Deserted, decaying and crumbling into the sea. Visitors to this abandoned settlement could be forgiven for thinking they had entered a long-forgotten war zone.
However, this is Gunkanjima - Japan’s rotting metropolis. And it has been described as the most desolate place on Earth.
Gunkanjima is a deserted island of concrete that is slowly crumbling away on Japan’s west coast.
Meaning ‘Battleship Island’ in English, Gunkanjima’s real name is Hashima and it is one of 505 uninhabited islands in the Nagasaki Prefecture, about 15 kilometres from Nagasaki itself. It earned its nickname due to its resemblance to a military warship.
Despite being off-limits to travellers, the island has become an irresistible magnet for urban explorers who go to extraordinary lengths to investigate and photograph the island’s abandoned buildings.
Gunkanjima was once just a small reef but, following the discovery of coal in 1810, was turned into mining facility during the industrialisation of Japan. It gave rise to its own population of workers and inhabitants who were all densely-packed into a self-contained metropolis.
The 15-acre island was populated between 1887 and 1974, reaching its peak in 1959 with 5,259 inhabitants. However, as petroleum replaced coal during the 1960s, Japan’s mines were hit by closures which eventually reached Gunkanjima.
Within a matter of days of the mines closing in 1974, the workers and their families deserted the island, leaving their possessions, which still lay where they were left.
After 35 years of closure, the landing ban was lifted on Gunkanjima in 2009, meaning it was no longer illegal for boats to dock at the island. However, it still remains illegal to venture inside the city’s walls, meaning urban explorers must go to great lengths to covertly trespass the island.