Around a World Heritage Site: The hashima island Guide [Complete Edition]

Presenting all the attractions of Gunkanjima
that captivate many people

The Hashima Island(Gunkanjima) is an island in Nagasaki prefecture that used to have an undersea coalmine. It attracted attention as an industrial heritage asset and was registered as a World Heritage Site in 2015. At present, many tourists take part in Gunkanjima landing tours and visit the “ruined town.”

The history of Hashima Island(Gunkanjima) began with the mining of coal discovered in 1810. Until the closure of the mine, Gunkanjima combined two aspects. It enjoyed the rapid introduction of state-of-the-art technology and affluent lifestyles. On the other hand, all operation came to a standstill as long as no commodities and other supplies were brought in from the outside world. The Island was an ultra-near-future city that, with its large population, would pass for a modern metropolis.

We have actually come to the place to carry out a thorough investigation into Gunkanjima, which created such a special living environment, and ascertained it with our own eyes. This site presents the history of Gunkanjima, the life of the Islanders, and the reasons that it was registered as a World Heritage Site.

Assistance in data gathering

The Gunkanjima Digital Museum

The Gunkanjima Digital Museum

The Gunkanjima Digital Museum

The Gunkanjima Digital Museum has provided cooperation in data gathering and supplied information in creating this site.

We carry out various projects and activities to acquaint future generations with Gunkanjima and the Japanese Industrial Revolution. Among them, an exhibition that presents the current and old days of Gunkanjima using the latest digital technology is a valuable item that can be experienced only there.

What is Hashima Island(Gunkanjima or Battleship Island)? It is an object like no other.

Photo of Hashima Island
Image source: The Nagasaki City official tourist site “At-Nagasaki”

Hashima Island(Gunkanjima) is located in the sea approximately 18 km from the Nagasaki Port, northeast of the Nomo Peninsula. It is a small Island of about 480 m north to south, about 60 m east to west, about 6.3 ha in area, 1.2 km in circumference, and about 47.7 m above sea level.

On Hashima Island(Gunkanjima), after coal was discovered in 1810 by the Saga domain, mining was carried out on a small scale. Later, when it was acquired by Mitsubishi, extraction began as a full-scale coalmine operation. Thereafter, high-quality coal was produced and supplied as coking coal to the Yawata Steel Works and other mills until the mine was closed.

The origin of the name Hashima Island(Gunkanjima or Battleship Island)

The Battleship Tosa
Image source for the Battleship Tosa: Wikipedia端島_(長崎県)
Present-day Gunkanjima
Present-day Gunkanjima

Hashima Island(Gunkanjima) supported the industrial revolution in Meiji Japan.

The Island grew rapidly in proportion to the increase in coal output, and in 1960, there were about 5,300 inhabitants. Unbelievably, the population density at the time was the highest in the world. It is believed to have been nine times the population density of Tokyo and has not yet been surpassed.

After that, the public at large was banned from entering the Island for safety reasons. However, Nagasaki City enacted ordinances in 2008, and roads for tours were developed. Since 2009, people have been able to go on tours, but only in a limited area.

In 2015, the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) registered the Sites of Japan's Meiji Industrial Revolution: Iron and Steel, Shipbuilding and Coal Mining as a World Heritage Site, with Hashima Island(Gunkanjima) as a constituent part. Currently, it plays the role of a living museum and acquaints tourists with its history.

Is the restricted area on Hashima Island(Gunkanjima or Battleship Island) no longer to be seen?

A quiz on Gunkanjima

Less than one-tenth of the area is accessible on a Hashima Island(Gunkanjima) landing tour. Most of it is a restricted area (current as of 2019).

On being told so, I want to visit the restricted area even more! Are there not many who think so?

What is recommended for such people is the Hashima Island(Gunkanjima) Digital Museum. With the latest digital technology, you can explore the restricted area!

We have had a valuable experience where the parts of Hashima Island(Gunkanjima) inaccessible at present spread out before our eyes.

The history of Hashima Island(Gunkanjima or Battleship Island)

Gunkanjima in the Meiji period
Gunkanjima in the Meiji periodImage source for Meiji-period Gunkanjima: The Nagasaki City official tourist site “At-Nagasaki”

The history of the Hashima Coalmine can be roughly divided into four periods, from the discovery of coal in 1810 to its registration as a World Heritage Site in 2015. Here, we present the history of Hashima Island(Gunkanjima) in four parts in chronological order.

