The Facts

Name: Hashima (端島), or most commonly known as Gunkanjima (軍艦島), meaning “Battleship Island”

English: Aerial Photo of Hashima Island (lower...

English: Aerial Photo of Hashima Island (lower left), Nagasaki City, Nagasaki, Japan, 1983. 日本語: 端島(左下):長崎県長崎市、東シナ海)(右上は中ノ島) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Other nicknames: The Forbidden Island, The Ghost Island, Hell Island.

Ethymology: ‘Hashima’ means ‘Border Island’. ‘Gunkan’ meaning ‘battleship’, ‘jima’ being a form of ‘shima’, meaning ‘island’ – it was so called because of its resemblance to the former Imperial navy warship “Tosa”.

Located: 15 kilometres (9 miles) southwest from Nagasaki port, Nagasaki Prefecture, Japan.

Size: Surprisingly small – 480m long and 160m wide, overall 1.2-sq.-km. That’s roughly four football stadiums!

Population: Currently – 0. However, it was once the most densely populated city in the world. The population reached a peak of 5,259 in 1959 – a density of 835 people per 10,000 square metres (100m x 100m) for the whole island, or 1,391 people per 10,000 square metres in the residential district alone. Even by today’s standards, those buildings packed a lot of people. According to the latest Demographia report on world urban areas, Dhaka, Bangladesh, fits nearly 45,000 people per square kilometer. Gunkanjima, with roughly 5,000 people in one-fifteenth of a kilometer, would beat that by a lot — as well as Mumbai, Hong Kong, Bogota and Karachi, some of the modern world’s other super-dense cities.

Real or man-made?: Both. Before it was discovered, it was merely a rock reef. However, the dirt from the coal mining was thrown out around the small island and soon was shaped the way it is today.

Timetable of Battleship Island:

1810 – Coal was discovered on the reef.

1882 – Magotaro Nabeshima, the master of the former Nabeshima Han declared possession.

1887 – Nabeshima started building the first shaft.

1890 – Mitsubishi acquired the mine for 100 yen.

1895 – The second shaft was built.

1896 – The third shaft was built.

1897 – Yahata steel was established.

1904 – The Russo-Japanese war started.

1907 – An undersea cable from Takashima was drawn.

1914 – WWI started.

1916 – Japan’s first apartment house was built.

1921 – The Nagasaki Nichi Nichi Newspaper called the island ‘Battleship Island’.

1923 – The fourth shaft was built.

1938 – An undersea telephone line was established.

1939 – WWII started. Korean coal miners were brought to the island.

1941 – A record amount of 411.1 thousand tons of coal was mined in one year.

1945 – An atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. The war ended.

1946 – A labour union was established on the island.

1948 – The population on the island reached 4526.

1950 – The Korean War started.

1957 – An undersea water pipeline was completed.

1958 – Became the first in the nation to have tv sets and refrigerators.

1959 – The population reached 5259.

1964 – A gas fire accident happened. The mines were closed for one year.

1965 – A new mine was discovered.

1973 – Mining stopped as of December.

1974 – The mines were officially closed on January 15.

2005 – From August 23, landing on the island is permitted to journalists only.

2009 – Travel to the island was re-opened on April 22.


Burke-Gaffney, Brian, (1996). “Hashima: The Ghost Island”, Crossroads: A Journal of Nagasaki History and Culture (UWOSH). 4:33–52.

Kobayashi, Shunichiro, (2004). “No Man’s Land, Gunkanjima. Japan Deathtopia Series”. Tokyo: Kodansha.


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