22 August 2013

Battleship Island

Most of the time when i'm having a conversation with other explorers this place is being mentioned (it might be me though, heh), and i was always thinking what if.. But first of all i wanted to visit Japan, because of many reasons, and Nagasaki was one of the places i was planning to see. Few-lines-typed-into-google later and i knew Hashima is only 15 kilometers of Nagasaki's shore! What's even better, since 2009 there was regular tours operating to the island, blimey! Thank you internet.

History: In 1859 Thomas Glover came to Nagasaki as a representative of Jardine Matheson Holdings Ltd. which imported Japanese green tea. Two years later, he established his own company, Glover Trading Co. He sold ships, guns and other goods to the Satsuma, Chosyu and Tosa clans. He wasn't just another merchant from Britain, he introduced western technology and style to Nagasaki i.e. imported first train called Iron Duke, it was the first steam locomotive to run in Japan. Glover also build the first dry dock in Japan, it was called Soroban-dock and is currently part of Japanese Industrialization Heritage. In 1864 Glover signed a contract with Nabeshima clan to build and run a coal mine in Takashima (located very close to Hashima), shortly after feudal changes in Japan he became bankrupt, but managed to run the mine owned now by Yataro Iwasaki of Tosa clan [founder of The Mitsubishi Company (1870)] as a director and business adviser. Yataro died in 1885 and his younger brother Yanosuke took over the business. Company gained enormous wealth from Takeshima's coal mine as a result of the Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895). Funds allowed Yanosuke to launch a mining and shipbuilding business, he bought more that 40 coal mines across the country - including Hashima.

Coal was first discovered on Hashima in 1810 by the feudal lord of Saga. Industrial mining began in the late 1800s, and soon after, the island was purchased by the Mitsubishi Corporation. As production increased, the island was expanded, and large residential and industrial buildings and high sea walls were constructed. Hashima was populated from 1887 to 1974. Mitsubishi built here Japan's first large concrete apartment building in 1916 to accommodate their burgeoning ranks of workers. Concrete was specifically used to protect against typhoon destruction. In 1959 island's population reached its peak of 5,259, with a population density of 1,391 per hectare for the residential district, resulting in the highest population density in history recorded worldwide. In April 1974, the mine was closed, and its residents had to leave Gunkanjima, abandoning the island with all its buildings, offical reason being running out of coal, unofficialy there was high danger of explosion and everyone has been evacuated in very short period of time, leaving many things behind. Currently the island is owned by Nagasaki City Council which decided to open it for public in 2009.

Day 1
After night spent in rather nice and very budget Green Hotel i headed straight to the Nagasaki's Ferry Port Terminal 1, and paid a hefty £30 for the trip to Gunkanjima, leaving 9:00 am. Shortly before (well researched) i found the information that island is only available to see from few (3) viewing points. Oh well, i thought to myself maybe i can reason with the tour organizers, i wanted to see the island one way or another, even with that limited view.

It turned out to be very organised trip, not to say overly organised, about 10 staff including medics, we moved around in groups between viewing points, at least few pair of their eyes constantly checking what you are doing, not to mention over hundred other tourists, everything fenced with big phat sings in English saying that the rest of the island is off limits. Entering any building strictly forbidden and well behind the fence. For some reason you couldn't even use umbrella (sic!) and they were making sure you are not using it! Still i managed to see the island, i was walking on it, whoo hoo!

picture legend: 1 - battleship view of the island; 2 - office building (red), to the right of it: remains of jetty entrance to second mine-shaft; 3 - management building no. 3 on top of the hill, Hashima school on the left; 4 - swimming pool; 5 - front of the island.

Day 2
Second day was a complete failure. Again i took the trip in the morning (bye bye £30), but this time with the different provider (smartass), and it was pretty much a groundhog day from then on, difference being we were moving strictly in one group, but: there was few less staff (-2) and we could pretty much freely walk back from the last viewing point back to the boat, so sometimes for a blink of an eye you couldn't see the security, but there was still loads of people wandering back to the boat, not one moment without being seen. I was standing by the fence really desperate to just jump over and get in, finally it was too late. Then, still on the island, i tried to talk with one of the organizers so they could leave me here and i could come back with the second trip (they run two trips daily, one in the morning and one in the afternoon), i would obviously pay him for another ticket (my wallet wept), he only smiled and said impossible, offered him more money, same reaction. There's no way you can visit rest of the island, it's off limits. But i knew people managed to visit it, meh. Rest of the day i was wandering around Nagasaki's shore, trying to find a fishing boat, maybe they could help me out - another fail.

