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Gunkanjima Ghost Island

Gunkanjima Ghost Island - Japan

Hashima or Gunkanshima as it is otherwise known meaning Battleship Island was so named because the high sea walls surrounding it give it a startling resemblance to the Japanese battleship Tosa.

For nearly 100 years the island was inhabited by the workers for Mitsubishi’s coal mining exploits in the sea around the island. Prior to 1890 it had simply been one of over 500 uninhabited islands but then following the discovery of coal under the sea, vital for Japan’s burgeoning industrial economy, it was identified as the ideal base for the billeting of workers in the coal mining operation.

Gunkanjima Ruins
The island is found about 15 kilometres from Nagasaki and has been administered by Nagasaki prefecture since 2005. Many of the initial workers were forced labour, gathered from other parts of Asia during the expansion of the Japanese empire.

On the island, Mitsubishi built Japan’s first high rise concrete building to house the workers and with similar multi storey buildings constructed in the following years the island soon became the place with the highest population density in the world with the equivalent of over 210,000 people per square mile.

At its height, the population of the 15 acre island rose to 5,259. During the war it was populated by 500 Korean workers, forcibly relocated to continue work during wartime. Only when petroleum overtook coal as the fuel of choice did the island’s importance, and with it, its population decline.

Old Motorbike at Gunkanjima
By 1974 there were no workers left on the island and Mitsubishi officially closed the mine and the island allowing it to take on its other name - Ghost Island.

After decades of neglect and decay, people began to study the history and culture of the island and it is currently looking for UNESCO status as a site of industrial importance. After a modicum of repair work to make areas of the island safe for the public, travel to the island resumed in April 2009.

Mitsubishi gave up ownership of the island in 2002 and transferred the island to Takashima town.

Enthusiasts hope that sufficient money will be raised to enable the whole island to be made safe and available to visiting historians and bit by bit new walkways are being constructed that give views of important parts of the island.

Gunkanjima Ghost Island

Because of the likelihood harsh weather, it was estimated that landing would only be feasible for fewer than 160 days per year. The plan is to extend visitor walkway further for approximately 300 metres toward the east part of the island and approximately 190 meters toward the west part of the island from the landing pier after 2009. The pier was originally used when the island was inhabited to provide twelve round trips per day from Nagasaki, each one taking fifty minutes. Currently two day cruise operators offer sight seeing trips.

The island has featured in History Channel's Life After People, episode "The Bodies Left Behind" as an example of the decay of concrete buildings after only 35 years of abandonment.

Gunkanjima Old Ruins
Additionally during a 2009 Mexican photography festival, Three photographers showcased images from the island in the exhibition ‘Pop. Density 5,000/km2’ which documented the rise and fall of cities around the world

The island has been shown in numerous films and its decaying ‘future nightmare’ look has seen it used as the backdrop for several computer games.