Ikeshima Island 池島島
A new playground for Japanese ruins enthusiasts...
Once home to a small community of approximatley 300 people, the tiny island of Ikeshima was dramatically transformed in 1959 upon the discovery of an abundance of coal beneath its surrounding waters. A large underground mine was developed along with a number of factories and living quarters which catered to the islands bustling population. But years later in 2001, cheaper coal imports from overseas led to the mines decommissioning and, eventually, the permanent closure of Nagasakis last island based coal mine.
At its height, Ikeshimas population reached 8000, now as of 2016, its numbers sit at around 160 - a figure that still dwindles as a result of almost non-existent employment opportunities. Currently the islands only active amenities include one shop, a very small civic center (which only operates on selected days), a school that apparently still operates for a tiny number of students (6 in total at the time of my visit) and an abundance of abandoned buildings.
Ikeshima is filled with rows and rows of brutalist cement style housing complexes, most of which were utilised as homes for Japanese workers and families along with Indonesian and Vietnamese miners. Now left to ruin and decay, they sit in silence, engulfed by kudzu vine and nature as the years slip by.
When discussing the aesthetics of abandonment and the visual appeal of urban decay, Ikeshima is nowhere near as glamorous as its famous sister island Hashima. However it holds an interest in the sense that the observer can engage with more recent lingering emotional traces of the late 90’s. Such traces can be found inside the islands empty, sinister hospital filled with rusting medical equipment left to rust and decay. This includes a creepy morgue, a foreboding operating theatre that looks as if the surgeons just decided to leave half way through a procedure, a number of hospital wards reminiscent of a horror movie and, lastly, a torturous looking dental ward. An abundance of surgical items still sit on shelves including plaster dentures, metal plates, pliers and drills. Calendars indicate that the hospital began to dwindle around 1996 with its final and permanent closure in 2001. One would ask themselves how so much expensive medical equpiment could be left to rot away in the dark?
Other areas of the island are equally interesting such as the recreational center, where you can find a poolroom, gymnasium, community hall adorned with Indonesian and Japanese flags and many offices filled with television sets and 90’s electronic devices.
Still smelling strongly of oil and gasoline, the islands many work areas rust away in silence as birds and spiders make new homes in its nooks and crannies.
Recently reopening its disused 300 meter deep mine for tourism (a three-car train carries up to 27 passengers), Ikeshima has seen a small number of people visiting the island. But the island now attracts a different style of tourist...becoming a playground for Japanese urban explorers and ruins enthusiasts. Armed with cameras and tripods and attempting to get a glimpse inside its plentiful empty buildings, these Japanese adventurers have marked a significant increase in the islands tourism. Entering the buildings is illegal, but some of the more adventurous explorers will climb through an open window to catch a glimpse of the 15 years of decay that sits hidden in the dark, waiting to be photographed.
I was told by a local that Ikeshima is another Hashima Island waiting to happen...it just needs another 30 or 40 years to fully ripen.
*A small ferry to Ikeshima operates 7 times a day from Konoura port and takes 30 minutes each way.