Hashima Islands abandoned 16 acres of nowadays wasteland are redolent with decay and frosted-over by the still extant memories of dark shadows surrounding certain aspects of its more recent past
The place has a complicated history and any modern-day visitor will be exposed to a living example of how and for whatever reason when any kind of architectural structure is purposefully abandoned, the concrete will crumble and nature will simply regain its hegemony by covering-over the once inhabited, man-made linear structures with its own anarchic and analog wilderness of florescent growths.
Hashima like Pripyat (abandoned after the April 1986 Chernobyl disaster in the Ukraine) is another fine example of such a reclaiming: and these are only two of many
Situated about nine miles offshore from the city of Nagasaki, Hashima is nestled by its surrounding seas: abandoned by its inhabitants and steeped in a history that at moments has been both cruel and watered by tears.
Coal having been discovered there in the early 1800s between 1887 and until 1974, the island had once been an important resource due to its undersea reserves: contributing an important part within the rapid expansion of Japans economy due to its late nineteenth and early 20th century industrialisation.
Equally known amongst both locals and the administration as Gunkanjima (meaning Battleship Island for its seeming resemblance to a naval asset) Hashima fulfilled its function as a coal-mining facility until with the depletion of its reserves, and the advent oil as a replacement fuel the mines were eventually to close and the people to migrate away from its shores.
Over the next thirty years, Hashima Island was to be completely ignored: until as the once hard contours of concrete disintegrated becoming softened and blurred by the encroaching vegetation, the islands undisturbed and historic ruins caught the attention of a select few moved by such interests.
During the Second World War, Hashimas history reflects a darker and more sinister side of its existence as Japanese wartime mobilization policies had exploited both enlisted Korean civilians and Chinese prisoners-of-war to work in its mines as forced labourers.
Existing under the harshest of conditions, it has been estimated that, between the early 1930s and Japans capitulation in the final months of 1945, over 1,000 workers died within its mining galleries as a result of the unsafe working conditions, an endemic malnutrition and a perpetual state of exhaustion.
In 2015, the island was eventually named as a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) World Heritage Historical Site and as a newly-found Tourist site, the island is now host to visiting groups ofvarious curious individuals interested in its past.
Nevertheless, despite its evident attraction to a certain segment of the population, the islands legacy remains an enigma as there is a lack of clarity as to whether Hashimas past as an integral and important, contributive element to Japans Industrial Revolution should or should not take precedence over its other, more sinister and poignantiteration as an example of how the Emperors administration had forced labourers from different countries into enduring an excruciatingly horrific and murderous environment.
After the initial discovery of the islands coal resources during the mid-1800s, Japan had embarked on a period of rapid industrial development and in an attempt to catch-up with western colonial powers had utilized Hashima Island as its primary resource.
The island had initially been purchased by the MITSUBISHI Daiymo family in 1890, and subsequent to its purchase the owners had embarked on a development program whose initial expression had been to build the sea walls necessaryfor securing the planned undersea mining operation
Later, during 1916, Japans first large reinforced concrete building a seven-floor apartment block was built to house the miners and this construction method had been selected as a means of protecting both this facility and the later addition of different apartment complexes, a hospital and a school from any potential damage caused by typhoons.
At the height of its exploitation as a coal-mining facility, in 1959, Hashima Island had become home to a peak population of 5,259 residents: after this occupational high-point and as petroleum came to replace coal Mitsubishi finally closed the facility in 1974 permanently decommissioning both the mines and the island's associated infrastructures.
Naturally, when the operational function of Hashima ceased, so too did the people begin to leave and within the very short period of three months, the island had become a ghost-town.
As nobody then remained to maintain the structures following the population's desertion, over the following years, many of the original structures eventually collapsed and decayed into forlornpiles of mouldering rubble.
However, even though the population had entirely gone elsewhere and there was no-one at all left present, Mitsubishi had maintained ownership of the island and in 2002, the company eventually transferred its rights to Takashima Town which itself was later absorbed by the city of Nagasaki some three years later.
Four years after that, in 2009, and following the restoration of certain collapsed walls, the island with its undisturbed housing complexes was opened to tourists who find the locations unique environment specifically that aspect of its crammed buildings having undergone weathering from corrosion due to the harshness of its sea-surrounded environment has made it a site worth studying.
Accumulated reinforced concrete ruins do not seem to exist except on Hashima, says Takafumi NOGUCHI a researcher, who also added Concrete structures built in ancient Rome are the only competitor, but they do not contain any reinforcing steel.
Along with a team of other researchers, in 2011 Mr. Noguchi had beguninventorying the island to see what might be required in order to save the crumbling buildings.
Despite its now burgeoningattraction as a specialised tourism destination and its appearance within various scenes of a few famous films as an interesting 'set' (viz: James BondsSkyfall) the largest part of the island still remains off-limits to visitors as the massive investments needed to ensure the safety of the aged buildings would ultimately jeopardize the historical state of the property.
The controversy centeringaround certain aspects of the islands dark past relate to the later revelation of the harrowing experiences reported bysuch "slave labourers" who had survived their incarceration and the echoes of that former epoch add an entirely different layer of eeriness tothe Island's character.
Following Japans colonisation of Korea and their invasion of Manchurian China, during the in the 1930s and 1940s, they hadforcibly recruited thousands of captured citizens and prisoners-of-war people to work as labourers within the mines.
Survivors have whilst bearing witness to their past, grim experiences on the Island described the conditions in which they worked and lived as having been totally gruelling: apart from the oppressive humidity of the weather, food was also scarce and,should they not deliver their mandated quotas, they would be severely beaten.
Whilst the initial submission to be included in the UNESCOs list of World Heritage Sites fully extolled the feats of Japans successful industrialization and the islands seminalrole as a part of that achievement between the 1850s and 1910, no mention had been made related to the labourers from both Korea and China who had been forced to contribute with both their energies and even lives.
Indeed, between 1925 and 1945, the local records state that 15 Chinese and 123 Korean people died on the island whilst working around, or within, the mines and due to the islands association with wartime slave labourers, South Korea formally objected to its bid for recognition.
Subsequently, at the WHC meeting in July 2015, Japans ambassador to UNESCO, Kuni SATO, acknowledgedthat a large number of Koreans and others had been forced to work under harsh conditions at some of the sites duringthe 1940s.
She also promised that an Information Center would be set-up explaining the history and circumstances of the labourers who had been sent to work there on the island.
Following this admission, South Korea withdrew its opposition and the site was subsequently approved for inclusion on the UNESCO World Heritage list even though the tension surrounding the subject still hasnt dissipated entirely as Japanese officials have repeatedly declined to use the term forced labour or refer to the Korean workers as slaves.
The history embraced within the enclosure of the island and behind its seawalls is redolent with many realities which, apart fromits evident importance as an example of an industrial complex overcoming the potential power of Nature to achieve a certain success, is also important for therichness of its human histories.
Though these past concepts may nowadays appear to be somewhat "abstract", it cannot be denied that this Japanese island is a very real mirror to the past and how, over time, Nature will always overcome even the most determined of human efforts to hold it at bay.
- Refs Credits:
Site made from GoogleEarth walk-throughs.
Adapted, with thanks and recognition, to Kara Goldfarbs original researched content May 2018