Off the coast of Japan is a tiny island, Hashima, which is situated off the mainland Nagasaki Prefecture about 15 kilometres (9 miles) from Nagasaki. The island is alternatively known as Gunkanjima or Battleship Island. The island resembles a battle ship when viewed from the sea. It is very small being only 6.3 hectares (16 acres) in size and is bleak: the island has hardly any vegetation.
This island used to house a large population of coal miners who worked in undersea coal mines but today is abandoned. There are disused and undisturbed concrete apartment buildings that once used to house the workers.
A Scottish merchant, Thomas B. Glover, imported modern mining equipment from the UK to Japan. A vertical shaft mine was introduced in the nearby Takashima island. In 1869 a coal seam was discovered at a depth of 45 meters underground. This was Japan’s first modern coal mine, and it lead to developments of coal mining on the island at Hashima.
The island was developed from around 1887 onwards to extract coal from a mine and the concrete construction of the buildings was pioneering in Japan. It was in 1916 that a reinforced concrete apartment block was constructed. This aimed to alleviate the shortage of housing space and to prevent typhoon damage. This was Japan’s first concrete building of any significant size. It was followed in 1918 by a concrete building that had nine stories. In the late 1950s the population of the island was at a peak of 5,259 people. This equated to a very high population density of 835 people per hectare (83,500 people per square kilometre or 216,264 people per square mile).
Coal production peaked at 410,000 tons in 1941. In the 1960s as oil replaced coal, the island declined and was finally abandoned in 1974 when the mine closed. Several of the historical concrete buildings were abandoned. Some have collapsed over the years and the island is a legacy to changes in energy supply and the modernisation of Japan with western concrete buildings and new mining techniques.
For more on the history of the island see this link. There is also consideration of the harsh conditions in the coal mine where prisoners of war worked during World War 2.
Hashima island was ultimately exploited for it’s carbon reserves. Its abandonment hints at its unsustainable future. All food and water had, initially at least, to be imported and the island is bleak with little natural vegetation. It supported a huge population of workers in very cramped conditions at its peak, but the people were there to work and perhaps would not have gone there for any other reason. The island is still abandoned but can be visited as a tourist.