If you have not yet heard of Gunkanjima Island (also known as Hashima Island or Battleship Island) then you have almost certainly seen it. It is the ruined island that was made famous by the James Bond film Skyfall, as the home and headquarters of one of the franchise’s most sinister villains, Raoul Silva, played by the eponymous Javier Bardem. The island is, in actuality, just off of the coast of Nagasaki (a two hour trip from Fukuoka) and several tour companies allow for visitors to travel to the island from Nagasaki’s port.
Whilst in Skyfall, Bond sails to the island on a luxury yacht, fringed with mahogany, the ferries running to the island are slightly less stylish, but quick, cruising to the island in just over half an hour. After 20 minutes, the first 10 of which are spent motoring through Nagasaki’s harbour, the island emerges over the horizon and it’s iconic silhouette is revealed. While it’s true name is actually Hashima, the island is most commonly referred to as Gunkanjima or Battleship Island because of this silhouette, which is uncannily similar to the outline of a warship. At this point, the ferry’s outdoor top deck gives ample photo taking opportunities.
James Bond aside, Gunkanjima’s story is an interesting one. The island used to play host to a coal mining community of around 5,000 people until the coal ran dry and it was abandoned in 1974, a story that has all the hallmarks of an anti-climate change video extolling the dangers of over reliance on a fossil fuel economy. Its buildings now stand completely abandoned but remain stubbornly jutting out of the sea as some kind of tribute to the staying power of concrete. But, as you approach the island, these buildings become a vision of the apocalypse, shells of concrete and twisted metal work pummelled and reworked annually by the Autumn typhoons.
The instability of the buildings means that the tour is confined to a designated path that does not allow you to explore the island independently, but nevertheless makes for a fascinating trip. Tours last for around an hour, and lead you between three separate view points on the island, ‘see that over there? It used to be the elementary school‘. Though the tour is led in Japanese, informative audio guides are available in English and several other languages and cover not just the tour around the island but also the landmarks on the ferry ride. The tour in total takes a little over two and a half hours and makes the perfect morning or afternoon adventure on any trip to Nagasaki.
Tours (~¥4000) can be made through three tour companies. Reservation in advance is recommended as tours frequently sell out:
Report by Oscar Boyd
Oscar is a student from London, UK. He is a keen hiker and aims to summit every mountain in Fukuoka visible from his bedroom window. If you have any suggestions contact him on Twitter @omhboyd