Lonely Planet (UK) - - Secret Marvels -

As the boat leaves Na­gasaki port, head­ing for the ‘Ghost Is­land’ of Hashima, I’m find­ing it hard to keep calm. I keep scan­ning the horizon for the un­mis­tak­able ship-like sil­hou­ette that gives the place its nick­name: Bat­tle­ship Is­land. We leave the shore­line, pass­ing boats, barges and un­in­hab­ited small is­lands, then some­one calls: ‘There it is!’ Sure enough, just like a naval war­ship, the is­land seems to float on the sur­face of the water, faded yet un­mis­tak­able. Vis­it­ing Hashima had been on my bucket list for years, first while liv­ing in Ja­pan in the ’90s, then later again as pho­tos of this wasteland cityscape be­gan to sur­face in pop­u­lar cul­ture. Most fa­mously, it was used as the vil­lain’s lair in the 2012 James Bond film, Sky­fall. Iron­i­cally, Hashima, owned by a coal com­pany, was once the most densely pop­u­lated place in Ja­pan. When the coal mine closed in 1974, how­ever, it took only four months for the is­land to be aban­doned. Its dor­mi­to­ries, equip­ment, schools, clin­ics and tem­ples were all left be­hind like some­thing out of a post-apoc­a­lyp­tic dream. Now build­ings have sloughed away, re­veal­ing for­got­ten dolls, tele­vi­sions and kitchen ap­pli­ances. Vine­choked al­ley­ways are strewn with rub­ble from the evoca­tive, art­ful de­cay. As we ar­rive and clam­ber out onto walk­ways, I feel like I’m be­ing es­corted into a world of sci­ence fic­tion. Rusted iron spikes are twisted into claw-like fin­gers. The mi­ne­shaft seems like a gap­ing mouth. I blink and see ghosts of min­ers coming up from the depths, black­ened from head to toe. We stop at a safe dis­tance away from the struc­tures, in case of sud­den col­lapses. The group, a chatty bunch of mainly Ja­panese tourists, has fallen silent, som­bre. I imag­ine spend­ing a night on the is­land, watch­ing as the sun soaks the ce­ment. It’s im­pres­sively bleak, de­void of not just hu­man life, but any life at all. I’m hard-pressed to spot even a seag­ull wheel­ing around in the sky. As we re­turn to the boat, I think of the Inca, the Maya, the Anasazi, the Egyp­tian pharaohs. Will Tokyo and New York and Paris look like this some day? Who lived here? Peo­ple will won­der, as they pass along marked paths. What caused them to leave? Where did they go? When the boat fi­nally docks, the throngs of peo­ple around me seem more pre­cious, and more frag­ile. It’s a feel­ing that takes a long time to fade. By Ray Bartlett

Ac­cess is only via guided tour from Na­gasaki’s O port. See gunkan­jima-concierge.com.

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