Battleship Island (Gunkanjima) Photo Guide

“Japan’s Ghost Island”

Photo by Jordy Meow CC by-sa 

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Battleship Island Aerial View - Photo by kntrty
Battleship Island Aerial View - Photo by kntrty

Hashima History

Once the most densely populated place on earth, Hashima is now an island ghost town. Slowly crumbling it sits roughly 9 miles out to sea from Nagasaki. In another time the island was home to over 5000 residents, densely packing into 480-metre wide by 150-metre long strip of land. Home to a once thriving mining community, almost every scrap of land was built up, resulting in a Battleship-like appearance. Because of this look, it became known and “Gunkanjima” or “Battleship Island” in Japanese.

View from the Gunkanjima School - Photo by Jordy Meow CC by-sa
View from the Gunkanjima School - Photo by Jordy Meow CC by-sa

Life on the Island

After the discovery of coal on Hashima Island in the 1810s, a small scale mining operation opened on the island. However, it wasn’t until the 1890s when Mitsubishi bought the island that operations began in earnest. With the addition of seawalls and land reclamation efforts, eventually, the island expanded to three times its original size. Deep underground mine shafts bored into the earth to extract coal, and gradually the population of miners on the island increased.

Gunkanjima Block 65 - Photo by Jordy Meow CC by-sa
Gunkanjima Block 65 - Photo by Jordy Meow CC by-sa

Dark History

In the 1930s conscripted Chinese and Korean prisoners of war began mining on Hashima. As part of war mobilization efforts, they extracted coal to keep the Japanese war machine running. Forced to work in the mines, thousands of conscripts laboured here until the end of World War II. Suffering from brutal treatment, unsafe work conditions and malnutrition, it is estimated that approximately 1,300 of them lost their lives on the island.

Gunkanjima Island - Photo by Jordy Meow CC by-sa
Gunkanjima Island - Photo by Jordy Meow CC by-sa

Post-War Period

Mining continued after the war, albeit in less severe conditions. Huge ten-story concrete apartment blocks began housing the workers, over time shops and other amenities such as schools, public spaces, swimming pools and more found their home on the island. By 1959 the island reached its peak population with 5,259 people living packed into this small space. Families of the miners thrived on Hashima and produced almost 400,000 tonnes of coal a year in the 1950s.

In the 1960s however, fortunes turned. No longer did Japan rely heavily on coal, and a shift to petroleum began. Thousands of Japanese mines closed and Hashima was no exception. In January of 1974, Mitsubishi closed the mines, and by April of that year, the last of the inhabitants left the island. Officially abandoned the thousands of apartments, mazes of hallways, and concrete jungle began to crumble. Today the island sits long abandoned, a hollow shell of a forgotten time. Nature does what she does best and gradually overtakes the concrete spaces, leaving little but ruins remaining.

Photographing Gunkanjima

Hashima cannot be accessed alone. Given its crumbling state much of the island is unsafe, and as such the only way to access it is via boat tours from Nagasaki. The boat tours take about 30 minutes to reach the island, and once on the island, you are guided through the safe spaces. Visiting the island is surreal, however, as you explore warrens of twisted metal girders, crumbling concrete, and plant life overtaking the spaces where a community once thrived.

The tour itself guides the visitor along elevated walkways put in place to preserve the ruins and protect visitors, which may not be ideal for the independent photographer, but you will not be disappointed. The walkways wind through the best spaces and afford a number of spectacular shooting opportunities.

Tours are typically conducted in Japanese, although a few have English audio guides. We recommend the Gunkanjima Concierge Company which offers two tours daily:

Access (via tram): Ourakaigandori | Address: Tokiwa Town, 1-60 Tokiwa Terminal Building 102, Nagasaki | Phone: 095-895-9300

Be aware that tours are sometimes cancelled, dependent on the weather, so be sure to plan ahead. Also, wear sunscreen and use the bathroom before you go, as there are no facilities on the island.

See it on the PIXEO Map

Hashima (Battleship Island) - Photo by Jordy Meow CC by-sa
Hashima (Battleship Island) - Photo by Jordy Meow CC by-sa

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