A Ghostly Tour of the Battleship Island in Japan

Battleship Island Japan: The Rotting Metropolis

Hashima Island, most commonly known as the Battleship Island of Japan, is one of the popular abandoned places in the country. A small island located a little over four kilometers from the Nagasaki Peninsula, Hashima Island was considered a world heritage site by UNESCO in 2009 as an integral part of the Modern Industrial Heritage Site of Yamaguchi and Kyushu.

The total land area of the island is only about 6.3 hectares and was originally established in 1887 and officially owned by Mitsubishi Goshi Kaisa. The discovery of undersea mines turned the island into a flourishing city in a short time tripling the island’s area due to land reclamation and expansion. Since then, the population of the island started to increase up to a little over 5,000 residents in the 1960s.

Originally built as a seabed coal mine, it was a symbol of the rapid modernization of Japan pre-war that started after the Meiji Restoration. The sad thing is that, historically, the island has a bad reputation of forced labor up until its closure in the 1970s. It has been officially closed due to the continuous depletion of coal. Soon, with no jobs in order, its residents started to leave the island to go to mainland Japan and find work.

The entire island is surrounded by a sea wall which protects it from strong waves coming from the sea. Throughout the island are abandoned tall concrete buildings giving it an eerie feel from the outside. It is named aptly as Gunkanjima, or battleship Island because from afar, the sea wall makes it look like sides of a large boat with the abandoned concrete buildings as the boat’s deck.

When it Happened: Battleship Island Japan History

What is interesting about this place is that it was a strong symbol of how fast Japan was entering the age of industrialization. It was a pioneer of a number of industries. Interestingly enough, it was in 1916 when the first seven-story concrete building in Japan was built on the island. This building was built as a residence for all the mine workers on the island.

Soon, they have built a wall to protect the island from typhoon destruction since there is no other buildings, mountains, or hills to protect the buildings from strong winds. Soon, the island flourished enabling workers to build communities within. Newer apartment buildings were built along with schools, hospitals, government buildings, and kindergartens. Other than that, to make the island even more livable, a cinema, swimming pool, gardens, and even pachinko parlors have been established within the island.

During the Second World War, POWs (Prisoners of war) from Korea and China are being sent to the island to work in the mines. It has been reported that thousands of prisoners perished due to exhaustion, malnutrition, and accidents. This gives the Battleship Island a negative image.

As more and more sources of power were discovered through the years, the coal industry took a hard hit and eventually declined. Numerous mines closed throughout Japan since the 1960s and a decade later, the coal mine was fully closed by January of 1974. To ensure the safety of its inhabitants, the entire island was cleared by April of the same year.

Nagasaki during the Second World War

There has been a controversy regarding the UNESCO approval of the Battleship Island as a world heritage site due to its awful history of forced labor before and during the war. However, during the Second World War, the entire peninsula of Nagasaki was affected by a nuclear bombing attack by the Allied Forces led by the United States.

Despite the fact that the island did not directly suffer from the nuclear bombing attack in Nagasaki, a number of spectators explained that the Gunkanjima might have been turned into a heritage site as a form of a Peace Memorial similar to the A-dome of Hiroshima. It is a symbol of suffering, war, and abandonment – memories and ghosts of the past that Japanese and all those affected by the nuclear bombing wish to never happen again.

Even though its history was dark and unimaginable, the Gunkanjima was one of the greatest factors that pushed for the industrialization of Japan. With its role in history, it is a gentle reminder of the harsh realities of war and destruction.

How to Travel to the Battleship Island of Japan

Going to the island without permission is prohibited, so hiring a personal boat to visit the island is not an ideal move. However, this does not mean that going to the island is prohibited. It was opened to the public in 2009 at the same time that it was approved as a UNESCO heritage site.

The best way to travel to the island is to join tour groups around the Nagasaki Peninsula. A tour that lasts about two hours long, it circles the island to show visitors the condition of the island and its surrounding tourist destinations. The tour usually costs roughly 3000 yen in total. They do not accept walk-in tourists and reservations must be made ahead of time. The best time to visit the island is during Springtime in April.

The thing about some tours is that the boats do not dock, no walking tours on the island are available due to the safety issues that might pose risks and hazards to the tourists. Most tourists enjoy a cruise around the island because of the hauntingly impressive view of the island. Travel experts believe that when parts of the island are refurbished, the newness of the buildings will force it to lose its attractiveness. However, there are some tours that offer landing tours which take roughly 50-minutes around the island. It gives a general view of the buildings and the abandoned site.

