Day trip to Gunkanjima Island
Located 4.5 km away from Nagasaki is Gunkanjima island, known to tourists as “Battleship Island”. This mysterious island was first founded as a coal mine in 1810 by the Saga clan, but later was taken over by the Misubhishi Goshi Kanda, and full scale mining started taking place.
At the peak of its operations, the island grew to over 5300, and was first to build concrete reinforced high-rise apartments in Japan. The island was full of life, bustling with a school, hospital and quarantine ward, shops and even a shrine. Then, the energy revolution came, causing a shift of demand from coal to oil. Demand for coal as source of power fell, production slowed and eventually shrunk along with the islands population.
By 1974 the Gunkanjima’s mines were closed, and soon after the island became uninhabited as residents gradually moved away. What is left now is a post-apocalyptic island which has recently become an UNCESCO world heritage listed site.
Company and pricing
The tour we took was with Gunkamjima Concierge Company which run two tours daily all week long. There are choices between either a morning or afternoon tour. A morning tour start at 10:10 and finish at 13:00. The afternoon tour starts at 13:30 and finishes 16:20. Cost per person is 3600 yen, plus an additional 300 yen entry fee to the island.
The day trip
Arriving at 10:10 we were greeted by enthusiastic staff which ushered us to room where we were shown a 30 minute video in Japanese explaining the everyday life in Gunkajima, the conditions they worked in, how they all came to work on the island, and what brought about its eventual demise.
During the presentation, our trusted guide Kazuhito informed us in Japanese how daily life was on the island, the conditions the miners worked in, how the island grew in size and other general history. For those who do not understand Japanese, there is an English guide/pamphlet which pretty much explains everything the video covers. Audio guides are also given in English for the island tour.
The weather forecast was cloudy, and on arrival we were told that the tour could be cancelled if conditions did not improve. If cancelled, a full refund would be given, but during the presentation we received good news, and were set for Gunkajima.
With the group of 30 including passenger and crew, we scurried onto the boat and left shore.
The ride itself takes about 1 hour in on the boat, but felt a lot longer. Headed out of port the tour guide explained certain landmarks, ports owned by Mitsubishi, and the surrounding areas. Once in open waters however, unless you’re a sailor accustomed to rough seas, its extremely choppy. Be prepared for sea-sickness.
Vomit bags are distributed in front of each seat, and before we made it half way, half the boat was wailing and vomiting while our Japanese tour guide was going in depth into more history of the island half keeping his balance.
Staff were quick to respond and were rushing to hand out more vomit bags, sweets and warm hand towels. By an hour, we on the verge of vomiting, but in the distance… Land Ahoy! Shortly after we touched dry land, we put on our English audio guides listening to life on the island.
The ruins on the island portrayed a scene of grey and deterioration since being abandoned in 1974. It looked like a war-zone with everything in ruin, similar to an abandon wasteland. On the island, the guide slowly walked us through the left path which was still intact from the harbour.
One disappointment which is explained when booking is that you cannot deviated from the group and explore other parts of the island. You must stay with the tour group and in the fenced areas. This only allows you to see a quarter of the island, maybe less. There is a temptation to try and disappear during the tour, but there are barricades and many staff on site to prevent this.
Travelling further into the island from South to West, we found that the scenery looked pretty much the same. The whole experience of visiting the island is interesting, but we still felt like something was missing from the tour. Not that it was the tourist agency’s fault (staff were fantastic), but rather the attraction itself that felt sterile. And because you could only travel within paved and fenced off footpaths (which we can understand due to health and safety issues), it all felt too restrictive.
The total time spent on the island was about 90 minutes, which is more than enough time for what you’re allowed to see. The shots we got of the island were apocalyptic enough and tour was well organised, but the element of adventure was amiss from what we imagined when we hear about Gunkanjima.
Have you visited Gunkanjima? What do you think?
Disclaimer: This post is 100% based on our personal experience and is in no way sponsored by any of the companies mentioned above.