima. I’m on a bus making a slow circumnavigation of the island, and the New Zealander sitting next to me is telling me about an acquaintance of his who moved here a few years ago to teach English. Before her arrival, the teacher was given a shopping list.

“The first thing she needed to buy,” the Kiwi tells me, “was a gas mask.”

I consider this. Outside the window, the Miyakejima coastline slides by in a long broken line of rocky beaches and volcanic mud cliffs, barely visible in the sheeting rain.

“The second thing she needed to buy,” the Kiwi continues, “was another gas mask. Just in case, you know, something happened while somebody else was visiting her. Only after that was she was allowed to buy a futon and the rest of it.”

Miyakejima is one of several lovely islets in Tokyo’s Izu island chain, but it comes with its own special curse: a volcanic landscape that belches out higher levels of poisonous sulphuric gas than almost any other place on earth. In 2000, a major eruption forced the evacuation of all the island’s residents, who were allowed to return only after several years had passed and the gas levels had lowered to semi-acceptable levels. All residents are required to carry gas masks with them at all times, and temporary visitors are welcome to blend in by purchasing their own masks at the Miyakejima Tourist Association store or the Takeshiba boat terminal in Tokyo. They are unsettling souvenirs, to put it mildly.

The expectorations of looming Mt. Oyama make for a surreal sightseeing experience, since evidence of past eruptions is everywhere. My rainy bus ride delivered me to a school complex destroyed by lahars, a shrine where only the very top of the old torii gate remains unburied, and hike-able sea cliffs stained purplish red by the presence of volcanic scoria.

Forbidding as the above-ground landscape can be, all that volcano action makes the underwater scenery around Miyakejima a divers’ wonderland. Lava flows have formed impressive arches and caves that shelter impressive varieties of schooling fish, lobsters, nudibranchs, and more. During our weekend there, we encountered colorful blacktip groupers, a dragon moray eel, and a Japanese bull shark.

No diving license is required to enjoy the area’s biggest underwater draw. Just a 50-minute boat ride away is the waterfall-streaked coast of neighboring Mikurajima, where snorkelers have the opportunity to swim alongside pods of wild dolphins that frequent the area.

After a day’s worth of ocean adventures are over, the charming Furusato-no-yu hot spring (¥500) near Ako Port provides welcome pre-sunset soaks.

The risk that a raid alarm might prompt a sudden island-wide grab for the gas masks doesn’t seem to faze the locals, who take great pride in their island hideaway. For Miyakejima residents, having a pesky volcano as a neighbor is just something that goes with the territory.


Overnight ferries operated by Tokai Kisen depart from the Takeshiba Sanbashi pier in Tokyo at 10:30pm and arrive at Miyakejima at 5:00 the next morning. Airplane and helicopter transportation is also possible, poisonous gas clouds permitting.

For ferry info, see:

One good tour operator is Dolphin Club Miyakejima. For details, see: