Showing posts with label gunkanjima. Show all posts
Showing posts with label gunkanjima. Show all posts

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

On Battleship Island

Since Gunkanjima re-opened to visitors last year the tours have proved to be very popular. I was lucky to get the very last seat. The part of the island that is open is at the industrial end, and visitors are fenced in and herded by guides.


When inhabited the island had schools, a hospital, a temple, shrine, a brothel, cinema, and a pachinko parlor. All things that are needed for a civilized life. However absolutely everything had to be shipped in from the mainland including all the fresh water.


The guides give plenty of explanations and information (in japanese only), and the island has applied for World Heritage status, but they would need to make an effort to make information available in English. Of course there is a part of Gunkanjima's history that the guides don't mention.


During the last years of the war the mine, like most mines in Japan at that time, was worked by slaves, mostly Korean and Chinese. The slaves were of course not paid, and the regulations for controlling the slaves called for "extreme camp security, inferior clothing, overcrowded sleeping quarters, primitive sanitation with no bathing facilities, limited medical care, and minimal amounts of the poorest quality food—which was to be withheld as necessary to ensure discipline." Obviously, the death rate was very high.


While some Japanese companies that used slave labor have apologised and paid compensation, Mitsubishi, probably the company that benefited most from slave labor, have absolutely refused to pay anything, and their continued denials make for a sad indictment of Japanese corporate greed, though the main thrust of their argument is that to admit to it would saddle Japan with "a mistaken burden of the soul" for hundreds of years. An excellent article on the subject is here

 To make the place a World heritage Site without dealing with this unsavory episode of its history would be a mistake, I think.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Battleship Island: The ultimate haikyo

Gunkanjima (Battleship island) is the nickname of Hashima, a very small uninhabited island about 15k from Nagasaki. Why that is its nickname should be obvious from this first photo.


Originally much smaller than its current size, at the end of the 19th Century coal was discovered under the island and Mitsubishi began mining. As rock was brought up from the tunnel digging it was used to expand the island and protect it with a big sea wall.


At the mine's peak in the late 1950's the island had a population of 5,300 people, which translates to a density of 216,264 people per square mile, certainly among the highest in the world.


In 1974 the mine closed and all the people moved off, and the buildings began to crumble. Incidentally, Japans first large concrete building, a 9 storey apartment block was built here.


There are regular tour boats from Nagasaki that circle the island, and since 2009 there have been tours that actually visit the island, though only a small section, fenced off, is currently accessible, but the plan is to extend the accessible sections. Photos from on the island tomorrow.


Fans of the 2012 James Bond movie "Skyfall" may think they recognize the island, and in fact it was used as a model for the lair of the villain Raoul Silva, but it was filmed on a lot at the studio in London.