Travel

Gunkanjima – Battleship Island

If you’re in Nagasaki and have some time left, definitely check out the so-called “Battleship Island“, also known as Gunkanjima.

Visited: January 6th 2012

The easiest way to get to Gunkanjima is to join one of the various tours.
Your best bet is going to the Tokiwa Terminal which is near the famous Glover Garden in Nagasaki City (nearest tram stop: Ourakaikandori).

Gunkanjima

Tours will take about 2 hours and cost around 4,000 yen.
As far as I know all the tours are currently offered in Japanese only. However, as even the websites are in English nowadays that might have changed in the past few years.
Here are 2 companies that offer Gunkanjima tours:

Gunkanjima

Our boat was quite small, but okay. Winter vacation was over, but yet there was only one empty seat!
I do get seasick very easily, so I was worried as the little boat was moving up and down quite a bit! I managed to survive, but a Japanese woman struggled much more!
I suggest you take some medicine for motion sickness before you take the boat trip, if you’re easily affected like me!

It was quite a long boat ride (about 45min.) and they explained about various things that can be found all around Nagasaki Port.
Once we were out in the ocean they showed a movie explaining about the life on Gunkanjima and the people who used to live there.

Gunkanjima

And then we arrived at “Battleship Island”.

 

What exactly is “Gunkanjima”?

You might have seen parts of the island in the music video „MY LONELY TOWN“ by B’z or in the James Bond movie “Skyfall”.
And that’s pretty much what Gunkanjima is – LONELY!

Gunkanjima

The official name of the island is actually „Hashima“ (端島).
Nowadays it’s an uninhabited island just a short ferry ride away from Nagasaki City!
However, Gunkanjima wasn’t always such a lonely island!
Mitsubishi bought the island in 1890 and until 1974 there were undersea coal mines and the people working there also lived on the island.

Gunkanjima

At its peak more than 5000 people lived on this very small island which is only about 150 m wide and 480 m long! This was actually the highest population density in history, not only in Japan, but worldwide!
They had to use the available space on the island wisely to offer all those people a place to live and work.

Gunkanjima

The only way they could create more space was to build very high concrete buildings. This and the big seawall around the island gave it the image of a „battleship“.

Gunkanjima

In the 1960s petroleum slowly replaced coal. There was no use for the coal mines of Hashima anymore. In 1974 the last residents abandoned the island, leaving everything behind just as it was.
Over the years, typhoons and tsunamis have caused great damage to the buildings giving it the atmosphere of a „Ghost Island“ – which is another nickname of the island.

Gunkanjima

For many years the public was not allowed to access Gunkanjima as it was too dangerous.
Since 2009 you can visit Gunkanjima again. However, there are many restricted areas. Visitors can access 3 different observation platforms from where they can see the majority of the buildings from a safe distance.
There are a lot of tall, empty buildings that are literally falling apart. Some of them have already collapsed. It’s a paradise for people who love ruins.

As there are so many restricted areas the tour guides have a strict eye on you so that you stay on the “allowed path”.

Gunkanjima

Since 2002 Mitsubishi doesn’t own the island anymore.
Full access to the island could only be provided if a lot of money and effort is spent on making the whole island safe for visitors.

Gunkanjima Gunkanjima

Gunkanjima was a truly interesting sight!
I wish we could have gone a bit closer or even into the buildings, but I understand that that’s too dangerous.

Gunkanjima

While it’s true that no people live on the island anymore, there are a lot of birds (mainly seagulls)!

Gunkanjima

Among other buildings, there’s also an old school. You can see that all the buildings are quite tall and there wasn’t much space to live in general.

Gunkanjima

Unfortunately you can’t get any closer to the buildings!

However, there are several daring “ruin explorers” out there who went inside the buildings and took stunning photos.
I wouldn’t recommend doing the same as it’s illegal, but if you want to see some truly breathtaking photos have a look at Jordy Meow’s Gunkanjima haikyo photos.

Gunkanjima

I really highly recommend taking a tour – if only for all the valuable information you’ll get.
We got to see photos of how the area and the buildings used to look like. It was VERY interesting.

Gunkanjima

Another photo without the tour guide in the way. ^-^;

Gunkanjima

Zooming!~

Gunkanjima Gunkanjima

You can clearly see that many buildings have collapsed or are about to fall apart.
There’s really nobody taking care of the buildings anymore!

