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Gunkanjima: Photos & Stories

Gunkanjima: Photos & Stories

Gunkanjima is an abandoned island in Nagasaki prefecture. The island is famed for its unbelievable appearance: surrounded by a sea wall, it is an entire abandoned city with huge concrete buildings. The island’s original name is Hashima but it’s better known as Gunkanjima (Battleship Island) because it looks like a military warship. It became even better known after a digital version featured in the James Bond movie Skyfall. Gunkanjima became an UNESCO World Heritage on July 5th 2015. I’ve had the chance to visit Gunkanjima a few times in recent years.

Official Tour & Unofficial Tour

There are official tours of Gunkanjima, but you’ll be restricted to the area shown below in purple. You’ll need permission from Nagasaki prefecture (and a specific project, written in Japanese). This isn’t easy to get nowadays but of course it’s worth it.

I’ve written a few pieces on Gunkanjima in separate articles and this is a summary. Don’t miss my night walk and the interview with a former resident of Gunkanjima.

What is Gunkanjima

Gunkanjima was an undersea coal mine located on an island, bought by Mitsubishi in 1890 from a feudal lord. Mine shafts were dug, a village was constructed and some land was reclaimed. The island grew in size. The first apartment building (Block 30) was completed in 1916 – reinforced concrete had arrived in Japan. The village quickly became a city that looks like a monstrous maze of concrete. In 1959, this small island had the highest population density on Earth: 5,259 residents (7,301 people/km2)! But as petroleum began to replace coal the miners and other residents began to leave the island, which finally closed down in 1974. Mitsubishi handed it over to Nagasaki in 2001 and since 2009 it has been open for public tours. In 2015, Nagasaki announced that the main buildings of Gunkanjima are to be maintained, with a view to being recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

My First Visit

I first visited the island in 2010. It was only for an hour, all I could negotiate at the time, but I made the most of the time running around. The result isn’t pretty but was a lot of fun. To make it more interesting I added some history. Here it is: A One Hour Adventure on Gunkanjima.

The Block 65

One of the most popular aspects of Gunkanjima seems to be the huge concrete apartment building called Block 65. Recognize one of the scenes from the Skyfall movie? I’ll take you to explore those apartments here: Block 65.

The School

The school, one of the first places you discover when you reach the forbidden area, is one of my favourites. Discover it here: The School of Gunkanjima.

Doutoku Sakamoto’s Memories

I met and explored Gunkanjima with a former resident, Doutoku Sakamoto. He loves this island with all his heart and is one of the official guides. I asked him to tag along with me and my friends and he kindly took us to the places he loves. Discover his interview here: The Memories of Doutoku Sakamoto.

A Maze of Streets and Stairs

Everything can be found in this abandoned city: two schools, shops, hospital, prison, swimming pool, cinema, gymnasium, all tightly squeezed into a very confined space. More here : A Maze of Streets & Hellish Staircases

Between Hell & Paradise

Gunkanjima is not loved by everyone. It has many painful stories to tell as well as happy moments. Let’s explore these contrasts here: Gunkanjima: Between Hell & Paradise.

Gunkanjima by night

One of my favourite moments was a stroll on the island by night, warmed only by some sake. Follow my walk here: Gunkanjima by night.

The Shrine, The Mine, The Hospital

I’ll soon be writing about those three special places but meanwhile I’m looking out more interesting and surprising details. To avoid missing any new posts, you can follow me on Twitter or Facebook.

Don’t hesitate to spend time on those articles, ask questions in the comments, etc. I also suggest you have a look at my book, it is called Abandoned Japan and it is available on Amazon.

Abandoned Japan Book

  • Sylvain Bodin

    These series of articles seem interesting. I can’t wait to read the first one, and see these photos, especially the (in)famous block 65

    • Should I keep the best the end? :p Honestly, it depends more on the photo and lighting that a specific place. The whole area is impressive, maybe except the mine which is a little bare and too demolished.

