Ever since I saw some haikyo websites a fair few years ago giving details about this island I have wanted to go there and see it for myself. That dream finally came true in Nagasaki on the first day of this month when I treated my girlfriend to a trip to Gunkanjima a.k.a. Battleship Island as its appearance resembles the warship Tosa due to its surrounding sea walls and multi-storey concrete buildings.
This place was brought to the mass attention of the public when it featured in the most recent 007 film ‘Skyfall‘ (2012) but as Tokyo Fox explained in this article from last year it was sadly all faked on a set back at Pinewood Studios. Other than a few movie posters on the boat there was no other mention of the 23rd James Bond movie being set (kind of) on Gunkanjima which was formerly known as Hashima.
However, it still whetted my appetite for seeing the real thing so on our first morning in Nagasaki we stumped up a fairly pricey 4000 yen to go on a sightseeing boat that goes to the island. It should be noted that the ticket used to access Gunkanjima (included in the 4000 yen price) only costs 300 yen so I wonder if it’s possible to find a cheaper way of getting to this small island which is located about 20 kilometers from Nagasaki Ferry Terminal.
Beforehand, my expectations were quite low as I knew it wasn’t a situation where we could wander off and explore the island how we see fit. Of course, there’s the small matter of safety concerns which is why tourist boats are restricted to just three areas on the western side of the island which have had walkways and viewing platforms constructed and that is the only work that has been done on the island in the name of tourism.
The island is only 480m long and 150m wide but with 5300 residents once living there it had the worlds highest population density which meant that in typical Japanese fashion that every piece of land was built up and so it came to look like a massive battleship.
Mistubishi company bought the Hashima mine at the end of the 19th century and that was the catalyst for the islands development. The southern half of the island was for the workings of the mine and the northern half was devoted to residential space, a school, restaurants, shops, a swimming pool, a shrine and a hospital which the workers and their families called home.
However, in April 1974 the mine was closed and these residents had to leave Gunkanjima, abandoning the island with all its buildings. Today, the only people you might see (other than tour group-related people) are a few fishermen dipping their tackle in to see what bites!
Following the exodus, severe weather conditions such as typhoons caused the buildings to deteriorate and as these structures started to erode away and collapse, Gunkanjima was closed to the public, and for many years could only be seen from sightseeing cruises that circled the island.
In the last few years though the place has been open to the public and now there are two boats a day (9am and 1pm) which transport tourists to and from the island.
There are tour guides at each of the three observation areas who give short presentations about the history and background of the place. They’re only conducted in Japanese but having done my research on this place in the past I wasn’t too fussed about that. Besides, I was given a very nice and informative English guide pamphlet (when I purchased our tickets) which was more than satisfactory for me.
We were probably on the island for around an hour which I thought was long enough. There were always a couple of guards at the back of the group but they never hurried you along or anything and even took photos for those who wanted them. On leaving the island we then circled the island which I was very happy about as I wanted to see it from as many angles as possible, particularly the backside which is rarely shown in any pictures of the place.
The boat left Nagasaki Ferry Terminal (which is a 10-15 minute walk from Nagasaki Ekimae station) at exactly 9am and arrived back at about 11.30am where on disembarkation we were even presented with a stamped and dated certificate. I was and still am utterly fascinated by Gunkanjima and was more than pleased with the relatively high cost of the tour. It offered a thoroughly interesting insight into the island life and a sense of how isolated the islanders must have been.