Gunkanjima or Hashima Island

The Deserted Hashima Island

Hashima island, also known as Gunkanjima (or ‘Battleship Island’) and Ghost Island, is one of the 505 uninhabited islands of Nagasaki Prefecture in Japan. Nearly a century ago (from 1887 to 1974), it was a bustling coal mining facility and home to thousands of workers. When the demand for coal began to shift to petrol, the once thriving island was abandoned and left to the elements. Its concrete buildings now lie as decrepit ruins, a reminder of a past long gone.

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Ghost Island.

Hashima island was known for its undersea coal mines when coal was discovered on the area sometime in 1810. The coal mining industry operated during the industrialization of Japan. When Mitsubishi Goshi Kaisha obtained the island, it began extracting coal from undersea mines and sea walls, and land reclamation tripled the actual size of the island. When the island was still a flourishing coal mining community, Mitsubishi Goshi Kaisha bought it in 1890 and built a large nine story concrete building. More buildings were built over the years to accommodate the growing number of workers. Concrete was the choice material used for structures on the island to allow them to withstand typhoons. Buildings such as  apartment blocks, a community center, schools, a hospital, and a town hall were all maintained for the workers and their families. There were even structures for entertainment such a cinema, swimming pool, rooftop gardens, shops, communal bath, and a pachinko parlor.

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Ruins of Gunkanjima or Hashima Island.

Battleship island is also notorious for its dark history as the site of forced labour before and after World War II. In the 1930’s until the end of WWII, Korean conscripted civilians and Chinese prisoners-of-war were forced to work under very harsh conditions on the island. About 1,300 labourers were said to have perished under these harsh conditions, accidents, malnutrition, and exhaustion.

By 1959, the 6.3 hectare island had a population of 5,259. It was considered the most densely populated place per square meter in the entire world.In 1974, as the coal reserves of the island were nearing depletion, the mine was closed and all of the residents left the island. Between 1891 to 1974, about 15.7 million tons of coal were excavated in mines with high temperatures and humidity.

Ghost Island began to pique the interest of people because of the undisturbed historical ruins. The island gradually became a popular attraction and was re-opened for visitors on the 22nd of April, 2009. The increased interest on the island prompted initiatives to protect it. On July of 2015, Hashima Island was formally recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site as part of Japan’s Sites of Japan’s Meiji Industrial Revolution: Iron and Steel, Shipbuilding and Coal Mining.

Check out this fascinating virtual tour of Hashima Island with Google Street Views!