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Mysterious places: Hashima Island

Hashima Island, also known as Gunkanjima (Battleship Island), slumbers in the great expanse of ocean 15 kilometres from Nagasaki, Japan.

During 1887 to 1974, the island served as a coal mining facility.

When Japan underwent industrialization, the island was bought by Mitsubishi in 1890 to further develop the coal mining project.

Besieged on all sides by ocean, a seawall was developed around the island and all buildings were made out of concrete to withstand typhoons.


The first block of apartment flats were built in 1916 to accommodate a growing work force. More were built when a thriving community began to form as the labourers went on to have families on Hashima.

Their children were born on this 6.3 hectare island in the middle of the ocean.

During World War 2, when resources were desperately needed to fund the war effort, the mining operation were expedited through forced labour of Chinese and Korean workers


Living conditions and standards were bad as these wartime prisoners shared space with the Japanese workers - space that was already running out rapidly.

This was a dark time for the inhabitants and the island; many testimonies of immense hunger and torture from the Chinese and Korean labourers can be read at the peace museum in Nagasaki City.  

Living conditions would not get any better immediately following the war.  

As World War 2 came to an end, reparations were made to the individual nations. Forced labour ended and the people estranged from their countries could leave.

Eventually, the post-war situation began to gradually improve.

Several enhancements were made on the island; cafes and a cinema were added to improve the quality of life for the workers who stayed.

In 1959, the population peaked at 5,259 people. It was bursting at the seams with 835 people per hectare.

At 6.3 hectares, Hashima Island became the densest place in the world.

Perhaps it was a fortunate twist of fate when petroleum began replacing coal in the 1960s.

As coal was no longer the go-to source for the world's energy needs, Mitsubishi pulled out of the mining facility.

Thus, the coal mines were abandoned, workers found jobs on the mainland and the entire island was left to weather the elements on its own.



Boat trips that used to service the island 12 times per day stopped and Hashima became a grey concrete mass of land stranded alone in the open sea.

For over 35 years it languished in abandonment until recently, a small portion of the island was opened for public tours.

As most of the buildings have either collapsed or face breakage, it would cost a lot of money to make the entire island safe for people to visit and stay on.


In the latest James Bond movie, Skyfall, Hashima served as the inspiration for the villain's lair.

The producers originally wanted to film on the island but it was deemed too unsafe to do so.

As of April 22, 2009, only two operators provide sightseeing boat trips to Hashima; Yamasa-Kaiun from Nagasaki Port and Kyodo Co from Nomo Island.

The boat ride and fro the island from Nagasaki Port is 50 minutes.

Those that visit the island will note that the former coal mining facility have seen better days; the apartment buildings having borne the brunt of typhoons and sea erosion for many years have either collapsed or are in different states of collapse.

Wooden balconies have given way and add to debris that already litters the streets.


In some homes, the monochrome televisions, once the height of technology in the 50s, were left to rust in a time bubble while the rest of the world moved on.

Old pianos, rotted couches and carpets - designs that were relevant then - have lain in disuse for over 35 years.

Vegetation while completely absent during the island's heyday have taken back the island.

Although a cool breeze may waft through the ruined streets and the occasional caw of birds may serve to remind you that there is some life out there, Hashima Island is very much dead - only the ghosts of its past linger still in the stones and concrete slabs.


Disclaimer: In 2013, Google sent an employee to the island with a Street View backpack. All the images in this article are screenshots of Hashima Island via Google Street View. 

Written by: Christopher Chitty

Hashima Island is not the only so-called abandoned city in the world. Here's more

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