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Wednesday, December 9, 2015

This Japanese Island Could Kill You

Considering Japan has a forest where some 100 people a year go to commit suicide, having a town or an island that could kill you doesn't seem all that shocking to me.

Welcome to Miyakejima, the third-largest of the isles (55 square kilometers) that make up the Izu Island archipelago south of Tokyo, where if you and I were to go and visit, there's a high probability we could die.

No… not because of some out-of-control tampon removal robots or secret death camps that either don't know WWII is over or simply don't care… rather Miyakejima has a town—also named Miyake… but fully as Miyakemura (Miyake Village, 三宅村) — that sits at the base of an active volcano.

I am a simple guy from Toronto, so I have no idea why people all over the world choose to live in an area where either the world could spew up lava on you at any time, or where the earth could crack open and drop a skyscraper on you.

I once climbed an active one (it was spewing steam), but that was because I didn't want to look like a wimp in front of my girlfriend who did want to show me the thrills of hiking and specifically hiking up a fricking volcano. I swallowed a lot of chicken that day. 

As for visiting Mikakejima... no… you won't necessarily be walking your little white dog named Shiro when a wave of lava overcomes you, rather the volcano seems to continually belch out sulphur dioxide gas, the nasty gas that smells like someone just struck a match.

Hey… at least it's not hydrogen sulfide which smells like rotten eggs.

Still, sulphur dioxide (SO2) is a heavy, colorless gas, which when combined with water vapor helps form aerosols of sulfuric acid (H2SO3), a mildly corrosive liquid.

Acid rain - you betcha!

Now… when the sulphuric acid combines with oxygen (air), it creates an even more corrosive form of sulphuric acid (H2SO4).

So… when it rains, it burns.

It doesn't have you catching fire, but it does burn your skin. Now imagine being caught in a torrential downpour... good thing it doesn't rain much in Japan.... riiiiiiiight.

As you can see, the volcano takes up a large percentage of the Miyakejima island. Seriously... why would anyone thing - yes, this is a great place to stay and raise a family?!
Located about 160 kilometers (100 miles) south of Tokyo, Miyakejima sounds like it belongs more at home in Australia, a land where every effing land and sea creature seems to have some sort of poisonous venom attached to it.

I love Aussie women and those sexy accents, but dammit, you people (even your men) need to move someplace safer… like whatever country is being attacked by some other country today in the Middle East!

Anyhow… the volcano, known as Mount Oyama (Mount Big Mountain… because the gas makes people lose the ability to come up with a really cool name) (In fact, Mount Big Mountain sounds rather like a less appropriate name every time you think about it… I mean, it's big on the island, but it's not THAT big of a mountain) likes to fart out eruptions every 20 years or so, though there have been six within the past century, so I'm guessing someone's math is off a bit.

Back in 2000AD, Mount Oyama had a few serious eruptions (but not a big, big, big one), but still, it went on long enough with the expulsion of sulphur dioxide gas that airplane flights in and out of the island were cancelled (for eight years).

It was calculated that Mount Oyama was spewing out some 42,000 tons of sulphur dioxide every day. And then there's always that chance of rain... and air... as such, its inhabitants were evacuated (which if you've ever been evacuated, it hurts).

Okay, let's say the inhabitants were evacuated off the island. That grammar is just swell.

Anyhow... the island was completely closed in 2000! Closed!They closed the whole fricking island... because people would have died from the amount of gas being pumped out by the volcano!!!

The people were allowed back as of 2005, with a 2012 population sitting at around 2,775.

So... after five years of being forced away from your home... your job... would any of YOU go back? Wouldn't you have started a new life somewhere, because you know that old place was not a safe place... well... it would be safe for another 20 years... so let's go back. Who thinks like that?!

Anyhow… all the residents who went back and are still there, are required to carry gas masks with them at all times, though one doesn't have to wear them unless a siren goes off warning of poison gas in the air.

Tourists can visit now, but you are recommended to not only bring your own gas mask, but to get a chest exam to make sure you are healthy enough to survive the vacation. Just seek shelter should it begin to rain.

For tourists, you can take an over-night ferry from Takeshiba Sanbashi Pier near Hamamatsuchō, Tokyo at 10:30PM, and arrive at Miyakejima at 5AM.

There is a 50-minute flight between Haneda Airport and Miyakejima Airport, as well as some flights from Chofu Airport. You could also find helicopter flights, but you can look this up yourself otherwise I'll have to start charging you for the information I just stole from Wikipedia.  

There are six elementary and junior high schools in Miyakemura (village), and the Miyake High School, too, but the latter is operated by the metropolitan Tokyo government.

