Hashima Island or the Shipwreck Island is the perfect place to shoot a horror film. The town was even used as a filming location for Skyfall, but getting there is far less scary than what was featured in the famous movie. Since 2009, there are organized tours to Hashima Island. It takes a 40-minute boat ride from Nagasaki to spend an hour on the island. Tourists can see only a quarter of the island, but they are not allowed to get close to any of the buildings.
There is a simple explanation for this – the ruins are extremely dangerous. For nearly a hundred years, a number of mines owned by Mitsubishi were operating on the island of Hashima. The miners inhabited the first concrete sky-rises in Japan, and up until in 1956 a total number of 5,259 people lived in an area of only 720 acres. However, by 1974 gas replaced coal as a primary fuel source in Japan, and Mitsubishi started withdrawing from the island. Miners were forced to find work outside of Hashima.
Although the island is not abandoned overnight, it certainly looks like it. In the local school you will find forgotten textbooks amid the broken desks, X-ray images in the hospital, and shoes in the streets. Hashima looks like the Japanese equivalent of Pripyat in Chernobyl, and there are also eerie stories about it.
One of the few tour guides that can take you to Hashima had lived in the island at a time when it was still a center of mining. “It reminded me of Hong Kong. It was very noisy. Housewives borrowed each other spices and shared food. Nobody locked the doors. An elderly woman was constantly controlling everyone who entered and everyone knew everything about everybody,” he recalled.
However, it was not all “la vie en rose”. During World War II, Hashima, like many other industrial centers in Japan, was a center of forced labor. Korean and Chinese prisoners of war were kept here and were given to perform the most difficult tasks. They were exposed to the unbearable heat and humidity for days on end and were given very little food. According to local testimonies, 123 Koreans and 15 Chinese lost their lives here, between the years of 1925 and 1945.
Still, Hashima is one of the few industrial cities in the world that awaits inclusion in the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites. South Korea, on the other hand, opposed the granting of the award to Hashima, because of its notorious past. Former Chinese prisoners are still trying to get compensation and an official apology from Mitsubishi for their treatment. For many countries in Asia, this place is a symbol of war wounds that cannot heal. For the Japanese, it is a dilapidated testimony of past times.