Gunkanjima (軍艦島) – Battleship Island – Experience

People who know me well will know that I’m a geek, and although there are negative connotations to the name Otaku, I might not be a full Otaku in the traditional sense, but I am closer to one than I am not. My fascination with manga and anime started when I was young and properly kicked off when Neon Genesis Evangelion was exposed to the young minds of Aussies via the medium of VHS – since then I’ve been hooked.

Ms Buddha is less of a fan, but that doesn’t mean that she’s not in for a anime binge when there’s a good anime to be enjoyed. I remember once we sat through the entire Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 and both cried non-stop at the end; and who can forget modern classics like Summer Wars; cue recent modern blockbuster mega super dupa anime “Attack on Titan”.

Not only has Attack on Titan created an anime series that ended on a cliffhanger and with Ms Buddha going “what!? the next series is in 2017!?”; but the blockbuster has also attracted spin-offs and also two live-action films staring the mega supermodel Kiko Mizuhara.

Part of the movie was filmed on Hashima Island

To be frank, the movies weren’t that great, the first one was so-so and I couldn’t even finished the second one, but that didn’t mean that the location of the film shoot was not interesting – enter Gunkanjima Island.

Only recently confirmed as a UNESCO Heritage site in Jul 2015, Gunkanjima Island, or Battleship island was home to a mining operation that was at one stage owned by Mitsubishi during the Meiji era. At one stage, over 5,000 people lived their lives on the island and made it one of the most densely populated places in the world. However, as with most resources, it gets depleted, and with the coal almost mined out in the mid 1970s, mining operations ceased and the island was left deserted almost overnight – leaving nothing but the concrete buildings.

Nice that they called it conceirge 🙂

The island was only opened to public visits recently and if you want to visit as part of the public, there’s only 2 tour operators available, for our tour, we went with Gunkanjima Concierge. They hold 2 tours a day which includes the boat ride to and back along with the 30min tour of the island – one thing to note is that you don’t know whether the weather will permit landing on the island until right before the tour – so if the weather is bad, you will be offered tickets to their museum.

We booked via our Citi Prestige concierge, who were nice enough to organise everything, once we arrived, we gave our reference and name to the very friendly reception staff who found our names – the tour itself is completely in Japanese, but you are offered an English audio guide and a pass with a yellow ribbon showing that you’re not a Japanese speaker.

Tickets and audio tour
Our kit for the day

The excellent thing about our visit is that the weather was terrific on the day – meaning that the captain thought that we will be safe to land. So at about 11:30, we made our way to the long queue waiting for the boat that will take us there.

The boat ride is about 45mins, and before the boat even sets off, we are provided with safety cards (in English) and also because we were almost the last few on the boat, we sat on the upper exposed level. For the people at the top, we were provided with extra windbreakers and a disposable poncho that will act as protection against the waves. Like the Oyster huts, the top level ended up sharing the same uniform!

Jacket and poncho
Uniform – red again! Please wear these, because the waves will get you.

On the way to the actual island, the audio guide provided some background of the surrounding islands and also items, some were quite interesting like a Mitsubishi’s ship building facilities and also a Virgin Mary statue.

Ship building
Mitsubishi Crane
Virgin mary
Virgin Mary in the distance

As we approached the island, the excitement flowed through the crowd as everyone was eager to take a photo of what gave the island the name of the “Battleship Island”. The great thing is that the crew and captain pauses and gives everyone plenty of time to take a photo.

Island from afar
Battleship island looking like a battleship

As we got even closer, the fanfare got a bit too much as one of the tourist began running around haphazardly trying to capture the photo with little regards for others. That aside, the approach gave opportunities for photos.

up closer
On approach

When we finally landed, we were guided around the island first to the explanatory point number 2 where we were told about the miners and their daily routines of reporting for duty; trying to smuggle cigarettes into the mind (highly dangerous); and shown photos of some of the miners during the time with their face blackened after a day’s shift.

Island 3Lighthousemines

We were also told of the incidences where there have been deaths inside the mine (highly dangerous job) and what the workers did. Apparently when they go retrieve the body, they place them in a coffin and then continue to speak to the dead like they were still around to “guide” their spirits back out so that the spirits don’t continue to haunt future workers entering the mine.

Apart from the mining stations, because so many people lived here, there’s also the need for recreation, and we were show the remnants of a pool.

What use to be a massive pool – but for 5,000 people…probably not big at all

We were then shown the living apartments that the people stayed at; effectively, because the workers here were labourers, they didn’t live a very grand lifestyle and pretty much stayed in like split housing that many of the poor does in Hong Kong.

Island 4
What’s left of apartment buildings
Apartment buildings

We were then told a tale about one of the inhabitants of these buildings, who was told to be an old lady who questioned and followed any unfamiliar people that enter her apartment building, to the point that she was like the guard for that building. While listening to the audio guide (which you kind of have to position yourself correctly to hear it since that it’s radio waves), I also managed to take a panoramic shot of the surroundings.


Finally, we were guided back to the spot where we boarded for the final section of the tour, here, they talked about the school building (setting for several films) and also the gym, which was built when there were rumours about the closure of the island and the company at the time wanted to convince the people living there that all was fine (oddly enough they actually did close the island not soon after the gym was installed).

Island 2

School building

Gunkanjima is quite interesting in the fact that the buildings that are there remains somewhat intact yet ravaged by nature.If you’re planning a visit to Nagasaki, definitely try and pre-book a visit.

There’s also something very lonely about the buildings that still stand there, kind of like a window into seeing what our worlds will be like when humanity eventually ends.


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