A Ghostly Abandoned Island 

Your Guide to the World's Hidden Wonders
May 30 2013 11:24 AM

This Abandoned Island was Once the Most Densely Populated Place on Earth

Atlas Obscura on Slate is a new travel blog. Like us on FacebookTumblr, or follow us on Twitter @atlasobscura

Advertisement

Hashima Island, 11 miles off the coast of Nagasaki, is known by two nicknames: "Gunkanjima" (Battleship Island) and "Midori nashi shima" (island without green). The austere brutality conjured by these names is reflected in its appearance -- Gunkanjima is a narrow lump of rock covered in the crumbling remains of a crowded concrete village.

Mitsubishi purchased the island in 1890 to establish a facility for mining undersea coal reserves. In 1916, the first concrete high-rises sprung up on Gunkanjima -- nine-story slabs of gray with cramped rooms and rows of identical balconies overlooking a claustrophobic courtyard. By 1959, over 5,000 coal miners and their families occupied these drab apartments, making the island -- the size of 12 football fields -- the most densely populated place on Earth.

Residents relied on the mainland for deliveries of food and, until 1957, water, but Gunkanjima was otherwise self-sufficient. Schools, playgrounds, cinemas, shops, a hospital, and even brothels operated in the tiny community. There were no motor vehicles or elevators -- steep concrete staircases that connected adjoining buildings were the only means of travel to ninth-floor apartments.

During the 1960s, Japan gradually switched from coal to petroleum for its fuel needs. As a result, coal mines across the country closed. Gunkanjima was no exception. In January 1974, Mitsubishi held a ceremony in the gymnasium to officially close its mining facility. With no reason to live on the island anymore, all residents abandoned their homes for the mainland within two months. Gunkanjima has been uninhabited ever since.

Decades of typhoons, wind, rain, and seawater have caused massive degradation to the monolithic buildings. Wooden planks regularly fall from the disintegrating balcony railings, landing on the piles of crumbled concrete below. Contorted steel beams and rusted iron frames protrude from the walls. Hints of domesticity remain: a teacup; a tricycle; a television manufactured in the 1960s. The only sounds on what was once the world's most crowded place are the whipping wind and crashing waves.

More photos of Gunkanjima Island can be seen on Atlas Obscura

Abandoned islands:

TODAY IN SLATE

History

The Self-Made Man

The story of America’s most pliable, pernicious, irrepressible myth.

Michigan’s Tradition of Football “Toughness” Needs to Go—Starting With Coach Hoke

Does Your Child Have “Sluggish Cognitive Tempo”? Or Is That Just a Disorder Made Up to Scare You?

The First Case of Ebola in America Has Been Diagnosed in Dallas

Why Indians in America Are Mad for India’s New Prime Minister

Damned Spot

Now Stare. Don’t Stop.

The perfect political wife’s loving gaze in campaign ads.

Building a Better Workplace

You Deserve a Pre-cation

The smartest job perk you’ve never heard of.

Don’t Panic! The U.S. Already Stops Ebola and Similar Diseases From Spreading. Here’s How.

Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD

The XX Factor
Sept. 30 2014 12:34 PM Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD
  News & Politics
Politics
Sept. 30 2014 6:59 PM The Democrats’ War at Home Can the president’s party defend itself from the president’s foreign policy blunders?
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 30 2014 7:02 PM At Long Last, eBay Sets PayPal Free
  Life
Gaming
Sept. 30 2014 7:35 PM Who Owns Scrabble’s Word List? Hasbro says the list of playable words belongs to the company. Players beg to differ.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 30 2014 12:34 PM Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Sept. 30 2014 3:21 PM Meet Jordan Weissmann Five questions with Slate’s senior business and economics correspondent.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 30 2014 4:45 PM Steven Soderbergh Is Doing Some Next-Level Work on The Knick
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 30 2014 7:00 PM There’s Going to Be a Live-Action Tetris Movie for Some Reason
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 30 2014 6:44 PM Ebola Was Already Here How the United States contains deadly hemorrhagic fevers.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 30 2014 5:54 PM Goodbye, Tough Guy It’s time for Michigan to fire its toughness-obsessed coach, Brady Hoke.