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Wikipedia | Google | Google Images | FlickrThe volcanic Aogashima Island in the Philippine Sea, 358 kilometers south of Tokyo, is the southernmost inhabited outcrop in the Izu Archipelago. Constitutionally-speaking, it a subdivision of the Tokyo prefecture, but administered locally by 170 inhabitants when last counted. They eke out a precarious existence of fishing and subsistence agriculture.
Volcanic activity is ongoing although the last violent eruption occurred three centuries ago. The locals tolerate the odd huff and puff and the occasional landslide into the ocean. After all, where else can you cook a stew in a local pond? If you visit the area, you will have to adapt to a leisurely way of life, because there is not much else to do on Aogashima Island except take it easy and chill out. After a few days this becomes distinctly comfortable.
Born from FireThe island is a volcanic complex consisting of four submarine caldera s. These are surrounded by steep cliffs created by flows of lava. The villagers live within the cone in the shadow of the one that last erupted. People can adapt to anything, including a volcano in the backyard.
Nobody is quite sure where the inhabitants came from, or how their ancestors scaled the cliffs and why they did so in the first place. Perhaps they were shipwrecked castaways who had no option. If so, they would have been pleasantly surprised by the lush ‘lost world’ environment they had stumbled on. Most of them are Japanese.
In 1780, a series of earthquakes released steam from a lake. An eruption occurred the next year, followed by lava flows in 1783 that caused the people to flee. An immense 1785 eruption took the lives of 140 out of 327 islanders and they took 50 years to return.
Life on a Desert IslandLife is as simple as it was on the American Prairies before the railroads arrived. If you are born on Aogashima Island the chances are you will stay there all your life. There is no natural harbor, just a concrete jetty clinging to the cliff face that can handle ships up to 500 tons, provided the weather is reasonable. There is a single elementary/junior high school, and a chartered helicopter link to the larger Hachijōjima Island that has more mod cons.
The Occasional TouristTourists are welcome with open arms because they provide cash injections and break the normal routine of island life. Some are sports fishermen while others are Eco-tourists. Others will come to chill out in a powerful antidote to city life. However, all visitors should remember that the island community is deeply conservative. Don’t go there to change opinions. Respect things the way they are, or don’t go at all.
Getting ThereOnce you have settled your worry beads and decided living on four calderas is a turn-on, you need to make a plan to get to Hachijōjima Island by boat or jet plane. Don’t let this lull you into the impression that Aogashima Island has casinos and nightclubs. You get karaoke and hospitality at the end of a helicopter ride or a basic boat trip to the bottom of a 300 meters high cliff. If you have vertigo or a dislike of heights, perhaps it is best that you should not give this a try.
Tips for TouristsAlthough there are free camping sites and shops selling unfamiliar foods you may prefer you never saw, we heartily recommend – and we do mean it – that you make arrangements before you land. Not everybody runs a B&B. A volcano gets strangely cold at night when you have nowhere to lay your head.
Navigating is really easy because the island footprint is a meager nine square kilometers or three-and-a-half square miles. There are two roads. One hugs the cliffs and is spectacular. The other one is inside the caldera and provides an opportunity to meet the locals at work and play. The outer circle takes you past island hotspots where you can cook your food in a geothermal kettle, if you dare.
Once past the island and the salt mine, which is a major source of income for the island, you reach the Oyama Prospect Park that provides amazing night views of stars far away from where city lights intervene. Do yourself a favour. Get permission to camp there overnight beneath the stars. You will see things you never imagined existed.
Just in case it gets a little cold, feel free to take a bottle of the Aochu spirit with you. Rumor is that this is in short supply and you may have to grease a few palms. But what the heck, you are overnighting on a volcano and you need your beauty sleep.
So there you have it. A couple of hundred people living on four volcanos that could blow them to smithereens at any moment and enjoying small-town life like anywhere else on Earth. Should we envy them? Of course we should. Ought you to visit? Perhaps you should because life is short, and you may not be offered this opportunity again.
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Author: robric. Last updated: Sep 02, 2014