The Ugly Truth About Hashima Island

Wednesday, December 06, 2017
Hashima Island, or more commonly referred to as; Gunkanjima (Meaning: Battleship Island) lies around 4.5 km west of Nagasaki. The tiny island has a seabed coalmine and has gained its nickname due to the reinforced concrete sea wall, which surrounds the island making it look like a battleship in shape.

Hashima Island better known as; Gunkanjima or Battleship Island
Coal was discovered on Hashima Island around 1810 and in 1890 a full-scale seabed coal mining was initialized by Mitsubishi Limited Partnership. In January 1974 the mine was closed and in April of the same year the island became uninhabited. During the many years of mining on the island the Japanese buried a secret deep down in the mines and today they are still trying to sell that lie.

How To Get To Hashima Island (Gunkanjima)?
The days of hiring local fishermen and wandering on the island on your own are long gone. Government run and guided tours are the only option and not for long, as the island is falling apart piece by piece and will eventually be lost to the sea.

Nagasaki Harbor seen from Dejima Wharf in Nagasaki, Japan
At the harbor terminal close to Dejima Wharf in Nagasaki you'll find a ticket office for the tours. They run two times on a daily basis. But beware of the season during your visit to Nagasaki, the rough waters of the Japanese ocean does not allow the boats to dock at Hashima Island very often. Only 100 days a year has conditions, which are safe enough for actually landing on the island. About 80% of the efforts to reach the island are succesful.

Hashima Shrine visible (top) at Gunkanjima, Japan
I'd recommend to visit the ticket office at least a day prior to your intended day of visit on Hashima Island. The tours sell out pretty fast and you might have to check whether the company is gonna give it a go or not on your date of choice. Your tour can be cancelled on the day or even during the tour, you'll get a 10% refund, but that's a chance you'll have to take. The price for a ticket is 4.500 yen (4.200 for the boat ride and 300 as an entrance fee to the island)

The boat taking tourists to Hashima Island (Gunkanjima), Japan
The boat is quite large and steady and during my visit, there was no trouble. On board there's a guide who talks a lot, while he shows different locations on screen with a live camera attached to the top of the boat. Unless you're fluent in Japanese, you won't get much information though.
The worst months to visit are July to September, which is the typhoon season in Japan. I visited in the early days of December, quite cold, but sunny with a bright blue sky.

The Guided Tour On Hashima Island (Gunkanjima)
Once you set foot on the island you'll be placed in the foreigner group with a local English-speaking guide. There's only three designated observation areas and the tour itself takes less than an hour. So don't be expecting to wander around and in between the collapsed buildings.

Coal Storage Conveyor Belt (right) at Hashima Island, Japan
The guide will tell you a lot (!) about the facilities of the island during the mining period. About swimming pools, restaurants, schools, amusement parks, cinemas and in general social life on the island. He will also very specifically claim that ONLY Japanese people were working in the mines of Hashima Island. A work day of 8 hours is mentioned as well. Our local guide had apparently spoken to several of the people who used to live on Hashima and every time he had asked them how it was, he would get the same answer: "We had fun". Those "facts" are, unfortunately, the same facts which are taught in the Japanese schools. Even the brochure you're handed as you buy the ticket will confirm some of these lies. Some of this absolute bullshit.

The Ugly Truth About Hashima Island (Gunkanjima)
Hashima Island is (in the Japanese history books) listed as an industrial awakening. The first concrete apartment buildings in Japan were the ones on Hashima. But the survivors of the island tells an entirely different side of the story.

Building 30 (right) and 31 (left) which both functioned as apartment buildings on Hashima Island, Japan
Some 600 Koreans were brought to work on the island as forced labor. 122 of those people died. Those forced into labor during that time called Hashima "an island of hell". A work day of 12 hours in a coal mine located more than a kilometer underground without having enough food to eat, was the harsh daily life on the island. Some of the forced labor workers tried to commit suicide by jumping into the sea. At its peak around 5.300 people worked on Hashima. During that time it was the most densely populated place in the world. A record which are yet to be broken.

Ruins of the General Office (red bricks) and entrance to Second Mineshaft (right) on Hashima Island, Japan
Despite the ugly history of Hashima Island it was recently added to the UNESCO World Heritage Site list in July 2015. But with the listing came an important preconditioning; Japan had to acknowledge the historical fact, that labor workers from Korea and China had been brought to the island against their will, to work and suffer in the coal mines. The Japanese government accepted.
As of December 6th, 2017, they are yet to honor their word. There is NO information about the forced labor of Hashima Island. In fact there are only opposing lies desperately trying to keep the obvious bloody hands of the Japanese seem clean. I'm not sure what the Japanese government are thinking. It's 2017. People. Will. Know. The. Truth.
And for the recond; "they did NOT have fun".

South side of Gunkanjima, Japan


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