One of Nagasaki’s most unique experiences lies several kilometres out into the Sumo-nada Sea off the coast of Nagasaki Prefecture. Hashima Island, or Gunkanjima as it is popularly known, is an abandoned island on which over 5,000 miners and their families used to call home during the peak days of coal mining in Japan. During its heyday, Gunkanjima is said to have been the most densely populated place on earth. Although the quality of life on the island is debatable (based on historical accounts), those that lived there made the best of it, enjoying the amenities found in other places around the world like gymnasiums and swimming pools, and others less common on the mainland, such as television.
Gunkanjima has been uninhabited from over four decades, yet much of its buildings remain standing. In 2015 it was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and it has become one of the most iconic tourist attractions in Nagasaki and Japan. As with similar attractions, it is not possible to visit the island on your own, for this, there are several companies offering guided boat tours from Nagasaki on a daily basis. One of these tour companies is Gunkanjima Concierge.
Gunkanjima Concierge Company is located at the Tokiwa Terminal, one minute away from Ourakaigandori Station on the streetcar line. They offer an entertaining and educational boat tour to Gunkanjima, and where possible, a walk on the actual island. While other tour companies offer a similar service, Gunkanjima Concierge is the only one in town offering the adventure with an English translation both in their marketing materials and throughout the duration of the tour. Although the translation is not perfect, it gives enough information so that English speaking tourists can still get a good understanding of the island’s history while having a good time during the experience.
Weather permitting, the tours are offered twice a day, every day of the year. The morning boat departs at 10:40am, docks at Gunkanjima at 11:30am and returns back to Nagasaki at 0:45pm. The afternoon boat departs at 2 pm, docks at Gunkanjima at 2:50pm and returns back to the city at 4 pm. Once docked, both excursions offer a short field trip around a limited part of the island, unless weather conditions do not allow for a safe landing on the island. In such case, the experience will be limited to seeing the island from the water at a close distance. For better photos of Gunkanjima from the boat, we recommend grabbing a sit on the upper deck to get an unobstructed view.
Although it cannot be guaranteed, the best part of this tour is being able to step onto this historic site. The guided field trip along the border of Gunkanjima’s industrial area, where you can get a firsthand look at the remaining ruins, is an amazing experience. It is even better with all the historical accounts given by the tour guides. Throughout this walk, the captain of the ship gives travelers interesting anecdotes collected from former inhabitants while complementing this with pictures from the island’s better days. At 3,000 yen, the cost of the Gunkanjima adventure is not cheap, but it is without a doubt one of the best experiences in this part of Japan. The feeling of literally stepping back into history is priceless.