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  • Writer's pictureRei Tsuru

Hashima

Hashima Island is a well-known destination, with its haunting allure attracting photographers and enthusiasts alike. Even those who struggle to recall Japanese names have likely stumbled upon images of this ghostly island. Although I too have come across such reports, I never retained its location or considered the possibility of visiting. In my mind, it was situated in a prefecture beyond my reach. It was only during my trip to Nagasaki that I discovered, to my surprise, that Hashima Island is located there. While I found the city intriguing, I perceived it to be somewhat Europeanized and provincial. Nevertheless, the presence of Hashima made it all the more captivating.

Various ports in Nagasaki offer daily ferries to Hashima, including Nagasakiminato from where we traveled. The ferry ride takes approximately 30 minutes and costs around 4000 yen. However, booking tickets online can earn you a discount. It is generally acceptable to book tickets without paying immediately at the cash desk and then redeem them later. My friend and I took advantage of this and successfully booked our tickets.

The ferry is relatively small, and as is customary, passengers quickly rush to the open upper deck to secure seats with an unobstructed view of Hashima as the ferry approaches.

It is remarkable how some water transport resemble the antiquated Soviet spacecraft.

Hashima soon comes into view on the right-hand side. Passengers had already shifted to this side of the ferry beforehand and were eagerly anticipating its appearance, causing the ferry to tilt slightly. :)

A small island in the East China Sea about 15 kilometers from Nagasaki, 480 meters long, 160 wide. Initially, it was even smaller - just a piece of rock sticking out of the water, suitable only for nesting seabirds and a short rest for fishermen.

In 1810, a coal deposit was found here, and through human labor, the island began to gradually grow.

During the 1930s, Hashima was not just a coal mining site but also housed military factories, making it a significant industrial hub (in fact, some argue that it was more industrialized than the entire island itself). The underwater coal mines, which were up to 600 meters deep, were owned by the infamous Mitsubishi Corporation. Between 1943 and 1945, Chinese and Korean laborers were forcibly brought here to work under harsh conditions, which resulted in the deaths of many workers.

Over time, a significant infrastructure developed on this small patch of land. At the height of its activity, there were 30 residential buildings, 25 shops, a hospital, two swimming pools, a school, and a cemetery. Despite its small size, Hashima was one of the most densely populated places on earth, resembling a bustling anthill where coal mining was in full swing, and people were born, educated, gathered, scattered, worked, and died. At its peak, almost 5300 individuals called this place home.

As resources dwindled and mining declined, Hashima's residents began leaving their homes and returning to the main islands. In 1974, Mitsubishi closed all the mines, and the island was almost instantly abandoned. For a while, the deserted island was legally protected, and visiting it risked deportation. The government aimed to shield the site from "black diggers" who considered items from the abandoned settlement as valuable loot.

For over four decades, Hashima remained a ghost town. However, in 2008, a proposal was put forward to add the island to the UNESCO World Heritage List. Although the decision was controversial due to the exploitation of Korean and Chinese workers, it was ultimately accepted, and in 2015, Hashima became a part of the Meiji Industrial Revolution Sites.

Nowadays, visiting the island is allowed but highly restricted, and tourists are only permitted to take a limited route along the edge of the island. These precautions are necessary because the island has been naturally deteriorating and collapsing over the years without any intervention.

As we walk through the island, we witness the disintegration of the houses, as parts of them crumble almost before our eyes. Have you ever experienced the deafening silence of abandoned places?

But these are not ancient ruins covered in moss; this is what happens to our homes in a short amount of time if we abandon them or disappear for any reason. There were no significant disasters or wars on this island - people simply left, and the once-vibrant and lively buildings deteriorated and crumbled over time in eerie silence. This is how all cities ultimately collapse, and all the colors of life fade with the departure of their inhabitants, like blood leaking from veins. It's easy to imagine a metal terminator skull flashing somewhere amid the decay. When there is nothing but water around, it's even easier to envision that the whole Earth might one day look like this.

When returning from the island, we take a detour to get a better view of Hashima, particularly the part we didn't get to explore. The outline of the island really does resemble that of a warship, which is why it's also called "Gunkanjima". Plans to turn the island into a museum of miners' culture and life are in the works, but significant financial investment is needed to make it a reality. The profits from tours would also be used to restore the island.

Hashima is now in a state of decay, with its edges fortified against strong storms but still vulnerable to waves. The abandoned buildings stand close to the water, and during particularly strong storms, it's possible that dried shells can be found inside. The island has returned to a state of nature, with birds nesting on its rocky surface and occasional boats sailing by to view the remains of a once-thriving civilization.

Hasima is a modern-day relic that continues to captivate the imagination of those who visit it. Its story unfolds during a time that predates our own, when the seeds of our contemporary world were first sown. For people my age and many others, the island holds a certain charm that evokes feelings of nostalgia.

During the era in which Hasima thrived, many cultural touchstones were taking shape. Star Wars was being crafted by George Lucas, Stephen King was writing his first novels, and the acclaimed artist H.R. Giger was already making his mark. As such, Hashima has become a symbol of this time, a reminder of an era that continues to inspire contemporary movements like retrowave.


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