Gunkanjima- The Abandoned Island

A mysterious island in Japan, lost in the depths of nearby locals’ memories.


My family and I had arrived in Nagasaki on a Monday afternoon. After some slight discrepancies with the car rental facilities at the airport were resolved, I was able to drive around with my international permit. We drove down to the port area to check out the surroundings, eat lunch, and find the hotel. After we got everything taken care of, we made our way over to the port of Nagasaki to see when the next tour cruise was.

“Gunkanjima, ship leaves at 3:30pm.” Just enough time to finish off lunch and rest a bit. We bought the tickets ahead of time and prepared ourselves for a mild cruise across blissful waves.

We got in line at 3:00 just to make sure we could get good seats. The ship itself was quite lovely, having a viewing dock in the backside, as well as a photo taking area on the 2nd floor. The tour guides provided their customers with some hard candy, and let the guests onto the ship. It looked peaceful enough sitting there in the docks, so we thought we could relax.

No more than 5 minutes into the ride did the ship start rocking violently as it crashed through the waves. Looking out the window, it felt like we were about to be capsized and left stranded in the ocean. My wife wasn’t able to handle the rocking, so she tried to sleep while I took out the camera and made my way up to the top floor. With the camera in 1 hand, and the guard rail in the other, I climbed my way up to the backside first, then toward the top. Having no other tourists on the top should have been an indication that something was either wrong or dangerous, but I ignored the signs anyway.

The view from the top was quite lovely, and it would have been perfect had the captain thought to slow the ship even a little. Unfortunately, the top was open on all sides except for a mini rail that rose up to my waistline. Most of the pictures I took from the top were very blurry because I wasn’t able to find the right footing, so I felt defeated and returned to my family in the lower portion of the ship, in which all the other tourists smartly stayed.

The ride took about half an hour despite the vicious speed the ship moved at. After that torturous ride, the ship suddenly slowed, and the captain announced we had arrived at Gunkanjima, the battleship island, abandoned for many years and protected by UNESCO as a world heritage site.

The island was more beautiful and mysterious feeling than these pictures give credit for. We were led by the tour guide off the ship and through a very limited course that would allow us to have a brief view of many of the different buildings that were once standing tall many years ago. The guide also gave us a brief history of the island, which was very monotonous and most people ignored him for photographic opportunities (poor guy… he was just doing his job). The main idea is that the island was originally inhabited because there was a coal mine hidden in the lower layers of the island. The miners couldn’t realistically travel back and forth every day from the island, and wanted to see their families more often. So, the government supported the idea of having normal citizens living on the island and built multiple apartments, a school, a hospital, and a post office for the inhabitants. It worked fine for quite a while, but the fad quickly died down, and people started leaving the island.

The remains that are seen were overgrown by nature, taken back to be recycled into the earth once more. That is, until UNESCO decided to step in and actively take part in preserving the scenery as it is known today. By keeping this unique abandoned town, people are able to see something quite different from any other place they could visit. When we were taking pictures, I felt like Spiderman or some other freak of nature would pop out of the buildings at any second.DSCN4096.JPGDoesn’t this just take your breath away? The crumbling walls, the debris of an abandoned civilization, and the sound of water crashing upon the walls below just draw about a serenity no other place in the world can give you. After we saw the rest of what we were allowed, we headed on back to the ship, to take the cursed ferry back to the main land, never to set foot on this island again.

dscn4110If you are into this sort of thing, I highly recommend visiting Gunkanjima as soon as you can! It is a fantastic trip, and Nagasaki isn’t bad either. There is a lot of fun stuff to do in the area, but nothing else is quite like this.

Always remember to enjoy your life and try new things because you never know what those experiences may bring to your life.

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