Monday, October 4, 2010

Gunkanjima - Japan's Battleship Island

Not too far off the coast from the Nagasaki harbor is an island called Hashima. This tiny island-turned-coal-mine is also known as Gunkanjima, which means Battleship (gunkan) Island (jima) in English. It takes about 30 minutes via tour boat to reach the island. In this photo, which was taken from the back of boat, is the Nagasaki harbor mouth (where the bridge is) as well as a massive Mitsubishi ship yard (where the red and white crane is):

On the way to Gunkanjima the boat passed by this bridge that's under construction. It was a cool site to see both sides of the bridge looking completed but with no center section:

It wasn't until we were past the bridge that we could see the center section being held by this floating crane (very cool!):

Gunkanjima opened in 1887 and was operated by Mitsubishi as a coal mine from 1890 to 1974. The miners used a shaft that went from the center of the island down below the sea floor. Coal was sent out to waiting ships via conveyor belt. Approaching and pulling up to the island is quite impressive. It's a very small island but there are a ton of large buildings on it. From the sea it looks like almost every square inch of the island is covered:

It's only when you get onto the island that you can see what only 35 years of neglect looks like in an urban environment. All of the buildings are in some sort of decay with many actually falling down. The tour groups are only allowed to visit a well-roped-off, very small part of the island. In this photo you can see the remains of many different buildings:

One of the staggering things about the island was the super-high-density population that lived there during its heyday. At one point, the island supported a population equivalent of over 216,000 people per square mile. Compare that to current-day New York City, which is approximately 27,000 people per square mile.

Even though the miners and their families that lived here existed in a such a dense place, their lives were relatively well off. Since the island was a private venture, the company took care of the employees including providing for their needs during the war and after. It seems to have been a pretty good place to live.

To help support the high density, new construction methods were used on the island. I believe that this was the first large concrete structure built in Japan; a nine-story apartment building, which was built in 1916:

On the approach you could see how people can say the island looks like a battleship. It isn't until you leave the island and the boat goes to the other side that you can really see it for yourself. It really does look like one. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Gunkanjima, the battleship island of Nagasaki, Japan:


  1. That looks like the perfect place for a paintball war! Japan should think about maybe renting out the island to rich American families celebrating their spoiled childrens birthdays.

  2. It actually would be a great place for paintball except that the whole place is pretty much falling down. I'm guessing that they're in a tough spot with what to do. Do you stop (freeze) the decline, restore it to some chosen period of time, or do you just let it go until it is eventually just a pile of rubble? Of course they could always go Condo...

  3. I visited Gunkanjima island on December 29, 2012.
    Please see pictures of Gunkanjima island on my site below.

    1. r_nobu - I checked out your post about Gunkanjima and your photos are pretty amazing. Also, I searched through your blog and, of course, had to go through all the food posts. Nice work and thanks for the link!


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