“Ghosts of great cities, ruins of empires, their specters arise.
No sign of the living beneath these skies.”
— “Up From The Wasteland” by Kerry Livgren
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Recently, for my birthday in July, my daughter treated me to the movie, Inception. Part of the treat was seeing it on an IMAX screen and with an advertised 12,000 watts of sound. It was a jaw dropping experience, both from the movie and the presentation.
Near the end — and without giving anything away from the movie (I hate it when that happens) — a decaying city appears. Almost instantly I remembered photos from an island off the coast of Japan that shared a similar look. The buildings weren’t as high, but there was something about the feel of the location…
So, I started my “Indiana Jones” searching, and uncovered what was once the most densely populated area on planet earth. According to Wikipedia, in 1959, the population density of Hashima Island was 835 people per hectare. (A hectare is right around 2.5 acres.) In the video referenced below, it is written: “Here people were cramped up on an area roughly a square meter and a half per person.” How’s that for a distinctively crowded place?
Commonly called Gunkanjima or Gunkanshima, meaning Battleship Island, the island was originally a coal mining operation, populated from 1887 to 1974. Because of the high sea walls around it, if you view it from sea level, it has the appearance of a Japanese battleship, though without any “crew” aboard. With its crumbling high rises and disintegrating buildings, this “Ghost Island” has been completely abandoned.
Pictures of Hashima Island
You can see photos of Hashima Island by clicking the small squares in the upper right of this article. (Clicking on the photo will make it an even larger view) In all of my research of this creepy, abandoned place, there is one website, in my opinion, that has the best still photos. But there’s a catch: The pages are all in Japanese. But, hey, when have I ever let obstacles stop me! So, rising to the challenge, I signed up at my local university, took a 4-semester crash course in Japanese, and had time left over to take my sweetheart to Makoto’s in Melbourne. (Actually, can you guess the likelihood of that happening? That crash course — uhh, no. The other? “Hello, Makoto’s? Can I get a reservation for two, please?“)
Ok, so I may not speak or read Japanese, but that doesn’t mean I can’t make this site easier for all the English reading urban explorers out there. Below are links to the six pages that host these great photographs. I’ve made each of the links open up in new windows, so hopefully that’ll help you from getting “lost in Japan”.
Hashima Island Photos – Page 1 of 6
Hashima Island Photos – Page 2 of 6
Hashima Island Photos – Page 3 of 6
Hashima Island Photos – Page 4 of 6
Hashima Island Photos – Page 5 of 6
Hashima Island Photos – Page 6 of 6
Another great website is Gunkanjima: Ruins of a Forbidden Island (click here) which chronicals (in English) the adventure of secretly getting on the island and exploring within. The photography is superb, with very large images. Some of the pictures of people sitting on the ledges of crumbling buildings is enough to make my stomach drop. You’ll also find a nicely done map of the island’s layout.
I also found an excellent video by Thomas Nordanstad that can show you more of Hashima’s history. It’s told through the eyes of a man who was born on the island, and later returned to it in 2002. The audio is in Japanese, but the English subtitles are easy enough to follow. He seems to struggle with a lot of emotions as he visits the deserted buildings where his family, girlfriend and friends once lived and worked. And when he finds the ancient, dusty television sitting on that bleak table… there was a moment where I hoped it would suddenly come to life, bringing some happy memory or show… but it only stared blankly.
Japanese Hashima Video – Part 1 – Click Here (Note: The author mentions that Part 2 was rolled into this one… so I guess that’s why I wasn’t able to find a “Part 2”)
What adventure would be complete without the Google Maps location of this ghost island? The GoogleSightSeeing site has a nice map that you can click in and out of. To see it now, Click Here.
No sign of the living…
From the most densely populated place on earth, to a population of zero… Why do places like this so fascinate me? There’s no doubt that if I ever had the chance to visit this place, I’d go. No question about it. Just like I’d jump at the opportunity to explore the ruins of Florida’s Splendid China. (Click here for that adventure!)
So, why the fascination?
I’m not sure.
Guess I’m still sorting that all out.
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