31 May 2010

The Nagasaki bay area has served as a site for Japanese industries for a long time, not that one could guess this looking at the lush green hills surrounding the coast. If of course you could just crop out the giant metallic obscenities sticking out. In an ironic twist, as some of these docks and factories have turned towards decline, a new business of showing off these capitalistic constructions through boat tours has proliferated.

So we board this ferry armed with simplified maps of the big sites we would hit along the way to the main act, Hashima Island, better known as Battleship Island (Gunkanshima). When at the end of the 19th century a large supply of coal was found in the land under the island, it fast became a massive mining complex owned by Mitsubishi Corporation. As the island expanded, rock wall constructions around the natural shoreline destroyed the islands natural appearance, morphing it into more of a ship-like appearance rather than an island, thus the name.

As the postwar economy expanded, the island’s population peaked to over 5,000 residents, resulting in an explosion of construction on the island. In 1959 the population density was the highest ever recorded worldwide. As petroleum replaced coal in Japan in the sixties, Hashima’s mines suffered, until in 1974 Mitsubishi officially announced the closing of the mine in 1974. Having been evacuated and abandoned in a hurry, the island has since suffered the wrath of many a typhoon and storm, resulting in the current dilapidated state of affairs on it. After more than 20 years of closure, tours began operating in 1999 as the profit potential of the site became apparent.

The actual site of the ghost island did not fail to impress, with its foreboding appearance as we approached it, turning into a more eery attraction the closer we got to it. The solid walls of the island stood in contrasting to the crumbling concrete, with metal structures exposed and corroding. There was an ephemeral, yet timeless feel to it. As if it would always stand in place, yet changing constantly. Trees had begun to stake their claim on the buildings, in the wind you could almost imagine people walking with them. The buildings have their own presence as if they exist simply by their own will, uninhabited, unused.

Leaving the island, it seems to have a magnetic affect on everyone on the boat, they lean over almost tipping off the ferry catching the last glimpse, capturing the last image. No one cares about the 100 million dock port as we move on, with fresh paint and clean lines, it just lacks character.

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