Hashima Island

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This article is about the island in Nagasaki. For other islands nicknamed Gunkanjima, see Gunkanjima.
Native name: 端島
Nickname: Battleship Island
Battle-Ship Island Nagasaki Japan.jpg
Aerial view
Nagasaki Hashima location map.png
Location East Asia
Area rank none
Prefecture Nagasaki Prefecture
Population 0 (as of 2015)
Hashima from the sea, 2012

Hashima Island (端島 or Hashima — -shima is a Japanese suffix for island?), commonly called Gunkanjima (軍艦島; meaning Battleship Island), is an abandoned island lying about 15 kilometers (9 miles) from the city of Nagasaki, in southern Japan. It is one of 505 uninhabited islands in Nagasaki Prefecture. The island's most notable features are the abandoned historical concrete buildings, undisturbed except by nature, and the surrounding sea wall. While the island is a symbol of rapid industrialization of Japan, it is also a reminder of its dark history as a site of forced labor prior to and during the Second World War.[1][2]

The 6.3-hectare (16-acre) island was known for its undersea coal mines, established in 1887, which operated during the industrialization of Japan. The island reached a peak population of 5,259 in 1959. In 1974, with coal supplies nearing depletion, the mine was closed and all of the residents departed soon after, leaving the island effectively abandoned for the following three decades. Interest in the island re-emerged in the 2000s on account of its undisturbed historic ruins, and it gradually became a tourist attraction of a sort. Certain collapsed exterior walls have since been restored, and travel to Hashima was re-opened to tourists on April 22, 2009. Increasing interest in the island resulted in an initiative for its protection as a site of industrial heritage. The island was formally approved as a UNESCO World Heritage site in July 2015, as part of Japan's "Sites of Japan’s Meiji Industrial Revolution: Iron and Steel, Shipbuilding and Coal Mining.[3]


Battleship Island is an English translation of the Japanese nickname for Hashima Island, Gunkanjima (gunkan meaning battleship, jima being the rendaku form of shima, meaning island). The island's nickname came from its resemblance to the Japanese battleship Tosa.[4] During the World War II era, the island was allegedly referred to as the "Jail Island" or "Hell Island" among Korean forced laborers.


The island was populated from 1887 to 1974 as a coal mining facility. It's most notable features are the abandoned and still mostly intact concrete apartment buildings and the surrounding sea wall. The island has been administered as part of Nagasaki city since the merger with the former town of Takashima in 2005.

It is known for its coal mines and their operation during the industrialization of Japan. Mitsubishi bought the island in 1890 and began extracting coal from undersea mines. In 1916, the company built Japan's first large concrete building (9 storeys tall),[5] a block of apartments to accommodate their burgeoning ranks of workers. Concrete was specifically used to protect against typhoon destruction.

Beginning in the 1930s and until the end of the Second World War, Korean conscripted civilians and Chinese prisoners-of-war were forced to work under very harsh conditions and brutal treatment at the Mitsubishi facility as slave laborers under Japanese wartime mobilization policies.[1][6][7][8]

In 1959, the 6.3-hectare (16-acre) island's population reached its peak of 5,259, with a population density of 835 people per hectare (83,500 people/km2, 216,264 people per square mile) for the whole island, or 1,391 per hectare (139,100 people/km2) for the residential district.[9]

As petroleum replaced coal in Japan in the 1960s, coal mines began shutting down across the country, and Hashima's mines were no exception. Mitsubishi officially announced the closing of the mine in 1974, and today the buildings are empty and the island is unpopulated. Travel to Hashima was re-opened on April 22, 2009, after 35 years of closure.[10]

Current condition[edit]

Ruins of the mine, 2012

The island is increasingly gaining international attention not only generally for its modern regional heritage, but also for the undisturbed housing complex remnants representative of the period from the Taishō period to the Shōwa period. It has become the frequent subject of discussion among enthusiasts for ruins.

Since the abandoned island has not been maintained, several buildings have collapsed. Other buildings are in danger of collapse. However, some of the collapsed exterior walls have been restored with concrete.[11]

The island was owned by Mitsubishi up until 2002, when it was voluntarily transferred to Takashima town. Currently, Nagasaki city, which absorbed Takashima town in 2005, exercises jurisdiction over the island. A small portion of the island was re-opened for tourism on April 22, 2009.[12] A full re-opening of the island would require substantial investment in safety, and detract from the natural state of the aged buildings on the property.

