Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Japan's Ghost Island, Hashima!

By Mike in Tokyo Rogers

There is something else that Nagasaki is famous for besides the second atomic bomb dropping, and that is an island that is known in Japan as "Ghost Island." It really is a ghost island too .... Are there really ghosts there (you know, like I mean, spirits of the dead roaming around)? I don't know, and I don't want to find out. Like Mark Twain once said, "I don't believe in ghosts, but I am sure afraid of them."

Japan's Ghost Island is a very weird place. It frightens me. Read on, maybe it will frighten you too!

Hashima "Ghost Island" today

In the United States and some other countries, there are ghost towns; towns that bustled with life many decades or a century ago. Today, these towns stand lifeless and empty. In Japan, we have the same sort of thing, but ours might even be even more frightening. In Japan, we have Hashima Island, also sometimes referred to as Battleship Island because of it's resemblance to a battleship from a distance. Hashima Island is a completely deserted 15-acre sized island that is 18 miles south of Nagasaki. 

Near Nagasaki there are over 500 uninhabited islands. These islands are too small to live on plus they are whipped by bad weather or typhoons for over 160 days a year. The only island of these 500 that was ever inhabited was Hashima. In fact, Hashima was, at one time, the most densely populated place on the earth! Today, it stands as a poignant and quite frightening reminder of Japan's early industrialization and, quite possibly, our industrial future or the future of our society as portrayed in some B-grade Sci-Fi movie or TV show like "the Outer Limits" from the fifties. 

Hashima Island postcard circa 1920

Hashima is an island rich in coal. It was populated from 1887 to 1974. Mitsubishi corporation bought the islands in 1890 in order to extract coal from deep underwater mines. In 1905, the very first concrete apartment building complex in the world was constructed here at Hashima. South Korea has made claims that over 500 Koreans were forced into slave labor on Hashima in the past.

When petroleum replaced coal in Japan in the 1960's, the population of Hashima began to decline until the last person left the island in 1974. 

Hashima has been deserted ever since. For many years, it was forbidden to visit the island as the buildings are collapsing and it is dangerous. But the island was reopened to tourists last year.  

Apartment building on Hashima in early 1970's

Now, the Japanese government is attempting to get Hashima designated as a UNESCO "Modern Industrial Heritage Site" since the islands still has standing upon it buildings that were constructed in the Taisho era from 1912 - 1926.

Hashima Island has also captured the imagination of Japan's Pop Culture and youth as it has been featured in many video games, anime, movies, and pop music videos. In fact, America's Discovery Channel actually featured it once in an episode entitled, "Life After People" about the decay of architecture.... Of course, any island that has stood deserted for so long, with buildings still standing, and even a staircase that is called, "the Stairwell to Hell" gives many people much to consider about life, death, the "beyond" and more when thinking about themselves. Maybe that's why things like Hashima island hold a morbid fascination for people.

Hashima Island's "Stairwell to Hell"

There is something else also eerie and frightening about places like Hashima Island. I am not sure I can put my finger on it.; it is something that appeals to the dark side of human nature. Perhaps it is the images of ghosts roaming the deserted and crumbling halls (and Japanese ghosts in movies are very scary!); perhaps it is the vicarious thrill of seeing what hell could be like... Or perhaps it gives one time to pause and consider one's own mortality. Whatever the case, Hashima Island gives us a glimpse of something that makes us uncomfortable about our place in this world. It is not beautiful... Excepting in a sort of morbid way yet is attracts us to want to explore its hidden alleys and walk its crumbling stairwells...

Very famous Japanese Ghost Yotsuya Kaidan 

Ghost Island, Hashima Island, is a place that one would like to visit, I think, but definitely not alone...Vicariously is best.... Hence this article....

I am sure I'd never want go there alone at night!

And for an even more vicarious thrill, here also is an enjoyable article about two guys who snuck on Hashima island when it was illegal to do so.  

Map of Hashima 18 miles south of Nagasaki in Japan's southern-most island of Kyushu

Hashima (Gunkanjima), Japan 2002 



Keywords: Hashima, Marketing Japan, Hashima Island, Battleship island, Mike in Tokyo Rogers, Ghost, Ghost island, Nagasaki, Mike Rogers, Kyushu


Anonymous said...

I'm fairly sure that the third picture (of the apartment blocks) is actually of Kowloon Walled City in Hong Kong.

Jimbo said...

This reminds me of the haunted forest near Mt. Fuji called Aokigahara, where people flock to kill themselves. Hashima island surely doesn't have as creepy a reputation, but it's interesting to think that Japan has a man-made haunted area as well. I'll have to check it out!

supersarah77 said...

I'm also very interested in your third picture. On tumblr it's been posted over and over as Kowloon, Hong Kong, but I hardly consider tumblr a reliable source. Could you possibly clear this up for me? Do you by chance know the source of the photo, or for certain that it's Hashima?

Anonymous said...

The third Picture is obviously Hong Kong. You can even notice the air-conditional unit. And from the image the blocks have more than 15 floor levels. Building on the island do not seem to have that many floor levels. This wrong image is also used in an youtube clip.

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