Hashima Island

32°37’39.8″N 129°44’17.6″E

About ten miles off the coast of Nagasaki, Japan lies Hashima Island, a uninhabited floating pile of concrete apartment buildings and abandoned coal mine facilities. The island was once home to almost 6,000 people during the industrialization of Japan. A vast network of undersea coal mines beneath the island was Hashima’s claim to fame, and within years of its opening in 1890, the place was packed to the gills with Korean laborers who were put to work there by force. Chinese prisoners of war soon joined their ranks during World War II, and by 1959, the island was once one of the most heavily populated places on Earth. Due to its unique flat shape that somewhat resembles a battleship, Hashima Island is sometimes referred to as ‘Battleship Island’. Others use a different name of ‘Dead Island’, one that is much more referential to the island’s current condition and far more fun to use in ghoulish write-ups like this one.

The working history of the island doesn’t go much further than 1974, when the effects of petroleum replacing coal in Japan as its primary source of fuel made the place quickly obsolete. The mines were soon shut down by controlling company Mitsubishi as a result, and Hashima Island’s population quickly reduced to zero soon after. However, it’s the resulting history and cultural interest of the island that is far more interesting. The apartment buildings that once housed the island’s captive audience have remained virtually untouched since everyone left, and their stylistic and architectural influence over the years are often a point of discussion among ruins enthusiasts (which are apparently a thing).

Most of the island’s structures lie in ruin and total disregard, but of course, that didn’t dissuade anyone from opening the place up to tourism dollars. Small portions of the island were made accessible to journalists in 2005 and then to tourists in 2009, and various film and documentary crews from all over the world explored its remains. Hashima Island has been subsequently used in documentary films from the History Channel, portrayed in 3D for the Discovery Channel’s series Forgotten Planet, international photography exhibits, product demonstration reels from the digital video departments of Sony, and even in multicultural exhibits to show and strengthen diplomacy between Mexico and Japan. In 2013, an employee from Google Japan was sent to Hashima Island with a big camera strapped to his head in order to document the place on Google Maps.

According to Google Japan (the people responsible for stranding that guy there with a big camera strapped to his head), “Hashima has transformed into an eerie tourist destination where you can see a once thriving town decaying and totally devoid of life. Apparently, Hashima’s buildings are deteriorating so rapidly that you can hear parts of the concrete collapse as the wind blows from the ocean.” Google Japan offered no comment on why I have been rerouted through Dead Island the last three times I have used Google Maps to get to the grocery store across town. Thanks, Google Japan.