If you’re a fan of historical tourist spots, you might be familiar with Hashima Island, for its story is a bitter one.
When the 2012 Bond film “Skyfall” was released, one of the filming locations in particular caught the eyes of viewers. It was battered, decrepit and unsettling. Home to the film’s main antagonist Silva (played by Javier Bardem), Hashima Island played a crucial role in the film as Silva’s base of operations.
Despite this, filming never took place on the actual grounds of the abandoned island due to safety concerns. The majority of the setting was actually filmed in a full-scale replica in the UK, while a good portion of it was crafted through CGI.
But the reality of Gunkanjima or the “Battleship Island” is an even more harrowing one. The small island was initially established during Japan’s industrial revolution as a coal mining facility. And when the number of labourers soared, a multi-storeyed apartment block was built to house the workers and their families, making the island the most densely populated area in the world come 1959.
Then WWII dawned upon the world, and prisoners of war from China and South Korea were forced into labour at the coal mines of Hashima Island, where an estimated 1,300 of them passed away on the island. Since then, the island has long been abandoned thanks to the rise of petroleum, which rendered the need for coal-mining towns such as Hashima useless.
Of course, word began to spread and not long later, journalists and filmmakers began flocking to the island. The result? Documentaries galore from the History Channel, Forgotten Planet and most recently, Netflix’s “Dark Tourist”, a documentary TV series exploring ominous tourist locations.
But be it insightful documentaries or compelling images, the controversy revolving around Hashima island only ballooned, for in 2009, Japan’s request to establish the island as a UNESCO World Heritage Site was met with backlash from South Korea after the country refused to acknowledge its role in the island’s cruel history.
Today, even you and I can step foot amidst the crumbling concrete of this history-laden island to admire its ruins…and perhaps we have 007 to thank for that.
• The communal apartment block was supposedly the first-ever building of its kind in Japan made from reinforced concrete.
• Despite all this, Hashima was at one time home to a thriving community, including a movie theatre, swimming pool and even a pachinko parlour!
Text by Ng Shen Lee