Gunkanjima – The Lost Island of Mining


The Isle of Concrete Ruin

Gunkanjima (軍艦島 aka Hashima island), also know as ‘Battleship Island’ for its resemblance to a naval warship, is a historically significant island from Japan’s industrialization period. Located about 15km just off the Nagasaki Peninsula, in the western island of Kyushu, it is well known as an old coal mine and fully self-sufficient island dating back to the late 1880s. For more information on the city of Nagasaki, you can read our post here.

A Perilous Past

As mentioned the island once served as an old Coal Mine, previously owned under Mitsubishi, it is a sure sign of Japan’s rapid industrialization during the 1900s, but also serves as a sore reminder of its war-torn past. Especially during the early 1930s till the end of World War II, the island also conscripted some Korean civilians and prisoners of war under slave-like conditions into forced labour. Many of these workers died under the mine’s harsh dangers including, exhaustion, accidents and lack of nutrition.

The island itself once reached a total population of over 5,000 inhabitants, in 1916 they had built the first miner’s apartment block and for the next 50+ years, they erected more apartment buildings, a school, hospital, town hall and even a community centre. Entertainment facilities were also built for the miners including places such as a clubhouse, cinemas, communal bath, rooftop gardens, a pachinko parlour and more. However, by the early 1970s the coal reserves had almost been exhausted, and so in 1974, the mine was closed. After this time the residents began to depart the island, returning to the mainland and leaving their concrete homes behind.

After more than 30 years of being abandoned, interest in the mysterious island of concrete ruin began to increase, and so tourism and tours around the island began. The local Nagasaki government had also completed restoration of some of the islet’s remains and structures, and so Hashima Island re-opened to tourists in 2009. It is now listed and protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since July 2015, due to increasing interest in the site. In addition, it is one of more than 500 uninhabited islands that exist, surrounding the Nagasaki area.

The Turbulent Tour

The trip from the island takes approx. 40 minutes and costs 4,200 (return trip) for adults and cheaper for kids, group discounts are also available. As part of the tour, you can also visit the Gunkanjima Digital museum, which serves not only as your initial meeting point, but also a time portal for life on the island, and serves as a base for many of the artifacts that were recovered from the area.

Taking the boat out to the island is not for the faint-hearted, especially as the water can get quite rough during more turbulent weather. Some of the waves can cause some real havoc to the small boat, and it is very difficult for the vessel to stay stable. It some cases, sea conditions can so bad that you may not be able to land and conduct a tour of the island. However, during normal or slightly choppy seas, you should be ok to land on the island. In any case, there are plenty of photo opportunities weather from outside the island or on the actual man-made concrete remains.

The tour of the island and just walking through the ruins is quite an eerie feeling, yet fascinating to see. You can really get a sense of the size of the island, especially once you embark and place foot on the island.  Some of the old concrete buildings, while in tatters and ruins now, would have been quite large even by today’s standards, and you can also imagine how this self-sufficient and thriving community would have existed.

Upon landing on the island, the tour guide will take you through lifestyle on the island, and its historical significance. The guide will also point out some of the more famous buildings, including the location of the hospital, apartment buildings, schools, cinema, pachinko parlour and more. Obviously, from seeing the pictures in this post, it would be difficult to imagine just what each concrete structure used to be. So that is exactly why I recommend doing this tour first-hand, to get a greater understanding of life on the island and how it continued to operate for more than 80 years.

The one thing that I couldn’t understand is the amount of fisherman of some of the posts surrounding the island, and how they got to what seems like impossible to reach places … You can find out more about Gunkanjima island via their official site here.


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