For over 200 people, the active volcanic Japanese island of Aogashima is home. It could come tumbling down at any moment, but the residents are decidedly nonplussed.
There are some pretty nice islands out there: this recently sold Whitsunday’s steal and this little-known Mediterranean hotspot are prime examples. What you might not expect to find on a blissful island retreat, however, is an active volcano. For the brave residents of Aogashima — a picturesque island 200 miles south of Tokyo — that’s an everyday reality.
The island has been inhabited for hundreds of years, with a full-blown city buzzing along in the volcano’s main crater. The volcano hasn’t been active for centuries — not since it’s last major eruption in 1785 which decimated the island’s population — and many remain undeterred from calling a live volcano their home sweet home.
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Legend has it that on that fateful day, May 18th 1785, the ground decided to ‘stretch and yawn.’ The island’s volcano spewed forth plumes of gas, smoke, rocks, and debris into the sky. By June 4th, the 327 islanders had to make a swift exit… but only about half made it out alive, with the rest meeting their fate amidst the fiery drama.
Fast forward to today, and Aogashima’s volcano still flaunts its ‘active’ status, certified by the ever-watchful Japanese Meteorological Agency, the nation’s volcano referee. In light of that, it’s safe to say that Aogashima’s residents are a different breed; they’ve accepted the possibility of nature throwing a lava-soaked tantrum and are willing to bet their homes and livelihoods against it.
A Local’s Perspective
Masanubu Yoshida — a government worker who’s savoured island life for over twenty years — told Smithsonian Magazine that he doesn’t lose sleep over the rumblings beneath his feet. After all, it’s been 230 years since the last outburst and the odds are seemingly in his favour… so far. He summarised his philosophy like this:
“No one can win over nature.”Masanubu Yoshida
Instead of dwelling on what-ifs, the 47-year-old focuses on the perks of dwelling in this lush paradise: Fishing is big here — the island floats in the midst of the rich Philippine Sea — as are hiking, camping, and swimming. Hot springs and geothermal energy, courtesy of the volcano, sweeten the deal.
While Yoshida’s got a desk job, his neighbours are mostly farmers and fishermen. However, the island’s got more going on than meets the eye: a shochu distillery, salt manufacturer, some corner stores, a charming bed and breakfast, and an auto repair shop are all dotted around the remote paradise.
One Way In, One Way Out
Speaking of cars, Aogashima favours four-wheeled travel over two, despite the island’s minuscule size; strong winds and a bit of rain make biking less appealing. The island boasts several roadways, meandering across its centre.
But life on Aogashima stands in stark contrast to mainland Japan. Yoshida may find himself making trips to Tokyo for work via a ferry or helicopter, but the hustle and bustle of the city — with its 13.4 million residents — just doesn’t hit the spot like island life does:
“I often travel to the mainland on business, but I’m intimidated by the congestion — there are just too many people… [On Aogashima] we can feel great nature that you cannot experience in big cities.”Masanubu Yoshida
Fortunately, the volcano seems to be on board with Yohida’s yearning for tranquillity… for now. Each day on the island is a testament to its dweller’s desire for peace and quiet, until nature decides otherwise.