Visiting abandoned places and ghost towns is an adventure in itself. Over the years, a Russian urbex traveler Ralph has made it his mission to record the Japanese dream in decay. We prepared stunning photos and historical details of an abandoned mining town on Hashima Island, Japan.
We want to share the story behind these abandoned buildings and bring light to the lives that were upended through historical atrocities. One such atrocity was the Japanese mining town in the 20th century, with ruins now scattered across the island coast.
History of Hashima
About nine miles from the city of Nagasaki sits an abandoned island, void of inhabitants but steeped in history. Hashima Island, once a mecca for undersea coal mining, was a sharp representation of Japan‘s rapid industrialization. Also known as Gunkanjima (meaning Battleship Island) for its resemblance to a Japanese battleship, Hashima functioned as a coal facility from 1887 until 1974.
Coal was discovered on Hashima, a rocky outcrop some 4.5 kilometers west of Nagasaki Peninsula, around 1810. While there was some small-scale mining, major mining operations did not begin in earnest until 1890. By this time, Japan’s industrialization was in full swing, and coal was needed to power the nearby government-operated Yawata Steelworks. The mine was soon drilled down to beneath the seabed, operating from 600 to 1,000 meters below the island and the surrounding sea.
In 1916, the mine owners Mitsubishi Goshi Kaisha built Japan’s first large reinforced concrete building to accommodate the growing ranks of island workers. The concrete building was designed to resist the strong typhoons that sweep over Hashima.
Over the next 55 years, more buildings were constructed for the resident workers. Leisure centers, schools, nurseries, a hospital, a swimming pool, and this rooftop shrine, with its stunning view across the bay.
At its peak in 1959, 5,259 people lived on Gunkanjima, making it the most densely populated place on the planet. In order to get miners to agree to move with their families to the island, Mitsubishi had to supply a lot more than just housing. It also built a school (grades 1 through 9), a hospital, a daycare center/kindergarten, a theatre, a department store, and even a swimming pool. Meat and produce were brought in fresh daily by boat.
In the 1960s, coal mines across the country began closing as petroleum became its number one replacement. In January 1974, Mitsubishi closed the Hashima mines for good.
Why abandoned Hashima Island is called Gunkanjima?
This might be a good spot to explain why Hashima Island is called Gunkanjima. Gunkan means battleship. From a distance, particularly from the windward side, this little rock covered with high-rise buildings looks a bit like a battleship. Hence the nickname Gunkanjima, battleship island.
Across the island, you can find remnants of the many lives lived here. At times, it feels as though they have only just left, somehow expecting to return.