Sneaking Into Hashima, Japan’s “Battleship Island” Ghost Town

  • March 13, 2010
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In some ways, the island is an enduring testament to the wasteful nature of improper industrial practices. The island was owned by Mitsubishi, and the town grew and flourished on the success of its coal mining, just like Takashima. With a staggering population density of 83,500 people/km2, it looked more like the infamous Kowloon Walled City than anything else in its heyday. However, in the late 1960s, petroleum began to replace coal as the predominant energy export in Japan, and in 1974 Mitsubishi closed its Hashima mine. With no coal mining, Hashima was dead in the water. One by one, its inhabitants moved off of the island, leaving empty buildings behind.

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When Hashima was a living city, conditions were not something to be proud of. A number of the workers were forced immigrants from other countries. A South Korean commission, for instance, has claimed that 500 Koreans were forced to live and work there during World War II. For those who lived there of their own free will, it was still an enormously cramped, polluted, and sometimes outright dangerous place. Many argue that this was the prime reason the island was closed to visitors after 1974. For decades, the island was completely off-limits.

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Hashima rises from the sea like one forgotten, crumbling structure, more like a single monstrous thing than a forgotten town. From the side-on, it really does look like a battleship, but as one nears it the picture is lost. It is overwhelmingly grey, with only scattered smidges of green. It is nearly entirely lifeless. The staples of any relatively self-sustained town are there, but left completely to ruin. A half-collapsed school is there, desks and blackboards still in place. A hospital sits empty and unused. It has been over 25 years since anyone lived there, and with each year that passes more of the buildings fall to pieces.

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Our trip was, coincidentally, perfectly timed. The island is seeing more traffic now. In early 2009, the government of Nagasaki began constructing a new pier, as well as renovating one walkway through an Eastern portion of the island. The intent was to allow limited tours there beginning in April of 2009, and when we visited this pier was nearly finished. Tours are available now, but visitors cannot stray from one prescribed path, and they cannot explore the interior of the island. Efforts are being made to have the site registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, adding to Japan’s already long list. There is some merit to this: the story of Battleship Island’s rise and fall is also the story of the coal industry’s rise and fall in Nagasaki, and also the story of thousands of people who grew up on Hashima and were forced to leave. It is an intriguing moment in Nagasaki’s history.

In a way, it seems a pity to think of the island as a tourist hotspot, even if it allows more people to experience its breathtaking eeriness. However, even as a previously untouched island is changed by modern renovators and visitors, it is still a stark contrast to the coastal nature surrounding it. It is bleak, grey, and unforgettable, a towering concrete monument to a fallen industrial giant, and its story remains unchanged.

Author Anonymous For Obvious Reasons – Copyrighted © www.weirdworm.com

Image Sources

Image sources:

  • - Hashima: http://www.japanprobe.com/march06/gunkan/island2.jpg http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Nagasaki_Hashima_01.png http://dnawars.files.wordpress.com/2009/07/hashima2.jpg http://www.cynical-c.com/archives/bloggraphics/96f.jpg http://inlinethumb08.webshots.com/45191/2797529760104237032S600x600Q85.jpg
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