  • Loan Nguyen

    Haunting! Did you manage to sleep a bit?

    • haha, it was not the haunting part that is bothering us, it was really the coldness and the crazy mosquitoes. >< 

      • eric (new york)

        A very interesting site!

        I wonder how the mosquitoes manage to stay alive on a deserted island. I’m sure there are plenty of pools of water for them to grow in. But what then? The life of a mosquito on a deserted island, with no warm creatures to feed on, must be short and frustrating.

        • Thanks Eric! Yes, I wonder as well actually… I tried to find an answer to that question but I really can’t. Well, for now, let’s call it a mystery!

    • We were “camping” in the school at the 5th floor to avoid the mosquitos. Unfortunately the wind was strong and humid and made it impossible for us to stay warm! I slept for maybe half an hour or so. I should have taken more pictures instead 🙂

  • Lee

    I know exactly what you mean, but it’s excellent to hear everything worked out. Looking forward to the photos.

    • Thanks I’m working hard on that. And next, I’ll try to find a way to this other island I told you about. We just found another idea to get there… I’ll tell you more about it!

  • Nice! I can’t wait to see the photos!  Especially the night photography!  I want to add Hashima to my collection of urbex star trails locations!  🙂

    • I don’t expect too much from the night photography. Stunning because it’s Gunkanjima, but could have been better with more skills. I’m still pretty new to this! I did a star trail there as well (my first one!) and will post it 🙂

      •  I’ve been doing star trails for years, so I’d be happy to share any tips or answer any questions!  🙂

        • Here is how I do it basically: 30 seconds (or more) exposure non-stop (for 2-3 hours), anti-noise turned off (to avoid the gaps), infinity focus, the widest I can (12-14mm), f/16, and ISO depending on the available light, and then I compile everything with Is there any special super tip? 🙂 

          • Your settings are very close to the formula I use.  The only changes I would suggest are the widest aperture (f/3.5 on the 10-22mm for me) and ISO 100.  The low ISO reduces noise.  The wide aperture naturally gives you the most light.  I would leave all other settings as you have them.  These are the setting recommended to me by a couple of film photographers that specialize in star trails.  🙂

            I use StarStaX, but the software is generally the same.

          • StarStaX has an OSX version, cool! I will give it a try then. Okay, I will try your settings next time I’m out of Tokyo, here it’s impossible to do serious work during the night. Let me know when you’re coming back over here, I would have way more pleasure not to do that alone 🙂

          •  I may be back sooner than expected. 😉 I’ll keep you posted!

          • Super! I hope to see you soon 🙂

  • Really impressive work – I’m looking forward to see more!

  • Really impressive work – I’m looking forward to see more!

  • Slickingb

    Wow that is amazing. I look forward into your discoveries. Good luck and I will love to be kept updated.

    • Thanks! Follow me on Twitter for example and you’ll be updated! 🙂 Next article is round the corner.

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  • monie

    How far is this “island” fron Okinawa?

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  • Hi! Great pictures from this really weird place. How did you get (if you did) the authorisation to stay there and access those normally strictly restricted areas?

    • I unfortunately didn’t, and “flied” there (let’s keep it to that). It’s definitely possible to get an authorization though, a few urban explorers did it last year, and were able to spend a few afternoons on the island.

    • Recently through Nagasaki Ward Office.

  • Cool !!

  • Haunting stuff!

    • Did you check all the articles? Which one is your favorite for now?

      • Yes I did! My favourites have been the apartments and the school. The night time photos too felt… spiritual.

  • AlexW

    Can’t wait to see the other articles. I love your photos, some amazing shots.

    • Which one did you prefer so far? Yes, I really have to write them, the photos have been ready for quite some time already 🙂

  • Audiiyan

    Wow~ All these photos are really amazing! I am really excited to see the rest of the photos. 😀

    • Thank you 🙂 Did you check the other articles? Please share this article with you friend if you really like it ^^

  • Michikohime

    Some part of it makes me think about the Wii game “Fragile Dreams”

    • The game looks like it has been copied on the haikyo called “Maya Hotel” instead. You can look on Totoro Times, there is an article about it too.

