Formally known as Hashima Island, “Gunkanjima” is a
direct English translation for “battleship” in Japanese due
to its resemblance to a massive warship. Recently
registered in 2015 as a UNESCO World Heritage Site,
Gunkanjima is among the 505 uninhabited islands of
Nagasaki. At 480 meters long and 150 meters wide, the
island once housed over 5,000 residents, breaking the
record of the world’s highest population density.
In 1810, coal was discovered on Gunkanjima by the feudal lord of the Saga domain, which quickly resulted in the industrial mining of this valuable natural resource. Half of the area on the island was built as a residential area for the workers along with their family members. The other half composed of schools, restaurants, shops, bathhouses, a town hall, and even a pachinko parlor for entertainment. When petroleum started to replace coal, mining facilities began to shut down all over Japan, including Gunkanjima. In 1974, residents were forced to leave the island due to the closing of the coal mine, leaving Gunkanjima a ghost town.
Gunkanjima was off limits to the public due to the fear of collapsing building structures, thus visitors could only view the island from afar on sightseeing cruises. However, in 2009, the island was reopened for visitors to explore, along with many new cruises for travelers to enjoy during their trip to Japan. Ultimately, Gunkanjima is a historical island that reflects the hardships mine workers faced during the Japanese industrial expansion of WWII. UNESCO is currently developing a conservation plan for the island in efforts to halt its deterioration.