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Gunkanjima – Battleship Island

    Produced with content from the following Magnesium members:
    Photography © Ken Lee and Skorj / Magnesium All Rights Reserved
    Text  © Skorj / Magnesium All Rights Reserved

Along with two other photographers, I am sitting in a rented car. As we sit parked on a sparsely lit dock in the south of Japan, we are watching the sun rise. Even before our arrival it feels like a unique journey; short-hop commuter flights, business hotels, a rented Honda rep-mobile, plotted routes on topographical maps, ramen dinners and konbini breakfasts.

It is 04:30, and after having driven through the early hours from Nagasaki to a remote fishing village in search of our boatman, we are ready to embark on the final leg to our ultimate destination – Hashima. An abandoned island-city, Hashima remains untouched in the nearly forty years since its 5000 or so occupants vacated by boat, taking with them only a few scant possessions.

With mining operations established in 1810, on an island less than 500 metres long, Hashima’s well known legacy includes it once being the most densely populated place on earth, housing what was Japan’s tallest building, and its first large-scale reinforced concrete apartment block. The erroneous claim of this island city being shelled by the US Navy in World War Two, ‘as it looked like a battleship’, contributes to the legend of Gunkanjima, or Battleship Island, evident in the popular local nickname for Hashima.

Coming across a few fishermen, who are enjoying their last cigarette before returning home, we are gruffly told our boatman is on the other side of the dock. Approaching him within earshot of his companions, he mumbles nothing more than our departure time, and walks off. At sea, our boatman’s demeanor changes immediately to a jovial, entertaining host arranged at the behest of our sponsors, telling us stories of the sea, and of his Hashima. Forty-five minutes later, he lands us on Hashima, and three of us scramble ashore with a day’s supplies, cameras, and more film than I have ever carried.

After giving us his promise to return before sunset, our boatman maneuvers off station, leaving us alone with the silence of Hashima, awed, and not really sure of what to do next.

Photography: Ken Lee / Magnesium. Nikon F3 20mm and XP2 Super.

The feeling of being in some far off post-apocalyptic land is immense. To experience a place where every way you turn is abandoned desolation, immediately overwhelms; you do not need to imagine what it would be like to stand in a once occupied city after a plague, The Bomb, or at the end of time.

Everything from the hospital, the school, factories, apartments, the bathhouse, the gymnasium, and the shrines stands vacant. Dark canyons of fallen lumber fill the streets, collapsed roofs abound, the detritus of a modern life is scattered under your feet as you walk – washed from the buildings by the wind, the rain, and the sea.

With little more to hear than a plaintive sea bird, and ominously the occasional clattering sound of falling masonry and concrete, we step over telephones, sake cups, toothbrushes, broken toys, milk bottles, and curiously, dental tools, all laying under foot as we scramble over what were once streets, and through the vacant buildings.

It is tempting to try and extract a man-against-nature message when coming to Hashima. The message here however is simply one of isolation, the feeling of vulnerability, and the opportunity to travel back in time to explore the lives of a coal mining island-city; to experience a snapshot of life in Japan from the 1960s and 1970s.

I cannot speak for my companions, but over the course of a day on Hashima as we document what we see, I go from being a photographer intent on making some serious commentary with my work, to gawking like an American tourist in Paris.

With the declining need for coal in the 1970s, Mitsubishi closed operations over a period of a few short months, ferrying the inhabitants back to the mainland with not much more than what they could carry. What they left behind in 1974, is the Hashima you see now.

Photography: Skorj / Magnesium. Polaroid Type-665.

With the passing of ownership and control from the Mitsubishi Mining Corporation to the local Prefecture Office, a 220 meter public walkway has now been opened on the south end of the island. Twice-daily tours, either as a stand-alone Hashima access ticket, or as part of a regional historic pass, are now available. Hashima, as we experienced it, will most likely disappear with the expected advent of the eager day tripper.

Please contact licensing@magnesiumphotos.com for more information on licensing these photographs and others on this issue.

For more on abandoned Japan, click here.

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  1. By Gunkanjima: Battleship Island | Blog SDN on February 13, 2010 at 2:55 am

    [...] Ken Lee + Skorj for Magnesium. A stunning series of photographs shot in the abandoned Japanese island-city of Hashima. (image used courtesy of Magnesium, thanks, [...]

  2. By uberVU - social comments on February 13, 2010 at 6:13 am

    Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by magnesiumagency: Haunting photos of Japan’s Abandoned “Battleship Island” by Magnesium photographers Skorj and Ken Lee: http://bit.ly/Hashima

  3. By links for 2010-02-12 on February 13, 2010 at 7:02 am

    [...] Gunkanjima – Battleship Island Some amazing photos of Hashima Island (tags: photos photography japan) [...]

  4. By Gunkanjima – Battleship Island « Evilry on February 13, 2010 at 2:00 pm

    [...] Gunkanjima – Battleship Island Posted in daily evil by kevin powers | View commentsComments via magnesiumagency.com [...]

  5. By Gunkanjima: Battleship Island | timnhanh.us on February 13, 2010 at 6:01 pm

    [...] Ken Lee + Skorj for Magnesium. A stunning series of photographs shot in the abandoned Japanese island-city of Hashima. (image used courtesy of Magnesium, thanks, [...]

  6. [...] Island Ken Lee + Skorj for Magnesium. A series of photographs shot in the abandoned Japanese island-city of Hashima. Could be a pretty interesting travel [...]