Tips and Tricks for that Gunkanshima Cruise

Since the place is found on an island a bit far off the Nagasaki Peninsula and is completely made from ruins, there are a few things to remember about touring it to ensure the safety of the travelers. The first is that tours are often canceled due to bad weather. Strong winds can create very treacherous waters turning soft waves into harsh nightmares for any traveler. The tour group has every right and responsibility to cancel the trip for safety. The good thing about this is that they offer packages and refunds for canceled trips.

Physical health is also one important factor being considered for the tours. Any individual with histories of illnesses and disabilities are often barred from entry. This is because of the fact that the entire place is not wheelchair friendly and there are additional physical hazards when visiting the island.

Also, travelers that are pregnant and are suffering from chronic illnesses are also refused admittance. Babies and pets are also not allowed to join the tour group.

The tour companies also have very strong rules on safety. All those that will not follow the rules will be penalized. For instance, disembarkation without a guide will be problematic, intoxication is not allowed onboard and also, all the guides need licenses to head a tour.

Things to do: Battleship Island Tour

Takahama Beach

The Battleship Island tour does not only focus on the abandoned island of Gunkanjima. One popular docking site of the cruise is the Takahama Beach in Nagasaki. Those who wish a great view of nature and the island life can enjoy a tour of this place. A white sand beach with crystal blue waters – it is a paradise for many.

It is a part of the Goto Islands near Nagasaki and is one of the best white sand beaches in all of Japan. It is most popular for its calm, shallow waters and the best background of beautiful greenery. Truly a paradise – it is one of the best highlights of the cruise.

Entry to the beach is generally free but there are charges for seats and cabanas. A charge of 500 yen for adults and 300 yen for children is already worth the price. Showers cost roughly 200 yen and lockers can be rented for 100 yen.

Takashima Coal Museum

The Takashima Coal Mine was officially established in 1869 during the industrial age of Japan. It has gained popularity due to the fact that it is the first Japanese coal mine equipped with Western technology, particularly steam engines. The museum features the history and timeline of the coal mine. It also features artifacts from the region including old machinery, equipment and much more.

Statue of Yataro Iwasaki

The man that brought industrialization to Japan, he was an investor and shipping industrialist. He is known to be the founder of Mitsubishi – the company that bought Hashima Island and turned it into a coal mine. He founded Mitsubishi prior 1870. The name Mitsubishi came from the family’s emblem of three diamonds. The name Mitsubishi literally means “mitsu” or three, “Hishi” or water chestnut or diamond. It was in 1985 when Iwasaki was memorialized as a form of celebrating his 150th birthday.

Landing on the Island

Since 2009, there are walkways and paths especially built on the island for tourists to walk on. Visitors are not allowed to go off-route and must be guided by experts and organizers at all times. For every time that the island faces a storm, more and more damage affects the structures on the island. This crumbling has caused additional hazards to tourists thus travel to the island is restricted at times.

Movie Inspirations: Battleship Island Japan Skyfall

In 2012, a new Bond movie was released in Hollywood featuring a mysterious island. According to the film’s writers and producers, the mysterious island featured in the movie was based on the history of the island.

The movie was not actually shot in the island, however, the set was built to look as similarly as the Battleship Island of Nagasaki. Since it was featured in an international film, the popularity of the island increased. The number of individuals wanting to visit the island increased in number significantly.  Two years after, it was opened to the public more than 240,000 visitors have been recorded to visit the island.

On Social Media: Battleship Island Japan Photos and Videos of Battle Island Japan on YouTube

Visiting the island is not easy, often times, tours are canceled due to the uncontrollable conditions such as weather, wind speed, and waves. All of these provide additional difficulty in visiting the island. Because of this, a lot of people prefer to just look at photos and videos of the island.

A number of websites and travel blogs online offer a few close-up photos of the island. Of course, these photos do not include pictures of the interior of the buildings due to safety. Furthermore, there are a number of videos available online.

Those who wish to see old photos of the island with its old inhabitants can go to local libraries or the Takashima Coal Museum. It features the island during the time when it was flourishing, wealthy, and successful. There are now available aerial shots of the island showing visitors the scaled image of the battleship-shaped island.

Due to its interesting history, eerie vibe, and all its other features, photography tours to the island is also quite popular. A number of foreign tourists go to the island just to enjoy the scenic view that is useful for artistic photography. In literature, the island is often a subject of discussion and serves as a common setting for period films or period novels. Although shooting films on the island is not advisable, photography can still be used to ensure an accurate remake of the setting.

Although the island has painful memories to share, it plays in important role in the history and culture of Nagasaki and all of Japan. It has served its role in speeding up urbanization and modernization in the country. Although abandoned, it maintains its intricate and haunting beauty that will be the face of Japan’s industrialization.