Exploring Japan’s Gunkanjima (Hashima Island)

Gunkanjima is an unsettling time capsule of Japan’s industrial history that served as inspiration for the villain’s stronghold in the 2012 Bond film Skyfall.

Let’s take a look at the deserted Hashima Island off the coast of Nagasaki, Gunkanjima.

Locals refer to the island as Gunkanjima, or Battleship Island, due to its resemblance to a warship when viewed from afar. Since 2009, excursions have been going to the abandoned mining island, which has remained unaffected since occupants abandoned their homes, leaving everything from shoes to electronics to lesson-filled blackboards behind.

 

Battleship Island

The island serves as a somber reminder of its history as a place of forced labor prior to and during WWII.

It’s a frightening sight of the mark of human life on our environment walking around collapsing grocery stores and seeing into children’s bedrooms covered in rust and weeds.

Hashima Island was purchased by the Mitsubishi Company in 1890 after it began as a coal mining enterprise in 1887. Mitsubishi increased the island’s area to 16 acres while improving the island’s mining infrastructure. It then constructed concrete high-rise residential complexes and an outer sea wall to house its employees and their families. Gunkanjima had a population of 5,259 individuals at its peak in 1959, making it the most densely populated spot on the planet at the time.

By 1974, the mines beneath Gunkanjima had dried up, and Mitsubishi had declared their closure. Residents began to leave in a hurry to find new occupations. The island was completely uninhabited within a few months.

Tourists who want to see the island up close and personal can easily plan a day tour.

In the early 2000s, there was a resurgence of interest in Gunkanjima, with several companies in Nagasaki competing to give excursions. It’s the only way to get to the island, and it’s a strictly controlled business – only three ferry companies are allowed to operate excursions – with guests restricted to a walking route that runs along the island’s perimeter due to safety concerns. Tours last about three hours and are available in the morning and afternoon. Ferry rides to and from Nagasaki port to the island, as well as a one-hour walk on land, are regular activities.

Gunkanjima was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in July 2015, despite accusations from South Korea — which were later retracted — against Mitsubishi’s exploitation of Koreans and Chinese for hard labor on the island during WWII.  Because tour guides are usually hesitant to handle this topic, it’s best not to press the matter. You can (and should) learn more about Gunkanjima’s history online.

 

What You Should Know

ACCESS
Travelers must be a member of a tour group to visit Gunkanjima, as much as they may desire to explore the abandoned island at their leisure. Reservations can be made via the internet. While on the island, tour companies demand guests to sign safety releases and wear hard hats.

PRICES FOR TOURS
Adult ferries from Nagasaki cost between $3,600 and $4,200, with discounts available for groups of 15 or more. Visitors must also pay a $300 landing charge (150 for children) in addition to ferry fees. Nagasaki City charges this tax, which goes toward helping to preserve Gunkanjima. It should be mentioned that tours may be cancelled at the last minute if weather and surf conditions become dangerous. Tour companies may offer partial refunds or other options.

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