It makes one wonder why the hell anyone would want to live in a place like that! For the record, during the Edo era (pre-1868) the island was used as a penal colony - just like Australia was (?) at first.

I love it when a random thought earlier about Aussies comes around to make sense later in the story. I don't plan these things. I write'em as I find the information.

At around the beginning of the Edo-jidai (1603-1868), there were over 2,300 exiles (not prisoners) on Miyakejima.

During the middle of the Edo period (1714AD ) there were secret meetings between the famous Kabuki actor Ikushim Shingoro (surname first) and a inner palace maid named Ejima, who was part of the Ōoku, (Shogun's harem)… and when they were found out, some 1,000 people were exiled to Miyakejima as part of "The Ejima-Ikushima Affair" (江島生島事件 Ejima Ikushima liken).  

You would think that it meant the Kabuki actor was boffing the harem girl, but the story is far more political than that. Tomorrow. We'll look at it tomorrow. Promise.

As one might suspect, people who live there gotta work, with the main industries being fishing, farming and tourism.

Tourism? Sure… there's all those shrines… which even I, Mister frickin' positive have to say that one can easily become jaded with all of the shrines in Japan.

"Look over there! There's a shrine!"
"Behind that shrine!"
"Oh! It's cute!"

I exaggerate, but after the glamour of Kyoto and the glitz of Tokyo, traveling all the way to an island that is essentially a volcano, where the people have to carry around gas masks because of the poisonous fumes that could fart from said volcano… I'm pretty sure I don't give a crap about any shrines.

Unless of course the volcano erupts and we're all going to die!

"Help me, Buddha!… what? You're in a temple, not in a shrine? WTFaaaaagh!"

I like that the Buddha did try and help out that sassy gaijin, but only to point out his mistake. Who cares if the unbeliever died? Not Buddha. He hasn't a care in the worlds. And yes, Buddhism is practiced in a temple. You pray to the nature gods at a shrine.
The honeymoon is going to be kin-ky!
According to the Islanders themselves, there are THREE theories as to where the island got its name of Miyakejima… now… we are talking about the Japanese language, where there can be multiple kanji that have the same sound… so to the people first on the island, there was and is no clear-cut knowledge as to which kanji —and thus which meaning— was first used.I got the following information from the Miyakejima official island website.

#1) Miyakejima (三宅島) is derived from the shape of the island, which looks like three houses in a row. How the hell would anyone know what the island looked like, shape-wise. I suppose you could climb to the top of Mount Oyama and peer down, but surely that wouldn't be the first thing you would do upon arriving at the island. Surely you might claim it and name it. Ah… what the heck do I know about discovering islands…Anyhow... look at the map above... how the heck does anyone thing this island looks like three houses?

#2) Miyakejima (宮家島) comes from the fact that there are 12 Shikinai shrines located on the island. Beats me what would happen if you built another one. There are 70 total shrines (not just Shikinai shrines) in the official shrine registry, though unofficially there are over 100 shrines on the island. Most shrines are related to the volcano and seeking protection from it. But not the temples...

#3) Miyakejima (御焼島) is named due to the frequent volcanic eruptions, ergo the 'burning mountain' moniker. Again… one might have to go and check out the island as a volcanic eruption occurred…. otherwise that name wouldn't fit.

Couldn't it have been named by some guy name Miyake? That would be my best, but ultimately boring guess.

And why... why the heck would anyone want to live on an island that has a huge gas-spewing volcano on it? Surely after the first explosion, people would thing that this isn't a safe place to live!I know... I keep asking that question, but I still haven't received an answer. Thanks for nothing, Buddha.

In the Heian-jidai (Heian Era of 794-1185AD), a family named Mibu arrived and the master declared himself the Governor of the island… (I tried that when I arrived in Japan, but strangely, no one accepted that statement)...  and when it was time, Mibu passed over governance to an island chief and a priest until around the 1878, when Tokyo was given control.

In 1923, jurisdiction moved to the Oshima Island government office until April 1, 1943, when a new Miyake branch become independent.

In October 1, 1946, the villages of Izu, Kamitsuki and Igaya joined to become Miyake Village.

February 1, 1956, Miyake village, Sako village and Tsubota village combine to become the new Miyake village.

As of January 1, 2012, there are 1,739 households consisting of 1,511 men and 1,264 women fore a total population of 2,775.

It's a good thing these people only have to wear their masks some of the time. I was reading so many articles and looking at the photographs, that each made it appear that the natives wore the masks all the time.

If they did...I wonder if that would make the sex kinky or straight.

Oh well… we'll never know (Buddha)… but I wonder if they put the masks on even when they don't have to?

Andrew Joseph
PS: With any luck, actor Kirk Douglas is 99-years-old today.

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