  7. By t minus zero » Gunkanjima – Battleship Island on February 13, 2010 at 9:54 pm

    [...] “With mining operations established in 1810, on an island less than 500 metres long, Hashima’s well known legacy includes it once being the most densely populated place on earth, housing what was Japan’s tallest building, and its first large-scale reinforced concrete apartment block. The erroneous claim of this island city being shelled by the US Navy in World War Two, ‘as it looked like a battleship’, contributes to the legend of Gunkanjima, or Battleship Island, evident in the popular local nickname for Hashima. …” [story] [...]

  8. By Gunkanjima: Battleship Island | wwwhat's new? on February 14, 2010 at 2:17 am

    [...] Ken Lee + Skorj for Magnesium. A stunning series of photographs shot in the abandoned Japanese island-city of Hashima. (image used courtesy of Magnesium, thanks, [...]

  9. [...] crumbling infrastructure, but some Magnesium photographers snuck in anyway and emerged  with some pretty incredible black and white shots of the crumbling ghost city. Click through to see the photos and read their account. Some samples [...]

  10. [...] Ken Lee and Skorj for Magnesium. series of photographs shot in the abandoned Japanese island-city of Hashima. By msuphotosociety Leave a Comment Categories: Uncategorized http://magnesiumagency.com/2010/02/10/gunkanjima-battleship-island/ [...]

  11. By Photos from Battleship Island | Doobybrain.com on February 17, 2010 at 4:56 am

    [...] Magnesium Photos has some great images captured from the infamous abandoned island off the coast of Nagasaki, Japan known as “Battleship Island”. It’s official name, Hashima Island, was given to the place because of its close resemblance to an old Japanese battleship. Ever since I first heard about this place a few years back, I’ve always wanted to take a trip there to visit. Apparently it’s as haunted and as wonderful as it looks in photos (and I know, it’ll be the same if I visit, but the experience of being there is what I really want to go for). [...]

  12. By links for 2010-02-16 - Nerdcore on February 17, 2010 at 6:04 am

    [...] Magnesium» Gunkanjima – Battleship Island. (tags: Abandoned Photography) [...]

  13. [...] Magnesium Photos has some great images captured from the infamous abandoned island off the coast of Nagasaki, Japan known as “Battleship Island”. It’s official name, Hashima Island, was given to the place because of its close resemblance to an old Japanese battleship. Mitsubishi bought the island in 1890 and began the project, the aim of which was retrieving coal from undersea mines.As petroleum replaced coal in Japan in the 1960s, coal mines began shutting down all over the country, and Hashima’s mines were no exception. Mitsubishi officially announced the closing of the mine in 1974, and today it is empty and bare. Travel to Hashima was re-opened on April 22, 2009 after more than 20 years of closure. [...]

  14. By Un Japón abandonado « Prisionero del Pixel on February 17, 2010 at 8:17 am

    [...] Gunkanjima – Battleship Island [...]

  15. By Hashima Island | Jeriko on February 19, 2010 at 12:38 pm

    [...] Photos dort eher Knipsen-Charakter denn wirklich Charme. Nun waren aber Ken Lee und Skorj für die Magnesium Photo Agency ebenfalls dort unterwegs und haben mit einer Nikon F3 und einer Polaroidkamera genau diesen tristen [...]

  16. By Welcome to The Paradigm Exchange on February 19, 2010 at 4:03 pm

    [...] for abandoned places, and this is about as close to Atlantis as it gets.  Click through for a fascinating photo shoot of Battleship Island from the people over at [...]

  17. By Battleship Island | iconophilia on February 22, 2010 at 5:26 am

    [...] Once the most densely populated place on earth. On Magnesium Photos. [...]

  18. By The Zombie Years » Archive » “All City” Page 3 on February 24, 2010 at 4:02 am

    [...] that Miami could easily slip underwater, but also the amount it could deteriorate too. Look at Gunkanjima – Battleship Island off the coast of Japan, an abandoned island-city, Hashima remains untouched in the nearly forty years since its 5000 or so occupants vacated by [...]

  19. By 軍艦島相片 at 填鴨教室 on February 24, 2010 at 8:09 am

    [...] ● 2009年在東京成立的The Magnesium Agency,最近派遣了兩位成員前往日本長崎市高島町的端島(軍艦島)進行拍攝。這個19世紀末因為產煤而被高度開發的狹小都市,最長的部分只有480 公尺左右,然而在全盛時期居然住進了將近6000人(世界人口密度最高的地方)。由十米高人造岸壁圍起來的島嶼,裡面擁有完整的醫療、娛樂甚至教育設施,構成了奇異的生活場域。然而因為能源由煤氣轉往石油,軍艦島上的居民也在1974年全數撤出,留下了這個只聽得見海鳥鳴叫和看得見斷垣殘壁的荒敗景觀。下面附上的照片是由Ken Lee所攝。 [...]

  20. [...] of lumber flows through Gunkanjima….Published April 17, 2010Find more @ http://magnesiumagency.com/2010/02/10/gunkanjima-battleship-island/ Copyright © 2010 [...]

  21. [...] Amazing photos of the abandoned Hashima Island. [...]

  22. [...] to get to Battleship Island. There are two ways onto the island: the official front-door and the very unofficial back-door. Being more interested in the haikyo ruins boom the island has stoked and the campaign to have it [...]