World Heritage Site approval controversy[edit]

Japan's 2009 request to include Hashima Island, among with 22 other industrial sites, to be added to the UNESCO World Heritage Site list was initially opposed by South Korean authorities on the grounds that Korean and Chinese forced laborers were used on the island prior to and during World War II. North Korea also criticized the World Heritage bid because of this same issue.[13]

A week before the beginning of the 39th UNESCO World Heritage Committee (WHC) meeting in Bonn, Germany, Korea and Japan came to a compromised agreement that Japan would include the use of forced labor in the explanation of facilities in relevant sites and both nations would cooperate towards the approval of each other's World Heritage Site candidates.[14][15]

In July 2015, during the WHC meeting, South Korea withdrew its opposition after Japan's acknowledgement of this issue as part of the history of the island, specifically noting that "there were a large number of Koreans and others who were brought against their will and forced to work under harsh conditions in the 1940s at some of the sites [including Hashima island]"[15][16][17][18] and that Japan was "prepared to incorporate appropriate measures into the interpretive strategy to remember the victims such as the establishment of information center".[15][16][19] The site was subsequently approved for inclusion on the UNESCO World Heritage list on July 5.

On the same day, immediately after the UNESCO WHC meeting, Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida publicly announced that "the remarks [forced to work under harsh conditions] by the Japanese government representative did not mean 'forced labor'".[20][21]

A monitoring mechanism for the implementation of 'the measures to remember the victims' is set up by the World Heritage Committee and it will be assessed during the World Heritage Committee Session in 2018.[19] The official tourism website and tour program for the island operated by Nagasaki City does not currently mention this acknowledgement.[22]

Recent interest[edit]

Hashima Meiji-era, antique hand-tinted postcard of Nagasaki
An apartment block on the island, circa 1930

On August 23, 2005, landing was permitted to journalists only. The scene of the ruined locations on the island was broadcast in the media. At the time, Nagasaki City planned restoration of a pier for a tourist landing in April 2008. In addition, a 220-metre (722 foot) long visitor walkway was planned (entrance to unsafe building areas was to be prohibited).

Due to the delay in development construction, however, at the end of 2007, the city announced that public access was delayed for approximately one year, to spring 2009. However, the city encountered safety concerns, arising from the risk of collapse of the buildings on the island due to significant aging.

It was estimated that landing of tourists would only be feasible for fewer than 160 days per year because of the area's harsh weather. From a cost-effectiveness point of view, the city considered cancelling plans to extend the visitor walkway further for an approximate 300 metres (984 feet) toward the eastern part of the island and approximately 190 meters (623 feet) toward the western part of the island after 2009.[citation needed]

In 2009, the island was featured in History Channel's Life After People, first season episode "The Bodies Left Behind" as an example of the decay of concrete buildings after only 35 years of abandonment.[23] The island was again featured in 2011 in episode six of a 3D production for 3net, Forgotten Planet discussing the island's current state, history and unauthorized photo shoots by urban explorers.[24][25] During the 2009 Mexican photography festival FotoSeptiembre, Mexican photographers Guillaume Corpart Muller and Jan Smith, along with Venezuelan photographer Ragnar Chacin, showcased images from the island in the exhibition "Pop. Density 5,000/km2". The exhibit traced urban density and the rise and fall of cities around the world.[26]

The Japanese Cultural Institute in Mexico used the images of Corpart Muller and Smith in the photography exhibit, "Fantasmas de Gunkanjima", organized by Daniela Rubio, as part of the celebrations surrounding 200 Years of Diplomacy Mexico–Japan.[27]

Sony featured the island in a video promoting one of their video cameras. The camera was mounted onto a mini, multi-rotor, radio-controlled helicopter and flown around the island and through many buildings. The video was posted on YouTube in April 2013.[28]

In 2013, Google sent an employee to the island with a Street View backpack to capture its condition in panoramic 360-degree views and allow users to take a virtual walk across the island. Google also used its Business Photos technology to let users look inside the abandoned buildings, complete with old black-and-white TVs and discarded soda bottles.[29]

In June 2013, German publisher Steidl published the book Gunkanjima by French photographers Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre. The book also features some historical pictures made by photographer Chiyuki Ito who lived and worked on the island.[30]


Sightseeing on the island, August 2010

When people resided on the island, the Nomo Shosen line served the island from Nagasaki Port via Ioujima Island and Takashima Island. In 1970, 12 round trip services were available per day. It took 50 minutes to travel from the island to Nagasaki. After all residents left the island, the direct route was discontinued.

