9 Days of Rustic Kyushu, Day 3 (Part 2): Hashima Island

Saturday, 28 January 2017


Day 3: Atomic Bomb Museum + Peace Park --> Hashima Island (端島) --> Glover Garden --> Mt Inasa Night View --> Hotel

007 fans! Can you recognise what's in the photo above?
That's right! It's the inspiration behind villain Raoul Silva's secret headquarters in the 007 James Bond movie Skyfall! When I found out, as someone who enjoys going to the movies, I knew I had to include it into the itinerary. Hence, after our morning at the bomb museum and peace park, we proceeded to Hashima Island (端島).
Hashima Island has another name, Gunkanjima (軍艦島) which roughly translates to mean Battleship Island. Well, if you look at the first photo, you probably can understand why that name was given. It definitely does look like some creepy floating battleship, doesn't it!
To get to Hashima Island, you will have to join one of the organised guided tours. The journey starts with a 30 minutes ferry ride where we passed by the Mitsuibishi factories. As it is a guided tour, there was a guide on-board as well as a documentary that was being shown. Unfortunately, it was all in Japanese and we could not understand a single thing that was being shared. Thankfully, it was a scenic ride and I spent my time grabbing pictures instead. My parents took a short nap though.

While doing my research online, I had read that on several occasions, especially if the seas was particularly rough or if the weather was not good, the tour boats may not be able to dock on the island itself. On those occasions, the ferries would instead make their way around the island before going off.
Hence, while I was precariously swaying on deck taking a gazillion photos, I was also fervently praying that we would be able to dock and get onto the island. I mean, why would I want to come this far only to just circle around the island?! And when our first attempt to dock wasn't successful, I wondered for a moment if we would really be that unlucky! Thankfully, the crew managed it on the second try and we all clambered off onto Hashima Island.
Once on Hashima Island, we were struck by how desolate the place was. All around us, the place was in complete ruins! Seriously, it doesn't take much to imagine it being a site for a Hollywood zombie flick. Ok, yeah I know Skyfall. Hashima Island makes for a good villain lair too. All those crumbling buildings are booby-traps themselves!
Having said that, it's not as if we were free to roam the place on our own. The guided tours were extremely strict about you keeping to designed routes. Any sign of attempted wandering, the few guides around would be quick to put a stop to it. I guess, no one wanted to deal with the curious tourist who fell through a floorboard.

Speaking of which, the guided tours catered mostly to the Japanese crowd. Nevertheless, there was a couple of guides who did very simple English translation for the international crowd. They also checked to see if you had someone accompanying who could do the translation. Once they realised that we had an accompanying guide, the tour operators would stop to ensure that our guide would do the translation for us before continuing with their spiel. Very professionally considerate!

Hashima Island was initially established in 1887 for undersea coal mining and its development spurred on by Japan's industrialisation period. The ruins were a perfect backdrop when we heard about its dark past as a site of forced labour during the Second World War. Indeed, the whispering winds that swept past sounded as if they were the moans of those war prisoners who perished on the island.
By 1959, Hashima Island reached its peak population of over 5000 and became one of the most densely populated places on earth. That's over 5000 people on a tiny 6.3 hectares plot of land! Still no sense of how tight that is? Ok, imagine over 5000 people trying to live and work within 4 soccer pitches. That's how insanely populated it was! Despite that, they could afford to build a hospital and even a theatre on that island!
Anyway, we also learnt that people abandoned the island once the coal mines were depleted in 1974. Overnight, Hashima Island became a ghost town. And in the 3 decades that followed, weather and sea waves destroyed whatever's left. Hashima Island was recently minted as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

When she heard this, my mom just couldn't wrap her head around it. We are fortunate to live in Singapore and hence we are very sheltered from disasters and calamities. Plus, mom's from the era where unfortunately, she was not able to complete even her primary education. For her, it was probably a first, in-the-face moment of how a place could turn to rubble so quickly. My mom first made sure she understood correctly that it was a mere 30 years. Thereafter, she kept asking me how bricks and stones could just "crumble like that" or if we abandoned Singapore, whether "Singapore would also crumble like that".

But that's what travelling should do right! For us to learn, experience and expand our horizons! I'm so glad we made this trip! Truly another highlight and I strongly recommend this. Except maybe try and do this either earlier in the morning or later in the day. We were on the 1:30 pm departing boat and did the tour in the mid-day scorching sun. By the way, there's no sheltered walkway on this tour, so you're going to have to literally brave the same elements that the dilapidated buildings do.

Tip: Bring a bottle of water with you, you're going to need it. An umbrella too if you don't mind carrying one around.

I think on my next trip with my parents, I'm going to have to carry a backpack instead. I ended up hauling all their bottled water in my shoulder tote. Add the weight of my camera and lens. It wasn't long before my shoulder let me know just how burdened it was!

So although it was a fascinating tour, in a way, I was also quite glad when they signalled that the visit was over and we had to return to the ferry. Out of the hot sun and off with the load!

Except, the tour hadn't really ended!

The ferry circled around the island for a 360 degrees view. There was some explanation going on at this time, so it was probably something significant that they were trying to share. But my guide was fast asleep so nothing there for us since we now had no one to help us translate. Instead I made my way onto the deck for the fantastic photo opportunity! Heh. That's when I got the first pic of this post.

By the time I returned to my seat, the Japanese tour operators were in the midst of doing a souvenir sale. We didn't get any as we prefer to buy food over kitschy keychains and stuff. Nevertheless, they presented each of us with a certificate when we got off the ferry at the end (Nagasaki Ferry Port Terminal) so there was still something for keepsake.

Tourist Information

Hashima Island
Get your tour tickets from Nagasaki Port Ferry Terminal
Ticket price: 300 yen

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