Japan Data

Torishima: An Uninhabited Island Administered by Distant Tokyo

Environment Disaster

On October 9, an earthquake near the uninhabited island of Torishima caused tsunami waves of up to 60 centimeters in the nearby Izu Islands, and led to warnings on the Japanese mainland. The tiny island is a natural monument and a breeding ground for the short-tailed albatross.

Torishima is an uninhabited island located approximately 570 kilometers from central Tokyo and 300 kilometers south of Hachijōjima in the Izu Islands. The almost circular volcanic island has a diameter of about 2.5 kilometers and a circumference of about 6.5 kilometers. The highest point on Torishima is 394 meters above sea level, but that is the above-water portion of a 3,000-meter submarine volcano.

About 370 kilometers south of Torishima is the Mukojima island group within the Ogasawara Islands. Historically, Torishima was considered part of the Ogasawara Islands, and at one time was also grouped together with Hachijōjima, but at present it has no town or village affiliation and is directly under the jurisdiction of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government. The entire island is designated as a natural monument.


Photo of Torishima taken by the Japan Coast Guard in August 2020.
Photo of Torishima taken by the Japan Coast Guard in August 2020.

Main Volcanic Activity

1871 Details unknown
1902 A major eruption occurs in early August and continues until the end of the month, resulting in the formation of a large crater in the center of the island and the death of all 125 islanders. Eruptions also occur on the northwest shore of the island and in the ocean to the southeast
1939 On August 18, an eruption occurs at the southeastern end of the large crater formed in 1902. Growth of a cinder cone and lava outflows continue until the end of December. All residents and naval meteorological station staff are withdrawn.
1959–65 Intermittent seismic activity.
2002 On August 8, a somewhat large plume of white smoke is spotted from a recreational fishing boat sailing in the vicinity. In the early morning of August 10, another recreational fishing boat confirms repeated columns of fire erupting from the mountain summit.

Torishima is also known as a breeding ground for the short-tailed albatross. The Japanese name ahōdori or “foolish bird” stems from its slow movement on land which made it easy to capture. During the Meiji era (1868–1912), there was mass settlement of the island to make use of the bird’s fine feathers and meat, and it is believed that at least five million albatrosses were killed before a volcanic eruption in 1902 wiped out all 125 island residents.

Thereafter, the island saw some resettlement for albatross hunting and coral mining, but it has not had permanent inhabitants since another eruption occurred in 1939. During World War II, a naval radar base was established on the island, and after the war a meteorological observatory was set up, but all the staff were withdrawn in 1965 due to numerous earthquakes related to volcanic activity, leaving the island uninhabited.

(Translated from Japanese. Banner photo © Pixta.)

earthquake Torishima