By Ryo Sumikawa
No One Can Set Foot on the ‘Real Gunkan Island’
A towering pier, a concrete yellowish block under the evening sunshine; what a powerful view. The “Gunkan” (Battleship) Island was named after the real battleship Tosa because of its similar appearance. Its real name is Hashima Island. Within the space of 160 meters from east to west and 490 meters north to south, 5,300 people used to live there in the 1960s. The population density is 10 times higher than Tokyo.
In 1915、the first concrete high-rise apartment buildings were built with a garden, and a nursery school on the rooftop. Good-quality coal which was produced here supported the economic growth of Japan at the time.
There is an excursion ship from Nagasaki port, but I purposely took a small ship from Nobosaki. I asked the captain of the boat if I could set foot on the island and, after a brief silence, he whispered to me, “Fishermen usually go there. Why don’t you bring a rod and take a fishing boat?”
Various types of groups such as musicians came for a range of activities but, somehow, it sounded like well-thumbed adventures to me. Some local people feel sad about others coming to the island.
He also told me he used to work on Gunkan Island as a miner in his 20s. I asked if the work was hard.
“No, it was really fun. The pay was good and the time was so much powerful then,” he answered. “On my day off, I went to Nagasaki to have fun.”
I asked if he went to Doza (a famous downtown area of Nagasaki), and he said “yes” with big smile on his face, alluding some secrets hidden behind it. Maybe that is the Gunkan Island on which none of us could set foot.
Ryo Sumikawa is an editor at the outdoor magazine BE-PAL.
Photo by Munemasa Takahashi