Battleship – Gunkan ぐんかん

I can now safely say there is no cooler sight than that of an abandoned coal mining town from the deck of a choppy, wind-tossed ferry boat.

Off the coast of Nagasaki there is a little island, Hashima island, home to the abandoned coal mining town that we took a pilgrimage to see this weekend. The silhouette of the island looks like a battleship, so most locals refer to the place as Gunkan-jima, or battleship island.

5000 people once lived there, sharing only 400 square meters of land. Mitsubishi owned and operated the mines, and in the 70’s when coal power was replaced by petroleum the island was closed and all of the residents forced to leave. It has since sat abandoned, left to decay. A few years ago the island was re-opened to journalists and today a tour company runs a ferry boat out there for tourists, although you are not allowed to stray from a very prescribed tour path along the perimeter.

We, unfortunately, were not quite so lucky. In a mix up, we accidentally took the “around the island” tour which did not actually dock (although the “landing tour” was sold out anyways, so no regrets, really). The seas were choppy, but we did get a pretty great glimpse at how eerie and awesome this place is. I can’t wait to go back.

The pilgrimage to Gunkan-jima also gave us a great excuse to explore Nagasaki for the rest of the afternoon. The city is quiet. The hills rise up around the harbor, and the houses are stacked up and up on the hills. We chanced upon an incredibly large hillside cemetery and a Fukusai-Ji, a 10 story high statue of a goddess who is standing on top of a turtle house surrounded by giant babies (pictured above). The sun was setting as we wandered around, in silence, until it became dark.

Then we rode the bullet train home, and I couldn’t keep my eyes open I was so sleepy and just… filled with glowey calmness. I want more chances to explore Nagasaki, especially because we didn’t even make it to the peace museum or the memorial park. Good thing we have an “landing tour” to look forward to sometime in the future.

Below is a clip from a great documentary (the whole thing is on youtube) about Gunkanjima island, told from the perspective of one of its former residents.


One comment on “Battleship – Gunkan ぐんかん”

  1. How fascinating, Laura. What must it have been like to live on that crowded island, and who would know the first project design came in 1905 from there? Really very clever design of the space. Thanks for sharing, Laura!

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