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November 9, 2011

Hashima / Gunkanjima - Battleship Island

Ah, it seems like ages ago we were in Nagasaki! I have been a bad blogger, and have so many events to catch up on, so I will wrap up the section of posts on our Nagasaki getaway tonight!

On a really spur of the moment decision, we found ourselves booking seats on the afternoon voyage to Hashima - an abandoned industrial island off the coast of Nagasaki. Given our limited timeframe in Nagasaki (just one and a half days to explore!) we decided to disregard the rain, which was not letting up, and jump on a boat anyway...

The tiny island of Hashima is more commonly known as Gunkanjima - or "Battleship Island".  It took about 40 minutes to get there, on a boat packed with people. Because the tour was a non-English speaking tour, we were the only non-Japanese people on the boat. Due to this, we found out that Japanese people treat chartered ferry tours the same as any other method of transport- they sleep! I would say about 70% of the passengers fell asleep on the boat, as if it were a trip they took everyday. I must admit to having a little nap myself, to Kamil's amusement. When in Rome...?

We arrived at Gunkanjima to find out that umbrellas were not allowed on the tour, due to the density of the tour group. This meant we all donned raincoats and braved the heavy rain to set foot on the island that was abandoned over 30 years ago...

So I guess here I should tell you the history of Hashima/Gunkanjima. The island is located about 19km SW of Nagasaki harbor, and from 1810 to 1974 it was the site of a full-scale seabed coal mining operation. The island itself is tiny, and sits out in the middle of the ocean where it is subject to harsh waves and winds during typhoon season. Families of the coal miners lived on the island for the whole time that the mines operated.  Because of the harsh weather conditions, the island is surrounded by a sea-wall.

Although isolated, the island functioned as both a successful coal mining site, and a successful community. However, in 1974 Mitsubishi shut down the island's coal mine, and gave all residents just three months to completely vacate the island. From this time onward, the island was deserted and left to crumble (both by the forces of nature and vandalism) and only in 2009 was attention cast back towards Hashima, when the island was included on a tentative list of sites being considered for World Heritage status. Since, tour boats have been taking groups of intrigued tourists over on guided tours of the island.

And so we landed on Gunkanjima...

Unfortunately the tour limits the areas of access to a minimal zone (for safety reasons), so we were unable to see the interiors of the buildings, and were not able to view the crumbling temple or school grounds. However, the areas that we visited were still able to convey a strong sense of the island.

I guess the easiest way to explain the feeling of being on the island is thus- in its familiarity it is haunting. I mean that it is a completely unique experience, because unlike a visit to castle ruins, or the remains of an ancient civilisation- the structures that you are faced with on Gunkanjima are those of modern life- schools, apartment buildings, swimming pools. It's fascinating and eerie to visit this tiny island, in the middle of nowhere, where one day- life just stopped.

The building above/below was an entrance to the sea-bed mines, used by the miners everyday. I guess that brings up another reason for Gunkanjima's creepy feel- it's really difficult to try and imagine the mines stretching deep below the surface of the island, and to imagine how the miners felt going to work down there.

Below is part of the sea-wall that partially protected the island from waves.

Above, I'm standing in front of some apartment buildings, not dissimilar to those which we live in right now in Fukuoka. Below are the remains of the swimming pool, which kept the miner's children occupied over hot summers...

The island was very reminiscent of the Ghibli film Laputa Castle in the Sky, especially in the way that nature has begun to re-claim the island since it was vacated of human life. Trees and shrubs burst forth through the crumbling grey cement structures, and the island is circled by many hawk-like birds.

Even though the rain refused to let up, and even though we were unable to view the most interesting views hidden inside the buildings of Gunkanjima, there was a strong impression left from our visit. I strongly recommend you watch the video below, or see blogs like Gukaranman or Talk Urbex or this one to see the amazing sights that the island holds- unfortunately these are sights that can not be seen on a chartered tour boat. It takes guts and risk to infiltrate, explore and uncover the island's secrets.

But I am happy with the trip we took anyway...

We left on the tour boat and through the rain, took a last look at Hashima. Once back on dry land, we went home and then out to our second and last dinner in Nagasaki before returning home to Fukuoka the next day.

So many more blog posts to come. I'll try keep up!

1 comment:

  1. How do I seem to have a screen name Tommy-T at this site?