Gunkanjima is an abandoned island in Nagasaki prefecture. The island is famed for its unbelievable appearance: surrounded by a sea wall, it is an entire abandoned city with huge concrete buildings. The island’s original name is Hashima but it’s better known as Gunkanjima (Battleship Island) because it looks like a military warship. It became even better known after a digital version featured in the James Bond movie Skyfall.
I’ve had the chance to visit Gunkanjima a few times in recent years. Here’s how the island looks when you are about to land.
Official Tour & Unofficial Tour
There is an official Gunkanjima Tour (like this), but you’ll be restricted to the area shown below in purple. You’ll need permission from Nagasaki prefecture (and a specific project, written in Japanese). This isn’t easy to get nowadays but of course it’s worth it.
I’ve written a few pieces on Gunkanjima in separate articles and this is a summary. Don’t miss my night walk and the interview with a former resident of Gunkanjima.
What is Gunkanjima
Gunkanjima was an undersea coal mine located on an island, bought by Mitsubishi in 1890 from a feudal lord. Mine shafts were dug, a village was constructed and some land was reclaimed. The island grew in size. The first apartment building (Block 30) was completed in 1916 – reinforced concrete had arrived in Japan. The village quickly became a city that looks like a monstrous maze of concrete. In 1959, this small island had the highest population density on Earth: 5,259 residents (7,301 people/km2)! But as petroleum began to replace coal the miners and other residents began to leave the island, which finally closed down in 1974. Mitsubishi handed it over to Nagasaki in 2001 and since 2009 it has been open for public tours. In 2015, Nagasaki announced that the main buildings of Gunkanjima are to be maintained, with a view to being recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
I first visited the island in 2010. It was only for an hour, all I could negotiate at the time, but I made the most of the time running around. The result isn’t pretty but was a lot of fun. To make it more interesting I added some history. Here it is: A One Hour Adventure on Gunkanjima.
One of the most popular aspects of Gunkanjima seems to be the huge concrete apartment building called Block 65. Recognize one of the scenes from the Skyfall movie? I’ll take you to explore those apartments here: Block 65.
The school, one of the first places you discover when you reach the forbidden area, is one of my favourites. Discover it here: The School of Gunkanjima.
I met and explored Gunkanjima with a former resident, Doutoku Sakamoto. He loves this island with all his heart and is one of the official guides. I asked him to tag along with me and my friends and he kindly took us to the places he loves. Discover his interview here: The Memories of Doutoku Sakamoto.
Everything can be found in this abandoned city: two schools, shops, hospital, prison, swimming pool, cinema, gymnasium, all tightly squeezed into a very confined space. More here : A Maze of Streets & Hellish Staircases
Gunkanjima is not loved by everyone. It has many painful stories to tell as well as happy moments. Let’s explore these contrasts here: Gunkanjima: Between Hell & Paradise.
One of my favourite moments was a stroll on the island by night, warmed only by some sake. Follow my walk here: Gunkanjima by night.
The Shrine, The Mine, The Hospital
I hope you enjoyed my special tour of Gunkanjima! If you are interested in such locations I suggest you to have a look at my book Abandoned Japan. It is available in pre-order here: Abandoned Japan. I also have a collection of photos of Gunkanjima here: http://www.meow.fr/Gunkanjima. Thank you!