Gunkanjima in Nagasaki Prefecture can seen in movies such as Skyfall, Battle Royale II and the live-action Attack on Titan, but it can be hard to imagine anyone living there.
It wasn’t until 1974 that the mine was shut down, and while that was the result of a long-coming shift away from coal power in Japan, the facility was still a legitimate enterprise in 1965, when Mainichi News sent a camera crew to record footage of life on Gunkanjima.
The transportation technology of the time made Gunkanjima, officially called Hashima, a one-hour trip from the Nagasaki mainland. Rather than commute by ship, though, the mineworkers lived on the island, along with their families, and in 1965 some 2,700 men, women, and children called Gunkanjima home.
While there were rich mineral deposits to be found below, there was precious little buildable land on the surface of the man-made island. With no direction to build except up, the average apartment house was 10 stories tall, and the Mainichi video reports that “the residents live comfortable lives.”
Priests were periodically called to the island to pray for the safety of the workers, and even young children would participate in the ceremonies, asking for the protection of their fathers and older, working-age siblings.
The miners weren’t the only ones who spent part of their day underground, though. The island’s topography meant that travelling on the surface from point A to point B meant climbing up and down a series of stairways and even underground tunnels.
The video closes with the narrator saying, “The people living on the island are hoping to create a warmer atmosphere with more greenery.” Ironically, though, Gunkanjima is now greener than ever after more than 40 years of no one at all living there!
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