Sometimes reality is even better than fiction. Or worse.

Our story starts in the year 2000, on the island Miyakejima, a Japanese island where “catastrophe” is a very familiar word among its inhabitants. Miyakejima is part of the Izu volcanic islands, located in the Devil’s Sea and under the constant terror of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.

In the past century alone, the volcanoes have erupted six times, but the worst was yet to come.  In the year 2000, between the 26th of June and the 21st of July, this area was hit by no less than 17,500 earthquakes and, on the 14th of July, the Oyama Volcano erupted twice. The second eruption caused smoke to rise ~3,280 feet (~ one kilometer) and was accompanied by loud explosions. An evacuation order had been issued then due to the falling ash.

But the thick ash falling down the sky wasn’t the only concern the island’s inhabitants had. The disaster also led to high levels of toxic sulfur dioxide regularly leaking up through the ground, making 20% of the land uninhabitable so, after three months, the government took action and forced a mass evacuation in September.

For two years after the eruption, the Oyama  Volcano continued to emit 10,000 to 20,000 tons of sulfuric dioxide gas daily, turning the island into this post-apocalyptic world with dead trees, rusted cars, and abandoned buildings, all engulfed into a thick toxic fog.

Things settled down slowly though and, in 2005, people were allowed to return to their homes. Most of them decided to remain in their new houses in Tokyo, but about 2,800 returned, armed with gas masks to help them survive the noxious gas still seeping through the land.

A new craze was born then and the gas mask tourism flourished. Disposable gas masks are being sold at ferry stations and local stores for those curious and daring enough to come visit the island. Among the attractions there are sight-seeing tours of abandoned houses, flattened cars and a school gym half-destroyed by lava, as well as hot spring baths.

But the most curious thing of all are the people themselves, an entire town of odd creatures, resembling the strange Oods in the Dr. Who series, while wearing their masks which make all the difference between life and death on the island of Miyakejima.