Gunkanjima, Hashima, Battleship. Whatever you call the island, it is a truly remarkable place. Completely separate from the rest of Japan, this tiny spec of land would become famous for all the wrong reasons.
Ever since the 007 franchise was inspired to use Hashima as a set for Skyfall, I’ve wanted to visit and see the place for myself, abandoned in time and sitting eerily still since the 1970’s. Although in reality James Bond never even stepped foot in Japan and only external shots were used in the film, according to Wikipedia the film was in fact an island off the coast of Macau and a green screen was used. However, this didn’t put me off wanting to check it out for myself.
Anyway, that’s all part of the modern day history, but what about how and why it became somewhere to live and work in the first place? Well, sadly as the tour I took was all in Japanese sadly I didn’t learn anything from my trip but having researched online since returning I know the following;
- It originally opened as a seabed coal mine in 1887 by Mitsubishi
- There was a peak population of 5,259 in 1959
- Eventually the mine closed in 1974 due to the depletion of reserves
It’s quite an amazing achievement that they were able to even build on this island in the first place, it looks so small and everything would have had to have been shipped in because there’s no fertile land. Sadly Gunkanjima didn’t always have such a rosy history, the island was used as a concentration camp during the 2nd World War and both Korean and Chinese prisoners of war were used as forced labourers with almost 1,300 dying due to the harsh conditions and brutal treatment they received.
In 2009 the island was controversially declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, during my day tour it’s really interesting that none of this information was featured on their promotional video or within the documentation we received. How deceiving…
I originally booked my tour with a company in August 2018 when visitors were still able to step foot on land at Hashima, however due to a typhoon this is currently no longer possible and you are only able to circumnavigate your way around by boat. You can still get some great photos, but the weather in this region can be fierce and can change at a moments notice. We were able to see the significant damage that the typhoon had caused, personally I don’t see it being fixed any time soon.
The tour company we booked with sold different packages, the deluxe and non-deluxe version, if you were on the more expensive one this meant you got to board first. Sadly, this meant that you were unlikely to get a good seat and it was a bit of waste of time!
Me and my partner were really excited to visit, unfortunately we don’t speak Japanese so we were relieved to find a tour company that had an English version of their website. Nowhere on it said they wouldn’t be able to provide guidance or information in our language, but upon arrival we were told that we’d need to use a headset; well as with previous reviewers of the tour company they simply didn’t work and you weren’t able to get the same amount of information as our fellow travellers. When we raised this issue with the company they simply weren’t bothered and I was told that in England you don’t speak Japanese and therefore you either liked it or you didn’t. Unfortunately things turned nasty and one of their staff members, who I nicknamed Humpty (after Humpty Dumpty), decided to stand behind us with his arms folded and try to look butch to make us feel intimidated and make us leave. I’m sorry, but this is not how you treat a customer, especially when your other Japanese, Korean and Chinese tourists have already left happy and are on their way to continue with their holidays. We felt that we had been treated in a negative way, and in fact quite racist – which unfortunately was a common theme during our time in Southern Japan.
However, even after all this excitement and drama we still were in awe of seeing one of the main things we wanted to check out during our trio to Japan. I highly recommend a visit but beware that the weather here changes quite frequently and your tour can be cancelled, so choose your tour company wisely!
Please contact me if you’d like to know the company I travelled with, I don’t wish to publish their name.
If you’d like to discover more photographs and information from this trip or any others please feel free to ask me any questions. I also visited Fukushima’s Exclusion Zone whilst visiting Japan, be sure to check out my blog article here. You can visit my Facebook page and please don’t forget to ‘Like’ Travel Geek UK.
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