The island of Ikeshima (or Ikejima) lies west of the Nishiheiki peninsula in Nagasaki prefecture. At its peak in the 1970s, this small island of less than a square kilometre had a population of almost 8,000.
The reason for this density in such a remote and restricted area was the coal mine. Before its construction, Ikeshima was simply an agricultural and fishing island.
There was originally a large pond on the island, Kagamigaike (Mirror Pond), linked to the legend of Empress Kamiko who would have seen her reflection in it. The island has been called “Ikeshima” or “Pond Island” in reference to this event. However, the development of coal mining later led to the destruction of the pond to build a port.
Night on Ikeshima
Not long after the war, in 1952, the Matsushima Group acquired the coal-rich lands for the development of an underwater mine. Mining operations began in 1959 when the industry was declining in the face of the energy revolution. Ikeshima was able to expand rapidly to reverse this trend.
Ikeshima from the sky!
By the 1990s the surface area of the mine had reached 35,000 hectares, with a total tunnel length of over 90 kilometres. To facilitate the movement of workers, the company developed fast tracks with a three-wagon train that could carry up to 27 passengers.
Cats, the new residents
In the production peak of the 1980s, more than 1.5 million tonnes of coal were extracted.
Between 1950 and 1970, the population grew from 350 to more than 7,500. As on the nearby island of Hashima (Gukanjima), hospitals, schools, housing blocks were built from reinforced concrete. The daily rent for these apartments was just 400 yen, and included communal facilities such as a laundry room and onsen (baths).
A walk through town
In the late 1990s, following a series of accidents and stiff competition from imported coal, Ikeshima’s mining activities slowed down. Despite government aid, the mine finally closed in 2001. The 2,500 employees who were still working there were all made redundant and left the island.
Eighteen years after its closure, most of the facilities remain and parts of the site seem to be used as a training centre for coal mining engineers from Vietnam and Indonesia. It’s still hard to say exactly what’s abandoned or what isn’t, even if everything seems to be in very poor shape!
Ikeshima’s abandoned clinic
Today there are only around a hundred residents left, most of them retired miners who keep the memory of the place alive … much to the tourists’ delight!
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