The Dark Past of Japan's 'Battleship Island'


It’s called Battleship Island because of the shape suggested by its silhouette, but it's also been known as “Jail Island” or “Hell Island” by those who were forced to work there. And since its abandonment in the mid-1970s, it’s often been known as “Ghost Island.”

Hashima Island, as it’s named in English, was bought and developed by the Mistubishi corporation at the end of the 19th century to mine the rich deposits of coal beneath the surrounding waters. Coal was crucial to the rapid industrialization of Japan during that period, and the tens of thousands of laborers brought to work on the 16-acre island reportedly made Hashima one of the most densely populated places on earth.

But as Dylan Thuras from Atlas Obscura explains in the video above, many of those laborers were working unwillingly. Before World War II, as many as 60,000 Chinese and Korean forced laborers were employed on the island in grim conditions. After the war—and the forced labor—ended, the island became a kind of company town, complete with its own high-rises, schools, bars, hairdressers, and pinball parlors. In 1974, as the global economy transitioned away from coal, the island was shut down, and has lain vacant ever since, with nature slowly reclaiming the ruined buildings. In 2004, it was inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List—a not-uncontroversial decision, given its difficult past. 

Header images via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.0