If you’re in Nagasaki and have some time left, definitely check out the so-called “Battleship Island“, also known as Gunkanjima.
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).
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:
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.
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!
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.
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.
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“.
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.
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”.
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 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.
While it’s true that no people live on the island anymore, there are a lot of birds (mainly seagulls)!
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.
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.
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.
Another photo without the tour guide in the way. ^-^;
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.
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!