When I lived in Japan, I heard about Battleship Island – an abandoned island near Nagasaki – and wanted to visit. But the island was closed to the public.
Gunkanjima is a small island located about 20 kilometres from Nagasaki Port.
Until 1974, the island served as a coal mine, and more than 5000 residents called the 480 meter long, 150 meter wide island home, resulting in the highest population density in history recorded worldwide.
To accommodate so many people in such a small area, every piece of land was built up so that the island came to resemble a massive battleship. In fact, “Gunkanjima” is a nickname that means “battleship island” in Japanese. The island’s formal name is Hashima…
Managers, workers and their families all called the little island home. The residents of the island were able to live out a more or less typical life. Half of the island was devoted to the workings of the mine, the other to residential space, schools, restaurants, shops, a public bath and a hospital.
In April 1974, the mine was closed, and its residents had to leave Gunkanjima, abandoning the island with all its buildings. Over the years since then, direct exposure to typhoons has caused the residences and mining facilities to deteriorate, giving the island an eerie and haunting atmosphere. Due to the danger of collapsing structures, Gunkanjima was closed to the public, and for many years could only be seen from sightseeing cruises that circled the island.
In April 2009 a new landing area was built and a ferry company started running tourist visits to the island. I stayed in Nagasaki for a couple of days and took a visit to Battleship Island.
I was the only foreigner on the cruise and none of the information was available in English. Fortunately my Japanese hasn’t disappeared entirely and was able to get by.
Before we landed, we were repeatedly warned that there were no toilets and no vending machines on the islands. It’s strange to find a place in Japan where there isn’t a vending machine nearby.
You’re not allowed to wander into the ruins, but we walked around the edge of the buildings and were able to take lots of photos. It’s a strange and interesting place.