Starting this month, I’m determined to chip away at my huge backlog of posts, so even though I visited this place last February, here it is, at last!
Gunkanjima 軍艦島 is an island in Nagasaki and goes by many names. The official name is Hashima 端島 but was nicknamed Battleship Island (or Gunkanjima in Japanese) because the island’s profile resembles a battleship.
Gunkanjima was a site for coal mining and the workers worked and lived on the island. At one point, there were so many people crammed onto the tiny island that it hit a record high population density of 83,500 people/km2, making it the densest place on the planet at that point. Compare this with the current population density of Tokyo of “only” 6,185 people/km2!
The coal mines were shut down in 1974 and it remained abandoned until 30 years later when it was reopened to the public in 2009.
Now… some might ask, why is visiting an island of crumbling buildings and broken structures even remotely interesting? (case in point: my own husband replied me with a “HUH. You traveled all the way there to see some rocks?” when I excitedly sent him the picture below -_-)
If you have zero interest in history, then save your time and money and skip Gunkanjima.
But Carys and I were interested in such things, and to learn about the history of the island AT THE SITE ITSELF? To witness that piece of history with our own eyes?! It was something we absolutely had to see.
How to visit Gunkanjima
Visits to Gunkanjima are highly restricted and only available through recognized operators. We went with Gunkanjima Concierge and highly recommend them!
Weather is an important element because if the water is too choppy or just too dangerous in general to land, passengers will not be able to tour the island. The boat will simply circle the island and that’s it D: Which is why I’m extra thankful we were blessed with perfect blue skies!
It’s a 30 min ride to the island and we were sprinkled with bits of random information about sights along the way.
Soon, the island came into sight!
Landing on Gunkanjima
And then we landed! We had about an hour to spend on the island, but it’s entirely guided, with a designated path to follow. If you were hoping to wander around and explore the ruins yourself, you’re sadly mistaken. Not to mention, it’s absolutely dangerous!!! I’m talking about buildings collapsing on you, not because it’s haunted -_-
There is a main guide who is speaking and giving information about the island, but there are many helpers who hold up pictures of how the island looked then. It’s quite interesting to see the juxtaposition of old and current!
Note: The guide speaks only in Japanese, but English audio guides were provided for free.
Life on the island
An interesting story: 90% of the people on Gunkanjima owned a TV. Contrast this with only 10% of the population on mainland having a TV!
The reason? Apparently the workers on Gunkanjima were paid very well because their jobs were very dangerous. It’s the kind where their prayer every day before going to work is to hope they will return alive that day.
How much did they earn? The guide said that a banker at that time was earning about 80,000 yen a month, whereas the workers on Gunkanjima earned as much as 500,000 yen! I suppose when you earn so much and dying any day is a very real possibility, you’ll just splurge on whatever…
It was an interesting visit and we are both glad we made it to the island! (read why we almost didn’t here)
Here are the details of our trip if you are interested in visiting:
Tour operator: Gunkanjima Concierge
Cost: 4,300 yen per person (we paid 3,900 in 2016)
Time taken: About 3.5 hours