ISLAND WITHOUT GREEN
Hashima Island, also known by its nickname “Gunkanjima” (Battleship Island) due to its unique silhouette, is a small island located about 20 kilometers from Nagasaki Port that flourished as a coal mining community from 1890 to 1974.
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 Japanese war crimes as a site of forced labour prior to and during the Second World War
Begun as a coal mining operation in 1887, the Mitsubishi Company purchased Hashima Island in 1890. Mitsubishi enhanced the island’s mining facilities while increasing its landmass to 16 acres. 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 families. At its peak in 1959, Gunkanjima was home to 5,259 people, making it at one time the most densely populated place ever recored.
Once the coal reserves started depleting and petroleum began replacing coal, the mines shut down and the people left. After that, Hashima Island went ignored for nearly three decades. But as abandoned concrete walls crumbled and flora flourished, the dilapidated island caught the attention of those interested in the undisturbed historic ruins.
In July 2015, Gunkanjima became a UNESCO World Heritage site. This was despite complaints made by South Korea, later withdrawn, regarding Mitsubishi’s use of Koreans and Chinese for hard labor on the island during World War II. The harrowing experiences of the slave laborers add an entirely different kind of eeriness to Hashima Island. After Japan colonized Korea and invaded China, they used recruited labor in the 1930s and 1940s to force thousands of people to work the mines.
The history enclosed behind the seawalls of Hashima Island is a lot of things: rich, complex, devastating. One thing that is clear: the Japanese enclave is a testament to how, in an abandoned area, nature and industry interact. Walking around the crumbling grocery stores and peeking into children’s bedrooms covered with rust and weeds, it’s an eerie glimpse of the imprint of human life on our environment.
This island is absolutely an epic site to visit and, at the same time, a haunting place that once was home to so many but now is completely desolate, all that remains are memories and ghosts of the past.