      • Michikohime

        Thank you 🙂

  • Carolyn Servais

    Wonderful Information! Can’t wait to read the rest of the articles. Outstanding information.

  • Martin Brenner

    The calculator in “The Haunted School” seems to be a Diehl like one in this PDF:
    probably the V 15/18 or VR 15/18 from about 1960.

    It must have been a special version for the Japanese market because of the different coloring of the digit keys, where the German machines have 1+3+3+2 columns this machine has 3+3+3 probably because the Yen doesn’t have any “cents”.

    Great photos!

  • George

    what a mystical place, i got goosebumps from the photos, thank you for exploring
    wondering about 5,7,8, 10
    Keep up the great work! Hope to see more soon!!!

    • Thanks @disqus_Gx4mPGTNtY:disqus ! I will try my best to upload more really soon, there are still articles that need to be uploaded. I am a bit slow on the text-side (requires a lot of translation).

  • Madalene Chu

    Hi Jordy,
    Beautiful pics and great article. We’re off to Japan for three weeks. I was hoping to also go exploring on Hashima and was wondering if you could put me in touch with someone who might be able to arrange a deeper look at Battleship Island?
    Thanks heaps,

    • Hello Madalene. Sorry but for the deeper look it is a very difficult matter and it requires appropriate authorisation. I plan to go again for some more serious work but this time I will have to do it officially. It seems it is the only way now.

      • Madalene Chu

        Hey Jordy,
        Thanks for your super fast reply.
        Would you be able to put me in contact with the right people or department to apply for appropriate authorisation for an in-depth look at Gunkanjima?
        Can’t wait to see the results of your next exhibition on the island.
        Thanks again,

        • You need to contact the ward office of Nagasaki with a detailed and serious project. Landing is not possible at all just for tourism unfortunately. I have a very good project which would be a really positive thing for the island but even that, I am not sure they will let me go.

  • Steve Phillips

    Hey jordy, im currently on my way to jfk airport here in new york city, I represent a company you might know by the name of beats audio by Dre. We have been going back and forth with some people trying to oobtain the prophet permits to be able to film or new commercial for the united states, Canada and the United Kingdom. We recently just secured the permits to start shooting this week and after researching the island on Google I came across this site that you have thrown together extremly well I might add. My question for you is are you interested in doing some work for us by being our guide when we first arive and showing us the best spots for backdrops. If this is something you think you would like to assist with please respond to this inquiry here.
    We hope to hear from you.

    The beats audio production team.

    • That’s awesome you are coming here and of course curious to know more about your project. Can you contact me via the form on ? Thank you.

    • You will never believe me but Michael Jackson (apparently he is not really dead) also contacted me through comments on my website. He is going to Nara Dreamland to restart the rides for one day to play with his little kids. He wanted me to take photos for his memories. Sounds insane yeah? He also wrote the comment during his flight, for some reason.

  • Todd

    None of the links on this page work. They all just open to more copies of the same page.

    • Huge mistake! Thanks for telling me… now it should work, can you try?

      • Todd

        Works now…. Neat pictures. I really like your site.

  • Hello! I only found a picture in facebook that told me about Hashima. Then I searched it on google! And then I found all your articles like,The Block 65,Between Hell and Paradise,and many more!!! I hope you can find many more abandoned places!! I like exploring places like that,(but through the internet bc I’m still 15 years old and I don’t have money haha) thanks to you, I explore a new place! It’s like I really went into Gunkanjima!! Arigato!!!

    P.S. I like this picture ^__^

  • This :))

  • disqus_dP4C7ZCZQ5


    • Archiesin Hapland


    • Don R

      Me love you long time, fukisuckie 5 yen?

  • Puck

    I’m surprised that so many of the former inhabitants of Gunkanjima stil feel a sense of nostalgia for the place.

