Hashima, the ghost island of Japan

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Hashima, also known as Gunkajima or Battleship Island due to its shape, is an abandoned island an hour away from the port of Nagasaki in Japan.

Mitsubishi bought the island in 1890 to use it as a base for an underwater coal mining facility. There, they built Japan’s first concrete building (9 stories high) in 1917 to accomodate the workers. In the following decades, Hashima became the most densely populated place on earth, with a population of over 5,200 people, or 83,500 people per square kilometre of the whole island.

During the Second Sino-Japanese War, between 1943 and 1945, the Japanese government and Mitsubishi transported Korean and Chinese prisoners to the island on Mitsubishi-owned ships known as “hellships,” and then forced them to handle the most dangerous work in the coal mines. Hundreds or thousands of the prisoners died to to the poor living conditions and coal mining accidents. Eventually, captives were freed in 1945 when the atomic bomb shook the windows of the island’s apartment blocks.

The island shut down in 1974 as a result of the decline in coal industry during the previous years. Since then, it was left abandoned before it was reopened for travel again in 2009. Hashima is also featured in the 2012 James Bond movie, Skyfall. Today, a process is underway to designate the island as an UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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