Sunday, October 11, 2015

Nagasaki Day 2: Battleship Island (Gunkanjima)

Nagasaki Day 1: Atomic Bomb Museum
Nagasaki Day 2: Battleship Island (Gunkanjima)
Nagasaki Day 3: Cruise Ship, Glover Garden, Mt Inasa
Nagasaki Day 4: Temple Street, Wrap-up

Today was another early start. We had to be at Nagasaki Port by 8.30 am to take the Battleship Island ferry.

Battleship Island's real name is Hashima, located about 15 km to the southwest of Nagasaki. It's a small island, measuring only 480 meters long and 160 meters across. The island came into prominence in the late 19th century when undersea coal mines were established there. At the time Japan was rapidly industrializing so the demand for coal was high and that brought a lot of settlers to Hashima. The whole operation kept going until coal reserves depleted and the island was finally abandoned in 1974.

The island was reopened to visitors in 2009, and only earlier this year named as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The name Battleship Island comes from the fact that the island is surrounded by a sea wall, and also has multi-story reinforced concrete apartment blocks, and so from afar it looks like a warship. In Japanese it is known as Gunkanjima, gunkan being Japanese for battleship.

This was our ferry, the Marbella. We arrived at the appointed time of 8.30 yet still there was a long line to get on in front of us. We had booked tickets in advance but I was worried with the line that we wouldn't be able to get seats in the unenclosed section at the top. Being wary of getting motion sickness, I prefer somewhere you can get fresh air. Luckily we managed, they weren't the best seats but at least we weren't inside.

On the way over we passed the Mitsubishi docks. Mitsubishi Heavy Industry has a big presence around Nagasaki Harbor, and in fact that was one of the reasons why Nagasaki was a secondary target for the atomic bombing. Mitsubishi were also the owners of the coal mine on Hashima.

We passed under the Megami Bridge, which we were told is the longest cable bridge in Kyushu and the 6th longest in Japan.

About 45 minutes into the ride we caught our first glimpse of the island.

Closer look at the seawall:

The structures are all falling apart. In a way that's quite peculiar, because it has only been around 40 years since the island was abandoned. You'd think concrete buildings would stick around for longer than that. Though granted, there have been several large earthquakes since, and while elsewhere the building codes keep getting improved, that obviously hasn't happened here. Typhoons have also battered the buildings into disrepair.

This next building used to be an apartment block.

Seven stories tall, this is the oldest reinforced concrete apartment building in Japan. Known as Glover House, it served as housing for the miners of Hashima.

At its peak, the population of the island was 5,300, with a population density nine times higher than that of Tokyo, which would probably make it high in the running for highest worldwide.

Unfortunately you can't explore the island freely, everyone's bound to a tourist trail so to speak with three different observation or viewing areas from where you're allowed to take pictures.

The white building in the background is Hashima School. The first four floors were an elementary school, while five through seven were junior high.

We were told that the school was used as a backdrop for shooting in the James Bond movie Skyfall, serving as the lair for villain Raoul Silva played by Javier Bardem. However it appears that while the island was certainly an inspiration for the lair, no actual filming took place there due to the precarious nature of the structures.

The tour was fairly short, given that you can't really go anywhere on the island. Although we did see a few people fishing from on top of the surrounding wall. Wonder how they get to do that.

Back on the boat we circled the island a few times to get a better look at the profile.

We were back in Nagasaki at 11.30, so the whole tour took around 2.5 hours.

After lunch we had planned to do more sightseeing but the fatigue of waking up early two days in a row took its toll and instead we went back to the hotel and napped straight through till around 5 PM.

In the early evening I went for a run. I'm training for a half marathon in December but have been slacking off a bit and skipping the long runs on weekends. Having skipped last weekend, I didn't want to make it two weeks in row, so mustered up some will power and headed to a park nearby. I'm glad I did because it was really nice out, the park is right on the harbor and the views were awesome.

Dinner was at a seafood restaurant right by the water. I had salmon and tuna over rice plus some fried shrimp. It was delicious.

The scenery wasn't bad either.

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