    • Especially a few of them, but it is impossible to know if it actually represents most of them. Did you read the article about Doutoku Sakamoto?

      • Puck

        I’ve just read the article about Doutoku and its interesting that he is one of the few who were born on the Island.
        This is the island where he spent his childhood and grew up so I can understand his longing for the place. I suppose he’s a true Gunkanjimian. I hope he succeeds in getting the place protected from further deterioration.
        He says the place has been vandalised a few times, I suppose that and the salt spray accounts for the advanced state of decay within such a short space of time, less than 40 years. By the way I’ve recently bought your excellent book “Nippon no Haikyo”, my only gripe with it is the lack of an English text to accompany the French, but the photographs were stunning and never seen before on your website.

        • Thanks for buying it 🙂 True, there are way more photos in the book than on Totoro Times. I just released a new book in Japan this time, in Japanese, with newer fresher photo, more ghibliesque too. I need to wake up sometimes, an editor is actually interested in publishing a book in English but I have been so busy that I didn’t work on it yet, maybe I should 🙂

  • Erland Andersen

    Hello Jordy. Good photos of yours from a peculiar location. Odd but interesting in a way. Had a laugh though by the size of the area left for tourists. Didn’t appear big. But I guess its understandable. They don’t want people roaming around falling down or being hit by debris, I suppose? Anyway, good job by you to have all these good photos in such a limited time. Keep up the good work.

    • Thank you for coming all the way from Twitter 🙂 The touristic area looks ridiculous but still, visitors seem to have a good time. Yes, that is definitely because the island and the buildings are way too dangerous. For sure, if there are hundreds of people walking all around the island we can expect the worse to happen!

    • I visited the island in 2010 via the tourist boat, and was quite disappointed that the tourist area was just the jetty and the flat bit off to the side. I would have liked to have roamed further.

      I wonder now how photographers and haikyojin get to the island; do they hire boats from local fishermen?

      • Yes, that’s exactly what we all did. There was actually only one local fisherman with an access to the island, but since he is very known + the island is now very famous (also as a UNESCO heritage), it is impossible to go there anymore 🙁

  • aixela sialon

    I really want to go there<3

  • Derek

    do you know what else it’s famous for? A mass coal mined island with forced labor by enslaved Koreans back in the early 1900’s, and the Japanese government covering up with fake Japanese propaganda .

    • Thanks for the information. When you have some time, rather than scrolling down, read my content, especially my article named between Hell and Paradise 🙂

  • Luke

    It is really cool and I just wonder if there is some historical problem leading to the abandoning of this island?
    I shall go to that island before 30 hahahaha!

  • New website design is amazing, Jordy!

    • Hey, now you are on the English version of the website 🙂 Welcome! I hope you will discover a lot of articles you haven’t seen before 🙂

  • Takumi Nishijou

    Hello Jordy, I am going with some friends to Japan and we would very much like to visit this island. We do have a press associate we are with, and a Japanese associate who is willing to translate. My question is what contacts did you use to schedule your trip and what kind of gear did you take besides the normal camera equipment? Also what stance did you take when you were getting authorization from the Nagasaki Prefecture.
    Thanks a lot man!

    • It’s very hard (impossible?) to get an authorization to go there now, since it is a UNESCO heritage. Especially if it’s to write an article, a book, or worse, just to take photos. You can try calling the city office of Nagasaki, and if they accept, which would be an amazing luck, they would go with you. I did this some time ago, before the registration as a heritage, it was easier, and it was for a book.

      • Takumi Nishijou

        Thanks a lot for your reply. Its good to know the sort of situation we are dealing with. We will try to our luck and see what happens. You never know. It seems like its an impossibility at this point since it was for art in a game. Once again thanks a lot for your reply, and please continue your work. I look forward to it!

Who Am I

I am Jordy Meow, I am a French photographer living in Japan. My interest is to discover and share information about offbeat and lesser known locations for foreigners coming or living in Japan. I published books and now preparing new beautiful series of guidebooks.