Charlene Lowe Kemp
Hashima is often referred to as Gunkanjima, or literally “Battleship Island” due to its unique shape reminiscent of a ship of war. It was the villain’s lair in the 2012 Bond film “Skyfall” and won UNESCO heritage status three years later, in 2015.
Once the most densely populated place in the world, the tiny island of Hashima is now a surreal ghost island, with its abandoned structures left as is and a population comprised of only rats, feral cats, and perhaps spirits!
Thousands of men, women and children lived and worked on the island, harvesting undersea coal mines that powered Japan’s rapid industrial rise from the late 19th century.
But over the years, it made less and less economic sense and in 1974 operator Mitsubishi Mining abandoned the site.
Up to 1,000 metres below sea level, men toiled in cramped and stifling spaces where they had to defecate into small holes that they dug themselves.
More than 200 workers died in accidents over the years. Others suffered from silicosis, a work-related lung disease.
The former city’s crumbling concrete walls, smashed windows and rusty iron support bars harbour a dark secret – Chinese and Korean workers were once forced to work here, slaves to their colonial master Japan.
Japan put large numbers of Korean and Chinese war prisoners to work in the mines as forced labourers. These slave labourers were forced to do the most dangerous work in the mines, and were subjected to even worse living conditions than their Japanese counterparts, subsisting on a starvation diet, packed into filthy lodgings, and being worked in the cramped mines doing hard labour down in the murk until they collapsed from exhaustion.
It is said that up to five of these labourers died each month, and the nearby Nakanoshima Island was made into a crematorium for the dead, the thin tendrils of smoke from the burning bodies rising over the bleak, grey sea a constant reminder of the death and hopelessness the mines represented. The churning sea and intimidating concrete walls encircling the island deterred all but the bravest from trying to escape, and those that did were swallowed by the waves. In the end, it is estimated that thousands died on Hashima, many of these deaths unreported or undocumented; simply a forgotten footnote to the island’s dark history.
Hashima is truly a unique and enigmatic place, haunted with the past and perhaps even ghosts.