I recently saw a very interesting documentation: “What happens if we (= humans) are suddenly not here anymore?”
Nature is slowly taking back what originally didn’t belong to us anyways.
Visiting Gunkanjima reminded me of that documentation.

Gunkanjima

Apart from us tourists there were also a few fishermen who used the great wall around the island to catch some fish.
I’m not sure how successful they were.

 

And then it was time to leave the Gunkanjima again!

As this was part of my winter vacation 2012, I visited Hirado right after this. On my way I made a stop in Omura to visit a small park with a castle.

31 Comments

  • I had just read about these island a few months ago (I think I was on some ghost documentary-watching binge :ehehe: ). It looks like such a cool place to wander around, it too bad it’s mostly off-limits. I’m also surprised no one’s bought the island yet, and turned it into some creepy amusement park. :sweatdrop:
    Really cool photos. The long distance shots remind me of Alcatraz :thumbup:

    • I guess Nagasaki gets enough tourists, so that they don’t really need another big tourist attraction. I don’t know how expensive the island is, but it’s currently not worth the price, I guess.

  • wuaaah I’ve seen pictures of this place before! (sadly I don’t remember where…) anyway, the pics you took are great and I would love to visit this place one day! I have a weakness for rundwon buildings ;)

    • Generally a good idea, I just think it would be super expensive.
      First of all somebody needs to buy the island and then make the buildings safe enough before it could be turned into a theme park! ^-^;

  • What an amazing place. Thanks for writing about it! I was just thinking of making a trip to Nagasaki for this weekend’s three-day holiday. If I do, maybe I can make it to that ghostly island as well.

    Also, I loved your pictures!

    Ken

    • You definitely should go if you have a chance to!
      And when you’re back you can go to Glover Garden which is very close (walking distant) form the port!! :D

      I hope you’ll enjoy your long weekend and thanks for your nice comment! :music2:

  • Its interesting how priorities change. It’s hard to imagine that coal was once so useful to make it worthwhile for all those people to live there, yet with the turn against nuclear power, perhaps we’ll see things shift again.

  • Is it weird that I think ruins are pretty? :hihi:
    Idk it feels magical somehow… ^-^;

    At least the city is still able to use the place as a tourist spot.

  • I am heading to Nagasaki in November and am interested in visiting the island. Did you have to book the tour in advance? If so, how advance? Could you book on the day?

    • Hello MVN!
      Sorry for the late reply, I’ve been off for summer vacation to travel some more throughout Japan! ^-^;

      I just checked and it seems to depend on the company.
      One says you can also reserve on the day, but at least 2 hours before departure.
      I guess it depends on you. If you go during a busy time, you just might not get a free spot anymore, so booking a bit in advance might be safer, you can always cancel, but make sure to check the cancellation fees (if there are any).

      Personally I reserved a few days in advance, just to be safe.

      None of the companies seems to offer English. I don’t know how good your Japanese is, but if it’s difficult to call them and reserve in Japanese, I highly suggest to contact the tourist information center in Nagasaki.
      You can also find them in the JR Station of Nagasaki and go there directly and ask them to reserve a tour for you! :thumbup:

  • I was really surprised when I saw the new James Bond movie Skyfall, as Gunkanjima makes a surprise appearance there! It looks absolutely stunning on the big screen!

  • Looking at the red brick was pretty interesting, if only you could of picked one up to look at it closely, its that type of red you wouldn’t find anywhere else, and it could very well be Accrington NORI, the very town I was born in and still live, I’m guessing, but I wouldn’t be supprised if it is :-))

    • There are a few red brick buildings like that in Japan. Although I’m not an expert, I’d say the red is not too different from that one.
      Hokkaido has a lot of them, for example. One of those red brick buildings in Hokkdaido can be seen in this post.

  • In march 2014 my trip to Gunkanjima had english audioguides too, but the informations where much, much shorter than the japanese explanations. It was ok for getting the basic facts, but more interessting was listening to the real tour guide because he lived as child on Gunkanjima. Even with my poor japanese i understood a lot, it was very entertaining. Price was 4.000 at Saturday, weekday price was 3,600.

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