Exploring the Ruins of Japan’s Battleship Island

photo by Michael Gakuran

Hashima Island sits just over 9 miles off the western coast of Japan. Also known as “Gunkanjim,” or “Battleship Island,” it is nicknamed for its unique shape and architecture.

Battleship Island is an English translation of the Japanese nickname for Hashima Island, Gunkanjima (gunkan meaning battleship, jima being the rendaku form of shima, meaning island). The island’s nickname came from its apparent resemblance to the Japanese battleship Tosa due to its high seawalls. It also is known as the Ghost Island.

Originally constructed for the purpose of mining coal, it was last inhabited in 1974. Since then, the island has been a favorite destination for urban explorers due to its difficulty of access, abandoned buildings and ruins, and the illegality of landing on the island.

Lured by the appeal of exploring a forbidden and abandoned city, Michael Gakuran risked his camera gear, arrest, and even his life to secretly visit Hashima Island. His amazing story starts off like a good spy novel:

It seemed like an impossible feat, and certainly not one I could undertake by myself. Even if I could get to the island, navigating it safely and in a timely manner would be tremendously difficult. It was my good fortune then, to meet Ikumi. Concept Designer by day; Urban Explorer by night.

It was that such meeting that led to me sitting in a dimly-lit car at 4.30am off the coast of Nagasaki. Munching on some adzuki bread in the passenger seat, I carefully eyed the figures of the local fisherman outside as they lit up their cigarettes.

photo by Michael Gakuran

His photographs from Battleship Island conjure up haunting scenes that are reminiscent of the abandoned cities and towns from the Chernobyl disaster.

photo by Michael Gakuran

Since being abandoned nearly 26 years ago, trespassing on the island had been prohibited. Fortunately, if you’re interested in checking out Battleship Island, you’re now in luck! In 2009, limited access to the island was permitted for sightseeing groups wishing to explore parts of the ruins in a safe manner.

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