The Japanese Town Built Inside an Active Volcano

July 7, 2016

For the residents of Aogashima, an island about 200 miles due south of Tokyo, 1785 was an unforgettable year. Although they weren’t alive to witness the deadliest event in island history, they know what unfolded all too well—and what they know hasn’t changed their mind about living atop a real-life volcano.

They’ve heard the stories about how, on May 18, the ground began to shake. Giant plumes of gas and smoke billowed out from the mouth of the island’s volcano, shooting rocks, mud and other debris into the sky. By June 4, the island’s 327 residents had no choice but to evacuate, but only about half succeeded and the rest perished.

Those who live on the island that’s home to a volcano still registered as active by the Japanese Meteorological Agency, the governmental agency responsible for monitoring the nation’s 110 active volcanoes, know that there’s always the chance that history could repeat itself. But Aogashima’s inhabitants are willing to take that risk.

One such resident is Masanubu Yoshida, a government worker who has lived on the island for the past 15 years. He says that he tries not to spend too much time worrying about the possibility of another eruption. After all, it’s been more than 230 years since the last one—the odds (at least so far) are in his favor.

“No one can win over nature,” he tells Smithsonian.com. Rather than dwell on the possibilities, the 40-year-old focuses on the benefits of living in this lush paradise, which formed from the remnants of four overlapping calderas centuries ago. Much of the village is located inside the outer crater wall.

Fishing is a popular pastime for many residents, as the island is situated in the middle of the Philippine Sea. Hiking, camping and swimming (although the island’s steep, rocky cliffs can make accessing the water a challenge anywhere outside the harbor) are also popular pursuits.

“We’re also blessed with hot springs and geothermal energy because of the volcano,” he adds. According to one tourist, who wrote about a visit to one of the island’s natural saunas, you can bring food and cook it by placing it on top of one of the sauna’s steam vents. The sauna has a collection of pots and pans at the ready for boiling eggs and other snacks.

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