Gunkanjima: Battleship Island


Photo: Ken Lee + Skorj for Magnesium. A stunning series of photographs shot in the abandoned Japanese island-city of Hashima. (image used courtesy of Magnesium, thanks, Sean Bonner!)


  1. That’s pretty wild – I wonder if a movie was ever filmed here: reminds of that amazing Rosellini movie “Year Zero”

  2. This place is infamous for urban explorers in Japan. Officially, the entire island of Hashima (the nickname for it, Gunkanjima, translates as “Battleship Island”) is off limits by decree of the Japanese government, and no *official* roads, boats, or planes travel there. This doesn’t stop people who really want to go, however, as most get there by bribing a local fisherman to take them ashore. The entire island is thus deserted, Hashima once being a coal mining town, if I recall correctly.

    There have indeed been movies filmed there. See the wikipedia article.

    That said, it’s a creepy looking place. I’d love to go there someday!

  3. Reminds me of the abandoned island in Kinji Fukasaku’s “Battle Royale”…imagine the games that could be played…

  4. Curiously, I first became aware of this place through a photoset of the porn actress, Jun Kusanagi (not related to the cyborg, AFAIK). The backgrounds to the photos were so haunting that I recognised it instantly when I stumbled across a Japanese photographer’s website featuring the island a few years ago.

    If I ever get to Japan again, I’ve promised myself that I’m going to visit Gunkanjima. If the rest of you guys leave any room on the island to land, that is.

  5. @#4-

    It ought to. That’s where it was filmed (or at least II was). Check the wiki, it’s quite informative.

    Apparently, the island CAN now be visited as a tourist attraction of sorts- the Mitsubishi Mining Co. turned over ownership to the local prefectural ward. And they run tours there now.

    It’s nowhere near as fun now, the idea of breaking onto a deserted island prohibited entry by national decree sounded so much more illegal- and thus, deliciously fun. That seems to be how everything works.

    Think of a door with a KEEP OUT sign- doesn’t that just make you want to enter? Even if someone says there’s nothing but steampipes in there? That’s the urban explorer mindset- going where you are specifically forbade to, just to see what everyone else cannot.

  6. There’s some untold stories about Japan, right there: read the sparse account of the last workers being ferried off the island with what little they could carry, and see the photographs of the furnishings, the TV, the *life* they left behind.

    Or would you say ‘were forced to abandon’?

    That’s the reality of a company town. I would like to think that the paternal Japanese Zaibatsu continued to provide work, housing, hospitals, schools and a life for its loyal employees…

    …But the reality of the situation might be that they were not employees at all. Many were Korean (which means: you’re not Japanese, even if you never spoke any other language and your family’s been here for generations) or lower-caste (born of nightsoil-collectors and tannery workers). Or of the Ainu from Hokkaido.

    I wouldn’t call it slavery – they were free to work elsewhere, and there was plenty of work in the contract factories of the postwar boom (though NOT in secure employment with another zaibatsu, ever again) – and they lived fairly well. Housed, fed, educated, cared for. But they were *owned*, and disposed of when Mitsubishi had no further use for them – and, like true chattel slaves, they had no right of abode or property or possessions in and of themselves.

    Remember, this is 1974 we’re talking about. Not 1944. I wonder what became of them.

    1. As was somewhat alluded to by your comment, it seems Korean workers were used as labour on this island. I can not guarantee the authenticity of this article, but it claims that they were certainly slaves.

      “According to a South Korean commission, the majority of the buildings (on Gunkanjima) housed 500 Korean laborers who were forcefully recruited by Japan from 1939 to 1945.”

      Apparently 122 Korean workers died in the mines there from “cranial damage, drowning, and crushing”.

      My first instict was that I have to go there myself. Now I’m not so sure.

  7. A friend and colleague of mine, Chad Chatterton, is an artist-in-residence with the Center for Computer Games Research here at IT University in Copenhagen. He’s currently working on building Gunkanjima in 3D, with the general objective of building some kind of game or game-like experience in/on it. Should be amazing.

  8. I remember seeing a Japan Foundation translation of a movie that dealt with this island in passing. It was a fairly straightforward drama, probably made and set in the 80s, about a guy from a railroad family in Hokkaido. The idea was that life as a railroad worker (laying and maintaining track) was hard, but nothing to be ashamed of. At some point he meets a woman, and before they marry she wants to take him to this island, where she grew up. It seemed like a completely bizarre tangent to me at the time, very dark and hard to believe – she told him that the workers at the coalmine were slaves, and that the family members were basically prisoners on the island. It felt completely out of place in the movie, which got back on course with the couple getting married and living happily in Hokkaido, but I guess the filmmaker just wanted the information out there, and to show that no matter how hard you think you’ve got it, someone else has it harder.

  9. I was in Gunkanjima last week and made many pics and videos. It was really impressive experience… Unfortunately, due to the tsunami warnings we just could look around the island, but not land there.

    Uncannily, we could observe somebody on the island thought… I think it was a private visit…

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