Ever since the most recent James Bond movie Skyfall came out, I was intrigued to learn that the abandoned island actually exists in reality. While the island appears slightly different using CGI, the inspiration and scenes looking from the sailboat are much like the original Hashima Island. The isle is nicknamed Ghost Island as well as Gunkanjima (which is Japanese for Battleship Island owing to the island's shape) and started life as a coal mine in the early 20th century. It's just a couple of miles outside of Nagasaki harbor and can be reached by boat easily.
Over time mine workers dug up to a mile deep into the ground as they searched for coal in more remote locations. At its peak 5,300 people lived on the island, which is roughly the size and shape of Alcatraz. However, it featured high-rise apartment blocks (Japan's first reinforced steel buildings), a school, a grocery store and a hospital.
The population stayed on the island permanently even during one of Japan's famous typhoons. The buildings are tall enough to not be washed away in the high waves of the Pacific storms. As the price of coal declined, the island shut down in 1974 with the site being abandoned for good. It hasn't been touched since then and was recently re-discovered by a wider audience in the last few years.
Gunkanjima Concierge operates two daily boat tours from Nagasaki Harbor to the island. Including the entrance fee the company charges 39,000 JPY (roughly $39) per person. If the weather is bad and the ship is unable to land on the island for the tour they will refund 6,000 JPY.
It's a good idea to book ahead online and reserve a space. The tour sells out on random days and there is no other tour operator that I'm aware of.
The tour itself is very well organized (as you'd expect in Japan). The guides on the boat only speak Japanese but there is an English audio tour once you set foot on the island.
The day of my tour was rainy and windy. The sea was rough and the upper deck of the boat was washed up with sea water from the wave spray. I was warned earlier that we may not be able to disembark for the on-foot tour of the island and unfortunately this was the case. The waves pushed the boat up and down 9 feet – a jump from a suddenly-shifting boat would have been bone-breaking.
However, we were still taken for a tour around the island and the pictures below taken from the boat illustrate the dark buildings and the desolate state they are in. It's dangerous to venture outside of the designated area of the tour and you can easily see why.
It's a very unique site and well worth the trip to Nagasaki and the price of the tour. It's also a tourist attraction that hasn't gotten too much attention (before the movie's release anyway) and Nagasaki is a pleasant Japanese town with friendly people and great seafood.
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About the author: Torsten is a serial entrepreneur who started almost a dozen ventures on four continents. Torsten's love for travel has brought him to 130+ countries and travel with most of the world's airlines. You can reach Torsten at [email protected]
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