Does that name ring a bell? Well, if you are a James Bond fan or familiar with the movie Skyfall, then this name should sound familiar.
In the most recent James Bond movie, Skyfall, Bond takes a boat ride to a small island where he meets Silva. This deserted island is actually a real-life island of Japan!! It is called Hashima, otherwise known as Battleship Island.
The scene filmed from the movie in which Bond is on a boat headed towards Silva’s lair is the actual Japanese island! However, the scenes taken on the island were only a re-creation of the existing buildings left on the deserted mainland. There is a very small part that is open for the pubic to walk through on one side of the island, yet, the buildings that were shown in the film are located on the opposite side and are off-limits due to the danger of collapsing at any moment.
Located 19km southwest of Nagasaki harbor, Hashima is a tiny island with a seabed coalmine. It measures 480m north to south and 160m east to west. The island is surrounded by a sea wall and has multi-storey reinforced concrete apartments, giving it the appearance of the warship Tosa. Thus, it was given the nickname “Gunkanjima” or Battleship Island. After the mine closed, the island was deserted and fell silent for 41 years! But in 2009, it was reopened for public viewing and is now on a tentative list of modern industrial heritage sites in Kyushu that is being considered for World Heritage status!
The History of Hashima
Coal was discovered on Hashima around 1810. Although the Saga clan carried out some small-scale coal mining, it was when the mine came under the control of Mitsubishi Goshi Kaisha (Mitsubishi Limited Partnership) in 1890 that full-scale seabed coal mining operations began.
As the amount of coal being excavated increased, the population of Hashima grew, and in 1916 Japan’s first reinforced concrete high-rise apartment building was constructed to house the many people living on this small island. It operated as a self-sustaining coal mining city that had its own apartment complexes, swimming pools, schools, offices, restaurants, and other recreational facilities for its residents. It’s crazy to think that such a tiny space could hold this many objects and people! At its peak, the population of the island was around 5,300, giving it a population density nine times greater than that of Tokyo at the same time!! It was the most densely populated place on Earth, with its density translating to 216,264 people per square mile!!
Eventually the Energy Revolution caused a shift away from coal towards oil power. As demand for coal fell, the mine’s production gradually shrank along with the island’s population. In January 1974, coal mining operations on the island ended and since then the island’s concrete city has been left to the ravages of time and harsh weather.
Originally, Hashima was just a small, barren shelf of aqueous rock. However, as mining methods continued to develop, the island was expanded. Embankments were constructed six times through land reclamation until the island reached its present size and shape. At first, Hashima began as only a third of its current size!
Work in the Coalmine
Between 1891 and 1974, around 15.7 million tons of coal was excavated by the “men of the pit.” Mining the seabed coal reserves of Hashima took the miners to points over 1,000m below sea level. After making the grueling journey down the steep slopes of the shafts, they worked in terrible conditions, braving temps of 30 degrees celsius and humidity of 95 percent, not to mention the consistent danger of gas explosions. In the mine, an often-exchanged greeting was “Goanzen ni” (literally, “safely”). By this, the miners meant “take care not to have an accident.”
Life on the Island
In addition to schools, hospitals, and shops, there were also leisure facilities such as a cinema and pachinko (slots) hall. However, there was no space to grow trees, and so the PTA and other groups cooperated to carry soil onto the roofs of the apartment buildings and grow flowers and vegetables there. These are thought to have been Japan’s first rooftop vegetable gardens. The island was barren with little, if any, greenery. (The greenery seen on the island today are from seeds carried from birds and such onto the island over time).
Hashima also suffered damaged from large waves. The power of the waves that battered the island during typhoons is said to be unimaginable. However, for the islanders, who grew accustomed to the typhoons, watching the great waves from the rooftops became a popular pastime.
Securing supplies of electricity and water was a compelling problem for Hashima. Originally, electricity was provided using a generator on the island, but as the population grew the amount of electricity produced proved insufficient. Therefore, in 1918, undersea electricity cables were laid from Takashima.
Drinking water was originally provided by distilling seawater, but it was later brought to the island in water supply ships. This water was stored in an elevator water tank and distributed to communal water hydrants in several areas on the island. In 1957, an undersea water supply pipe was laid between Hashima and the town of Sanwamachi on the opposite shore. This led to the lifting of water rations on the island. However, with the exception of the senior employees’ residences, baths were not installed in homes and public baths were used instead. Boiled seawater was used for baths; freshwater was used only for drinking.
Before the introduction of propane gas in the mid-1950’s, coal furnaces were used on the island, which is why the apartment buildings have chimneys.
Our roots will forever be from here, America, born and raised. Yet, life requires us to move more frequently than we care to count. Whether living stateside or abroad, you can always find us traveling somewhere. We scout out places that you only think you can dream of one day seeing and we seek out those that aren’t found in guidebooks. We then bring them to life here in our travel memos, so hopefully, one day you too can visit them or at least be able to live vicariously through us. This blog isn’t just about crossing off places from a bucket list. It’s about absorbing and learning how other cultures grow and fit into the same world that we do. Life is short and the world is big. Enjoy and get out there!