Gunkanjima Battleship Island

Japan City Guides: Gunkanjima Nagasaki

Battleship Island, Hashima 軍艦島

Jake Davies

Since it opened to the public in April, 2009, the tiny uninhabited island of Hashima, located about 15km from Nagasaki, has quickly risen in popularity and is now one of the top tourist attractions of the city.

Hashima's inclusion as a setting for part of the most recent James Bond blockbuster Skyfall will no doubt increase its exposure and popularity. The island of Hashima was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2015, which further increased its profile.

More commonly known as Gunkanjima, Battleship Island in English, because seen from a distance the island resembles the shape of a battleship, Hashima is a ghost island with a post apocalyptic landscape of crumbling concrete and abandoned buildings that was once the most densely populated place on the planet.

In the Bond movie the island is used as a hideout by the villain after causing it to be abandoned by faking a chemical accident. In reality the island was a coal mine that closed down in 1974. Actually none of the movie was  filmed on the island, though the shot of Bond's approach to the island was real, it was digitally manipulated, and all the rest of the shots were filmed in the studio, after the production crew had spent some days on the island and used it as inspiration for the sets.

Until 2009 officially the island was off-limits to visitors because of the danger from collapsing and deteriorating buildings and structures, but unofficially local fishermen made extra income by secretly taking out "urban explorers," people whose pastime, and sometimes passion, is in exploring abandoned buildings, industrial sites, tunnels, etc.

The Japanese word for abandoned place is haikyo, and it is being increasingly used in English. For such people Hashima is a mecca as it is such a relatively large site. A quick internet search of "hashima haikyo" will return thousands of blogs and web pages.

Gunkanjima, Battle Ship Island, Nagasaki.
View from the sea of Gunkanjima, Battleship Island, Nagasaki, Kyushu
Gunkanjima, Battle Ship Island, Nagasaki.
Gunkanjima (Hashima), Battleship Island, Nagasaki, Kyushu
Gunkanjima, Nagasaki, Kyushu, Japan.
Gunkanjima, Battleship Island, Nagasaki, Kyushu

Access - Getting To Gunkanjima

For those who prefer a safer, legal way of exploring Hashima there are now two companies offering tours of the island with up to 10 tours a day. Boats leave from the Nagasaki ferry terminal and head out to sea passing the Glover House and foreign settlement on the hillside and under the Nagasaki Bay Bridge.

It takes about 50 minutes to reach Hashima and then the boat slowly circles the island before docking at the southern tip which was the industrial area of the island. Here there is a 200 meter path with several viewpoints. There are plans to extend the area visited once it can be made safe.

Some days the sea is too rough for a landing on the island, and if so a side trip to nearby Takashima, which was also a coal mine island, is made. The tours are very popular so it is recommended to book in advance.

Gunkanjima, Battle Ship Island, Nagasaki.
Gunkanjima, Battleship Island, off the coast of Nagasaki, Kyushu

Gunkanjima Concierge, on 095 895 9300, universal@gunkanjima-concierge.com

Gunkanjima Cruise, on 095 827 2470, info@gunkanjima-cruise.jp

Of course the safest and least expensive way is to tour the island virtually!!! Google was recently on the island photographing it for Google Maps Street view, so once that goes live you don't have to leave your desk.

Gunkanjima, Battle Ship Island, Nagasaki.
Abandoned Building, Gunkanjima, Battleship Island, Nagasaki, Kyushu

History of Hashima

The first inhabitants moved onto Hashima in 1887 with the opening of the first coal mine there. Residents on the much larger nearby island of Takashima had been using coal for centuries as fuel, and eventually began to export it to other areas of Japan, but the coal was mined on the surface with primitive equipment.

It wasn't until the beginning of Japan's industrialization that deep mining began. It was introduced by a Nagasaki resident, the Scottish merchant Thomas Glover, who imported British mining engineers and modern equipment and dug a shaft to the coal seam 45 meters below the seabed.

Japan's modernization and industrialization was fueled by coal and other islands were explored for access to the undersea coalfield resulting in the 199 meter deep shaft dug on Hashima in 1895 by Mitsubishi. At this time the island was even smaller than it is now, but by utilizing the waste rock dug out of the mine to build landfill and constructing massive sea walls it was possible to create a bigger operation and have more space for miners to live.

By 1916 annual production was 150,000 tons and the island had a population of about 3,000. Japan's first concrete high-rise apartment building was built then, followed in 1918 by a nine-storey block that was at the time the tallest building in Japan. Both still stand as ruins.

The peak of production was reached in 1941 with 400,000 tons annually, and over 30 concrete buildings covered the tiny island. As Japanese miners were conscripted into the military they were replaced with slaves, mostly Korean. By 1945 about 1,300 had died on the island.

In the postwar recovery, stimulated in a large part by the Korean War, coal once again played a large part. By 1959 the population of Hashima peaked at 5,259, which is believed to be the highest population density in the world with 1,391 people per hectare in the residential district. Everything these inhabitants needed to survive had to be brought in by ship, including water, though in 1957 a pipeline bringing water from the mainland was built. Other needs also had to be met, so there were schools, shops, a temple, a shrine, a hospital, even a cinema, pachinko parlor, and brothel.

In the 1960's production began to decrease as the government chose a policy favoring cheap oil imports over coal, and in January 1974 the mine closed down. By April the last resident left the island.

Gunkanjima, Battle Ship Island, Nagasaki.
Gunkanjima, Battleship Island, Nagasaki, Kyushu

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