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Hashima Island 端島

Upon the depletion of its once plentiful underground coal beds combined with a surge in the use of petroleum, Hashima Island, or Gunkanjima (meaning ‘Battleship Island’) ceased its mining operations forever in 1974. 

Established in the late 1800s at the height of Japan’s industrial revolution, its population peaked in the 1950s with 5,259 residents – most of whom worked deep within the confines of its dangerous mine. Now, in place of what was once a suffocatingly crammed community that lived on top of each other, sits a deserted and enchantingly dark ghost city.

Located 15 kilometres from Nagasaki and far more visually intense than any post-apocalyptic movie set, this isolated labyrinth of crumbling concrete and steel provides a rich and spectacular vision of urban decay.

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Squashed within this crammed urban development are former schools, a hospital, kindergarten, town hall, bathhouse, community centre, swimming pool, pachinko parlour and cinema. Deeper within its bowels lies the heavily decayed remains of what was once the island’s hairdressing salon - sitting in darkness since 1974, its dusty chairs and hair dryers still remaining moderately intact.  

Overgrown vines swallow up its complex network of passageways with most interiors containing only mere fragments of their former furnishings.  A labyrinth of narrow decayed concrete alleyways and moss-covered steps weaves through its shadowy spaces, connecting the suffocating buildings. 

Concrete sea walls surround the island, keeping it safe from the violent ocean that smashes against its border.  Cracking waves send shuddering roars through its fragile structures, many of which stand brittle and skeletal after years of no maintenance.  Severe typhoons have also left a number of buildings severely dilapidated with debris strewn over what little ground there is.

A number of its constructions were built during the Taishō (1912-1926) and Shōwa (1926-1989) periods, sparking heritage talks with prospects of a possible restoration.  With this in mind, Gunkanjima has a dark and contentious past that is often placed under scrutiny from both Chinese and Korean sides.  In the 1930s and ‘40s, the island housed a number of prisoners, many of whom worked deep in its confines before and during World War II. 

Hashima Island is a famous Japanese icon amongst ruins enthusiasts and a much sought after location within the haikyo and wider urban explorer communities.  Arousing an abundance of curiosity from adventurers the world over, the island’s isolated location combined with rough surrounding waters makes it a very difficult place to reach - but the lucky ones who succeed are treated to a privileged decaying visual that is all at once romantically beautiful yet melancholy.

*Still images from Hashima Island appear in my book 'Haikyo: The Modern Ruins of Japan' available  HERE

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