Day 3
That was my last an final day in Nagasaki. Woke up in the morning and again went to look for the fishing boat - epic fail. Instead on the way i found another Gunkanjima Tour only £25 (but sorry it's season now so, £30), ok. I made a decision, it was highly unlikely that i will visit Japan ever again, and definitely not only to do Hashima, so yeah - i planned to jump over that bloody fence and get to the island, period. Bought the ticket, experience from the previous trips gave me an idea of when would be the best time to do it (during the landing and boarding time) when securitonz had more important things to do, and it was simply most chaotic, i also knew where is the optimal spot to get over the fence. 

So, we landed on the Battleship Island, they started unloading people, i came off the boat, walked for a bit towards the first viewing point.. jumped over the fence, and started to walk away towards the island. At least dozen people saw me doing it, including two staff members, they started to call me back, then voices raised, i started to run. Until then i wasn't sure if they were allowed to enter and chase after me (dangerous buildings, why risk health of employees, right?) oh yes they were and they gave me a proper chase. By that time i reached a concrete very overgrown by weeds ditch, couldn't get around it, so jumped in. Now i could hear their voices very close behind, so i basically felt to the ground, so the thickets was covering me, and played dead. They reached the ditch (about four of them) some went further away one or two were looking for me near by. Couldn't stay like this for long, as they would finally spot me from the top, so slowly crawled towards a concrete pillar about five meters in front of me, hid behind it, waited about 10 minutes. At least one of them must have thought i'm somewhere there, got few stones threw near the area where i was lying. 

By that time i was certain that it is over, still a good laugh though! Another 5 minutes, voices got quieter. I moved forward until i reached the first building. Victory! Set up the camera for the first shot, taken in.. A red t-shirt appeared on the other side of the corridor.. so, they actually could enter the buildings, someone shouted. I grabbed the bag and started to run away, reached the basement of the second building, ran into the darkness and stayed quiet. I really hoped they don't have any torches, luckily i had one and the doors were opened. Started walking, sat on the pile of coal for 15 minutes. Then found another exit, slowly started to walk up, i heard footsteps above me, got back to the pile of coal for another 10 minutes, then tried again and finally got myself to the top of the first building! Looked down.. they been still down there, what's worse the ship was gone.. So they been planning to look for me until they will find me, great. 

Now, if i knew that before i would probably pass and never bothered to even try. But hey! I was already inside, so why not just do as much as i can before getting caught. Three hours later, they've been using megaphone and calling my name around the island.. joy. I really didn't want to waste someones day to try and find me, and by that time i got enough pictures. So i came out on the opposite side of the island and simply waited. Shortly after the tour operators from Day 2 trip arrived, the guy i was trying to bribe yesterday smiled and shook my hand, then four student-like-guys in suits with yellow megaphones came out from behind the buildings.. wut? So they been looking for me? Got back with the whole trip (for free!) reached Nagasaki, more people waited for me there. We had a conversation, i had to nod my head, sign a very precise statement and delete all the pictures.. Dayum! Then they let me go.

Luckily i was shooting on three different cf cards..

At this point i would like to apologize the tour organizers for making so much trouble, especially the staff that was chasing after me. That was stupid, but i would never thought you will go to such an extent trying to catch me.


picture legend: 1 - slide on top of the rooftop kindergarten; 2/3/4 - inside the kindergarten; 5/6/7/8 - (building no. 65) miners 9 storey housing building; 9 - toilets; 10 - (building no. 17 and 18) narrow corridor between employee houses; 11 - Hashima shrine; 12/13/14/15 - (building no. 51) miners housing; 16 - bridge between houses; 17/18 - (building no. 51) miners housing; 19/20/21 - (building no. 3) management housing; 22/23 - (building no. 18) employee housing; 24 - looking down on building no. 61; 25 - rooftop gardens (to the left) on top of building no. 16 with building no. 57 in front; 26 - (building no. 17) corridor; 28 - (building no. 20) employees flat; 29 - (building no. 30) miners housing stairway.

Reposted on 28dayslater.co.uk

Thanks for watching.


  1. Fantastic effort. I've been lusting after this place for many years now, but from what I had previously read it seemed more or less impossible. It may have been a short job, but you got some truly outstanding pics.

    I salute you, sir.

    1. Thanks Darmon, i've been browsing through your blog few days ago, looking for next years directions :) Keep up the good work.

  2. Great photo and great writing too, i admire your determination :)