Currently, sightseeing boat trips around the island are provided by five operators; Gunkanjima Concierge, Gunkanjima Cruise Co., Ltd., Yamasa-Kaiun, and Takashima Kaijou from Nagasaki Port, and a private service from the Nomozaki Peninsula. As of April 22, 2009, the island is open once again for public visits.[10][31]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Battleship island – a symbol of Japan's progress or reminder of its dark history?". The Guardian. 2015-07-03. Retrieved 2015-09-12. 
  2. ^ "Dark history: A visit to Japan's creepiest island". CNN. 2013-06-13. Retrieved 2015-09-17. 
  3. ^ http://whc.unesco.org/en/newproperties/date=2015&mode=list
  4. ^ Kawamoto, Yashuhiko. "Deserted 'Battleship Isle' may become heritage ghost ship," The Japan Times. February 17, 2009.
  5. ^ Der Spiegel (Article) (in German), DE 
  6. ^ "1999 report of the Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations" (PDF). the International Labour Organization. 1999. Retrieved 2015-09-16. 
  7. ^ "Japan's 007 island still carries scars of wartime past, Compulsory Mobilization". 
  8. ^ "Hashima ― forgotten island of tragedy". The Korea times. 2012-10-04. Retrieved 2015-09-11. 
  9. ^ "Japan's 007 island still carries scars of wartime past". CNN. 2013-06-13. Retrieved 2013-08-22. 
  10. ^ a b "Abandoned 'Battleship Island' to reopen to public in Nagasaki". Japan. The Mainichi Daily News. 21 April 2009. Archived from the original on 2009-04-22. Retrieved 2009-04-22. 
  11. ^ Pulin. 昔の思い出 昭和末期の長崎の端島(いわゆる軍艦島)のこと (in Japanese). Retrieved 16 August 2014. 
  12. ^ Bender, Andrew. "The Mystery Island From 'Skyfall' And How You Can Go There". Forbes. Forbes, Inc. Retrieved 26 May 2014. 
  13. ^ Leo Byrne (20 May 2015). "North Korea lashes out at Japan's UNESCO candidates". NK News. Retrieved 23 May 2015. 
  14. ^ "Japan, S. Korea agree to cooperate on respective World Heritage site candidacies". The Asahi. 2015-06-22. Retrieved 2015-09-18. 
  15. ^ a b c "Japan, Korea Breakthrough: Japanese Repenting 'Forced' Korean Labor On UNESCO Heritage Sites". Forbes Asia. 2015-07-06. Retrieved 2015-09-18. 
  16. ^ a b "Japan forced labour sites receive world heritage status". The Telegraph. 2015-07-06. Retrieved 2015-09-13. 
  17. ^ "Japan sites get world heritage status after forced labour acknowledgement". The Guardian. 2015-07-06. Retrieved 2015-09-13. 
  18. ^ "Government downplays forced labor concession in winning UNESCO listing for industrial sites". The Japan Times. 2015-07-06. Retrieved 2015-09-13. 
  19. ^ a b "The History that a large number of Koreans were forced to work against their will is reflected in the inscription of Japan's Meiji Industrial Sites on the World Heritage List". Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Republic of Korea. 2015-07-05. Retrieved 2015-09-14. 
  20. ^ "S. Korea and Japan debate comments about being "forced to work"". The Hankyoreh. 2015-07-07. Retrieved 2015-09-13. 
  21. ^ "Japan:"Forced to Work"Isn't"Forced Labor"". SNA Japan. 2015-07-07. Retrieved 2015-09-13. 
  22. ^ "GUNKANJIMA(HASHIMA)". Nagasaki City. Retrieved 2015-09-14. 
  23. ^ "Episode One: The Bodies Left Behind" (Episode guide). Life After People. The History Channel. 
  24. ^ "Episode Six: Hashima/Gary" (Episode guide). Forgotten Planet. 3net. 
  25. ^ Gakuran, Michael. "Gunkanjima: Ruins of a Forbidden Island". Retrieved 2012-11-13. 
  26. ^ "Centro de la imagem" (PDF). MX: Conaculta. 2009. 
  27. ^ 400 Aniversario México-Japón, JP: Mexican embassy, 2010-11-02 
  28. ^ Sony's Action Cam on RC Helicopter filming 軍艦島 (Gunkanjima / battleship island), YouTube, Sony, 2013-04-12 
  29. ^ dingra on Jul 2, 2013. "Google Maps Updated with 'Skyfall' Island Japan Terrain". HotHardware. Retrieved 2013-10-15. 
  30. ^ Yves Marchand & Romain Meffre. "Gunkanjima". Steidl. Retrieved 2013-11-21. 
  31. ^ Nagasaki Travel: Gunkanjima (Battleship Island), Japan guide, May 28, 2009, retrieved 2010-11-18 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 32°37′40″N 129°44′18″E / 32.62778°N 129.73833°E / 32.62778; 129.73833