  1. The beginning (the Edo period to the Meiji period)
  2. The heyday (the Taisho period to around 1964)
  3. The decline (around 1965 to 1974)
  4. The present (since 2001)

Find out more about the history of Gunkanjima

A coalmine where black diamond was extracted

Photo courtesy of the Gunkanjima Digital Museum

After the discovery of coal by the Saga domain, Hashima Island(Gunkanjima), like neighboring Takashima, was transferred in 1890 to the management of Mitsubishi, and it began to be developed as a full-fledged modern coalmine.

The undersea coalmine, which was in operation for about 80 years from the Meiji period to 1974, was run as a base for coal extraction from the sea floor around the Island. The output of the Hashima Coalmine grew until it surpassed that of the Takashima coalmine in 1897.

The coal extracted was of high quality and was therefore supplied mainly to the Yawata Steel Works as coking coal for steelmaking.

In the twentieth century, which began with the Second Industrial Revolution, it is impossible to exaggerate the role of coal, which was even called “black diamond.” The coalmining industry was a major extractive industry that fundamentally supported modern Japan.

This chapter describes the role of the Hashima Coalmine and explains what coal and coalmines are in the first place, along with their history.

Find out more about the Gunkanjima coalmine

The unique structure of Hashima Island(Gunkanjima or Battleship Island)

Originally, Hashima Island(Gunkanjima) was a small Island made up of large reefs and shoals scattered around them. Later, with the development of the coalmine and population growth, expansion work was carried out using artificial ground.

Futher, the geographical location of Hashima Island(Gunkanjima) forces it to withstand a variety of harsh natural conditions, such as typhoons and waves.

Hashima Island(Gunkanjima) is surrounded by the East China Sea. When a typhoon struck, the storm surges, especially on the side of the residential buildings facing the open sea, were violent beyond all imagination. To withstand them, strong seawalls, retaining walls, piers, etc. were built along with the expansion of the Island.

In addition, measures were also taken to withstand typhoons and waves in the reinforced-concrete residential buildings where the inhabitants lived. These innovations created the unique landscape of the Island unparalleled anywhere else. The outward appearance of the Island, which was called Hashima Island(Gunkanjima), is the result of years of heroic battle with the sea.

In this chapter, we describe the unique structure of Hashima Island(Gunkanjima).

life on hashima island(Gunkanjima or Battleship Island)

A happy circle of people one winter
Photo courtesy of the Gunkanjima Digital Museum

On Hashima Island(Gunkanjima), the Island population grew in proportion to the increase in coal output. The population of the miners and their families, employees dispatched by Mitsubishi, etc. also increased until about 5,300 people lived on the Island in its heyday.

On Hashima Island(Gunkanjima)the cost of living reduced.

For example, during a home appliance boom in the mid-1950s, they already lived a 100% electrified and blessed life. Proof of this was the TV penetration rate. In 1958, TV sales reached nearly 100% in spite of the selling price of ¥30,000 to ¥60,000 apiece at the time (about one to two months of average monthly income in the same period). This is a remarkable indication that the wages of the miners were high.

In addition, except for a high school and graveyard, Hashima Island(Gunkanjima) had all the necessary facilities for living, including public facilities, hospitals, elementary and junior high schools, inns, pachinko halls, mahjong parlors, co-op stores, and private shops.

Hashima Island(Gunkanjima) had a total area of 63,000 sq m when the mine was closed, but about 25,000 sq m was occupied by the site of the coalmine facilities. In the remaining 38,000 sq m, about 5,300 Islanders lived during its heyday. Hashima Island(Gunkanjima) became a “Nano city” where many facilities were crowded in a small space.

In this chapter, we present the lives of Islanders who lived rich and special lives instead of working hard in the coalmine.

When you experience real life …

Apartment living of Hashima Island

The Gunkanjima Digital Museum, which assisted us in collecting data, recreated a room in the residence. We were able to have a simulated experience of the lifestyle in those days.

