Not always, with google maps street view, you can only travel through the known places of the world. Sometimes it happens to find something new and unexplored, such as the incredible Hashima Island, also known as “Battleship Island”, in Japan, near to the southern city of Nagasaki, since 2009 open to tourists who want to visit it, and also an UNESCO World Heritage Site. The island is ringed by a seawall, covered in tightly packed buildings and has been completely uninhabited for more than forty years. Obviously some local people are convinced that this unique site it’s haunted. The island is a terrifying memory of the forced work of the second World War. But I prefer tell the story from scratch.
In the early 1900s people believed (correctly) that the island was sitting on a rich submarine coal deposit. For almost the next hundred years, the mine grew deeper and longer, under the seabed, to harvest the coal that was powering Japan’s industrial expansion. By 1941, the island, with an area of about one square kilometer, was producing 400,000 tonnes of coal per year.
Korean conscripted civilians and Chinese prisoners of war were forced to work here, at the Mitsubishi factory, and it’s estimated that over 1,300 labourers died on the island for problems like malnutrition and exhaustion. Even more remarkable than the mine and the workers, was the city that had grown up around this area. To accommodate the miners, ten-story apartment complexes were built up on the rock with apartments and residential areas linked together by courtyards, corridors, and stairs. There were also schools and restaurants, all encircled by the protective seawall. In this period the island became known as “Midori nashi Shima,” the island without green, in the mid-1950s almost six thousand people living here, and had highest population density the world has ever known.
But the mine was closed in 1974 for decrease of the coal. When the coal ran out, everyone left, and all the island was abandoned. The apartments began to crumble, and for the first time, in the grey courtyards, the nature started to grow. Now, lot of years later, the island is exactly as it was just after Mitsubishi left. A ghost town in the middle of the sea.
Now the island is very popular also for filmmakers, and has been a filming location for 2012 James Bond film Skyfall.