Hashima Island (端島, or simply 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 its abandoned concrete buildings, undisturbed
except by nature, and the surrounding sea wall. While the island is a
symbol of the 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.
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 the coal reserves 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
UNESCO World Heritage site in
July 2015, as part of Japan's Sites of Japan’s Meiji Industrial
Revolution: Iron and Steel, Shipbuilding and
3 Current status
4.1 World Heritage Site approval controversy
7 See also
9 External links
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. While it is
largely unclear and still remains as a mere myth, it is often said
that the island was allegedly torpedoed by a
US Navy submarine during
WWII due to the island looking too much like a Japanese navy vessel.
An apartment block on the island, circa 1930
Hashima Meiji-era, antique hand-tinted postcard of Nagasaki
Hashima circa 1930
View of the island in 2009
Coal was first discovered on the island around 1810, and the island
was continuously inhabited from 1887 to 1974 as a seabed coal mining
Mitsubishi Goshi Kaisha bought the island in 1890 and began
extracting coal from undersea mines, while seawalls and land
reclamation (which tripled the size of the island)
were constructed. Four main mine-shafts (reaching up to 1 kilometre
deep) were built, with one actually connecting it to a neighbouring
island. Between 1891 and 1974 around 15.7 million tons of coal were
excavated in mines with temperatures of 30°C and 95% humidity.
In 1916 the company built Japan's first large reinforced concrete
building (a 7 floor miner's apartment block), to accommodate their
burgeoning ranks of workers. Concrete was specifically used to protect
against typhoon destruction. Over the next 55 years, more buildings
were constructed, including apartment blocks, a school, kindergarten,
hospital, town hall, and a community centre. For entertainment, a
clubhouse, cinema, communal bath, swimming pool, rooftop gardens,
shops, and a pachinko parlour were built for the miners and their
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 forced laborers under Japanese wartime
mobilization policies. During this period, it is estimated
that about 1,300 of those conscripted laborers died on the island due
to various dangers, including underground accidents, exhaustion, and
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
As petroleum replaced coal in
Japan in the 1960s, coal mines began
shutting down across the country, and Hashima's mines were no
Mitsubishi officially closed the mine in January 1974, and
the island was cleared of inhabitants by April. Today its most notable
features are the abandoned and still mostly-intact concrete apartment
buildings, the surrounding sea wall, and its distinctive profile
shape. The island has been administered as part of
Nagasaki city since
the merger with the former town of Takashima in 2005. Travel to
Hashima was re-opened on April 22, 2009, after 35 years of
Ruins of the mine, 2011
The island was owned by
Mitsubishi until 2002, when it was voluntarily
transferred to Takashima Town. Currently,
Nagasaki City, which
absorbed Takashima Town in 2005, exercises jurisdiction over the
island. On August 23, 2005 landing was permitted by the city hall to
journalists only. At the time,
Nagasaki City planned the restoration
of a pier for tourist landings in April 2008. In addition a visitor
walkway 220 metres (722 feet) in length was planned, and entry 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 until spring 2009.
Additionally the city encountered safety concerns, arising from the
risk of collapse of the buildings on the island due to significant
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. For
reasons of cost-effectiveness 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. A small portion of
the island was finally reopened for tourism in 2009, but more than 95%
of the island is strictly delineated as off-limits during tours. A
full reopening of the island would require substantial investment in
safety, and detract from the historical state of the aged buildings on
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
Taishō period to the Shōwa period. It has become a frequent
subject of discussion among enthusiasts for ruins. Since the abandoned
island has not been maintained, several buildings have collapsed
mainly due to typhoon damage, and other buildings are in danger of
collapse. However, some of the collapsed exterior walls have been
restored with concrete.
World Heritage Site approval controversy
Japan's 2009 request to include Hashima Island, along with 22 other
industrial sites, in 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 issue.
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
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]" and that
"prepared to incorporate appropriate measures into the interpretive
strategy to remember the victims such as the establishment of
information center". 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
Fumio Kishida publicly announced that "the remarks
[forced to work under harsh conditions] by the Japanese government
representative did not mean 'forced labor'".
A monitoring mechanism for the implementation of 'the measures to
remember the victims' was set up by the World Heritage Committee and
it will be assessed during the World Heritage Committee Session in
2018. The official tourism website and tour program for the island
Nagasaki City do not currently mention this
Sightseeing on the island, August 2010
When people resided on the island, the Nomo Shosen line served the
Nagasaki Port via Iōjima Island and Takashima Island.
Twelve round-trip services were available per day in 1970. It took 50
minutes to travel from the island to Nagasaki. After all residents
left the island, this direct route was discontinued.
Since 2009 the island has been open once again for public
visits. Sightseeing boat trips around or to the island are
currently 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. Landing
access to the island costs ¥300 per person, exclusive of the cost of
In 2002, Swedish filmmaker Thomas Nordanstad visited the island with a
Japanese man named Dotokou, who grew up on Hashima. Nordanstad
documented the trip in a film called Hashima, Japan, 2002.
During the 2009 Mexican photography festival FotoSeptiembre, Mexican
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 exhibition
traced urban density and the rise and fall of cities around the
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
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.
The Japanese Cultural Institute in Mexico used the images of Corpart
Muller and Smith in the photography exhibition "Fantasmas de
Gunkanjima", organized by Daniela Rubio, as part of the celebrations
surrounding 200 years of diplomacy between Mexico and Japan.
More recently in 2015, the island was featured in the fourth episode
of the Science channel's series "What On Earth." Discussed were the
island's history and it being the most densely populated place on the
planet at one time, and included satellite images and a tour of many
of the buildings.
Sony featured the island in a video promoting one of its 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.[better source needed]
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 took
pictures inside the abandoned buildings, which still contain such
items as old black-and-white television sets and discarded soda
The island has appeared in a number of recent feature films. External
shots of the island were used in the 2012 James Bond film Skyfall.
The 2015 live-action Japanese films based on the manga Attack on Titan
used the island for filming multiple scenes, and 2013 Thai horror
Hashima Project was filmed here. The 2017 South Korean World
War II film
The Battleship Island
The Battleship Island depicts an attempt by Korean forced
labourers to escape the labour camp on the island.
Japanese war crimes#Forced labor
Fort Drum (Philippines)
World Heritage Sites in Japan
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Media related to Hashima (Nagasaki) at Wikimedia Commons
Documentary of former resident revisiting the island on YouTube
Studies of the Modern Buildings on Gunkajima 1916-1974 (1986)
Coordinates: 32°37′40″N 129°44′18″E / 32.62778°N
129.73833°E / 32.62778; 129.73833