It recreates the life of the late 1950s, and you can also check out home appliances that were still expensive at the time, such as TVs, refrigerators, and loudspeakers. You can see that the standard of living at the time was high.

Buildings that have made imprints in Japanese architectural history

Hashima is called Hashima Island(Gunkanjima) because of its most distinctive feature: residential buildings lined up on the side facing the sea.

The buildings that combined reinforced concrete and the Japanese wooden house, the highest apartment building in Japan, the buildings with basement floors first erected on a distant Island, not to speak of the oldest reinforced-concrete building in Japan, erected in 1916, are the only full-scale buildings erected during 10 years before and after World War II, said to be a barren period of architecture, The group of buildings that have left a lasting mark in the history of Japanese architecture is still standing.

However, the wooden and steel-frame buildings continue to be exposed to rain, wind, and stormy seas, and are rapidly deteriorating due to problems with waterproofing techniques and the unmanned condition of the Island. Most of the buildings have collapsed or are likely to collapse.

Nevertheless, the unusual appearance of the group of buildings crowded on a small Island, which are decaying daily due to aging, has somehow come to attract not only ruin fans but also many other people. It is now known as the most famous ruins in Japan, and the difficult task remains of preserving the ruins as they are.

In this chapter, we present the group of buildings, reminiscent of a concrete forest, unique to Hashima Island(Gunkanjima)a.

The state of present-day Hashima Island is …

Building No.30

This time, we took part in a landing tour and saw the buildings on Hashima Island(Gunkanjima).

Building No. 65 and the Hashima Elementary and Junior High School can be seen in the distance, but the building that can be seen at the closest range is Building No. 30, the oldest reinforced-concrete apartment building in Japan. More than 100 years have passed since it was erected, but it still looks the way it did then.

45 years have passed since the closure of the mine. Although it is a valuable building, the fact remains that it may not be possible to preserve its appearance indefinitely.

Enigmas and mysteries related to Hashima Island(Gunkanjima or Battleship Island)

This is Hashima Island(Gunkanjima), where many people once lived, including coalminers. It is now a desert Island; although it is now possible for the public to visit it, there are also restricted areas. Therefore, on Hashima Island(Gunkanjima), which is wrapped in many enigmas, there are still a number of mysteries related to it.

Was there a red-light district on Hashima Island(Gunkanjima)? Will the Island, which has turned to ruins, collapse? The truth about many enigmas, such as psychic photographs that excite ruin fans, remains unclear, and all the answers are vague.

In this chapter, we unravel the enigmas circulated around tourists and Hashima Island(Gunkanjima).

Related facilities and spots on Hashima Island(Gunkanjima or Battleship Island)

Around Hashima Island(Gunkanjima), there were several coal enterprises that supported the modernization of Japan. In addition, an exhibition facility has been built to house materials that deal with the people and history involved with Hashima Island(Gunkanjima). Some of the buildings have been registered as World Heritage Sites along with Hashima Island(Gunkanjima).

In addition to Nakanoshima, which fulfilled the role of crematorium for Hashima Island(Gunkanjima), the Takashima coalmine, the first mineshaft powered by a steam engine in Japan, will be taken over by the nearby Hashima Coalmine.

In this chapter, we present facilities and spots related to Hashima Island(Gunkanjima).

Industrial Revolution heritage that can be seen en route to Hashima Island(Gunkanjima or Battleship Island)!

Mitsubishi Shipyard

You can also see the facilities and Industrial Revolution heritage from aboard the ship during the landing tour (the pictures show the Mitsubishi Shipyard).

Between the starting point near the Nagasaki Port and the Megami Ohashi Bridge, there is the Mitsubishi Shipyard and related facilities. As you go to the open sea, you will head for Hashima Island(Gunkanjima) while watching facilities and heritage that are important in speaking about the history of Nagasaki, such as Takashima and Nakanoshima, which have been registered as World Heritage sites along with Hashima Island(Gunkanjima).

In many cases, it is impossible to land due to sea conditions and bad weather. However, with the cooperation of the Gunkanjima Concierge, which boasts a high landing rate of 94.7% (*), we present a report on the landing tour that we participated in. We will acquaint you with all the charms of Gunkanjima, not to mention the highlights of the tour!

※Landing results from 2011 to 2018