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The middle period: The heyday

Hashima Island(Gunkanjima) from the Taisho period to the early Showa period

1916: Construction of Building No. 30, the oldest reinforced-concrete apartment building in Japan, was completed.

From the Taisho period to the Showa period, Gunkanjima enjoyed its heyday, and it came to be called Gunkanjima in the Taisho period. On Gunkanjima, where the population continued to grow, high-rise apartment buildings were also built for the miners. Building No. 30, the oldest reinforced-concrete apartment building in Japan, was built in 1916 and still exists today.

Present-day Building No. 30
Present-day Building No. 30

On Gunkanjima, where not only the coalminers but also their families lived, the facilities needed for daily life were enhanced. The land left unoccupied by the mine was crammed with all manner of facilities. It was packed with elementary and junior high schools, hospitals, temples, inns, movie theaters and other recreational facilities, and stores, with the result that the gaps between buildings were very narrow.

1963: Gunkanjima became an Island without greenery.

Gunkanjima around 1958
Image source for Gunkanjima around 1958: The Nagasaki City official tourist site “At-Nagasaki”

In Island life, a tree-planting campaign gained momentum in 1963. At the time, due to the construction rush, Gunkanjima was poor in plants and other greenery. An unconscious craving on the part of the residents seeking greenery on an “Island without greenery” gave rise to a vigorous planting campaign, with Japan’s first rooftop gardens. Rooftop gardens were created on most of the building after Building No. 30 was erected.

As far as coalmines are concerned, the Hashima mine became one of the mines that supported modernization in Japan. In 1941, the highest output of 411,000 tons per year was recorded due to the availability of high-quality coking coal. Gunkanjima enjoyed a golden age. At that time, Japan waged war after war, and the modernization of the country was forging ahead. The methods of mining coal changed and in the end, coalmining was mechanized by the introduction of the belt conveyor. In addition, laborers were also hired from China and Korea, and high-quality coal mined on Gunkanjima greatly supported the development of the country.

However, life on Hashima during that period was extremely harsh. The laborers worked in an environment where mine accidents such as gas explosions might happen any time, let alone cave-ins and flooding. In 1939, a gas explosion occurred in a mine, claiming 34 casualties.

High waves caused by a typhoon
Photo of high waves caused by a typhoon courtesy of the Gunkanjima Digital Museum

Typhoon landfalls also plagued the islanders. When a major typhoon hit the Island directly, the extent of damage was that the entire area was swallowed from the revetment to the artificial ground. People implemented tide protection measures unique to Gunkanjima, including tide-resistant buildings, drainage, and tide-resistant stairs.

The history of Gunkanjima
Continue to The late period: The decline

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