Before, there were 139,100 people per km² and a James Bond villain

Before, there were 139,100 people per km² and a James Bond villain
Before, there were 139,100 people per km² and a James Bond villain

A very complex climate for habitability and the actions of an international company summarize the history of this curious island located 15 kilometers from Nagasaki city, in Japan. Although commonly known under the alias Guankajima, a Japanese term that refers to ‘Battleship Island’ Due to its resemblance to a warship, this place has the name hashima.

It was 84 years that took this place from one extreme to another, from reaching the highest population density ever recorded in the world, to the absolute abandonment of the territory. But what happened in Hashima? What led 139,100 people to leave their homes?

To understand it is necessary to go back a few years in history, specifically, to 1890, when they were discovered rich coal deposits under the island and the company mitsubishi, owned by a family descended from a samurai, acquired the territory. That’s when the countdown began, until it became a completely deserted place.

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With the rise of the Japanese industrial revolution, coal became an essential resource, feeding both the national industry and the war machine. In order to facilitate the extraction of this material and house workers, Mitsubishi developed an infrastructure around the island with the aim of responding to these needs.

Life in Hashima

Apartment blocks were built with rooms of less than ten square meters. These consisted of a window, a door and a small vestibule and, despite the conditions in which they lived, this was a great improvement on the previous lifestyle. Bathroom, kitchen and sanitary facilities were shared and had small wooden balconies.

The island became a self-sufficient community in an extremely limited space, since it originally measured just 6.3 hectares. However, Its structure was modified several timesthrough the construction of concrete breakwaters with the intention of protecting it from the wild sea.

Aerial view of the ‘battleship island’. Wikimedia Commons

A hard and somewhat claustrophobic day to day marked the daily life in Hashima. The buildings, designed to resist typhoons, especially common in that territory, as well as the fury of the oceans, contributed to an oppressive environment. Along with this, a 95% constant humiditycombined with the coal dustmade it difficult to breathe normally.

Daily life took place in an environment of high pressure and constant noise from mining machinery, however, the lure of employment brought in thousands of workers. In 1959, they were more than 5,000 people living on that island, reaching a population density of 139,100 people per square kilometer, one of the highest rates ever recorded.

Turbulent weather

Located in a region prone to typhoons and violent storms, the climate played a crucial role in this story from the beginning. Robust structures and concrete breakwaters were some of the consequences of these inclemencies, which especially affected the inhabitants of the territory and even continued to do their thing after the population abandoned it.

The island was expanded several times by building concrete breakwaters to protect it from the inclement weather of the East China Sea, but these measures were not enough.

[Tras la pista de 7 españolas en una expedición histórica a la Antártida: su ruta de 21 días entre “deshielo y gripe aviar”]

Constant exposure to humidity and salinity of the sea has increased the decomposition of structures. Buildings have begun to crumble and vegetation has begun to reclaim the island. A situation to which climate change and rising sea levels are added, being one more threat to face.

Coal decline

But the story began to go wrong in the 1960s, when Japan and the entire world began to change its main energy source from coal to oil. This energy transition drastically reduced demand for this material, making mining operations in Hashima increasingly less profitable.

Added to this setback was the decline in coal seams accessible on the island, further increasing extraction costs.

The final blow came on April 20, 1974, when Mitsubishi announced the closure of the mineat which point, without variable alternatives and with all the infrastructure under the ownership of the company, the residents were forced to leave the island, practically immediately. Hashima was deserted overnight and its buildings and few streets were frozen in time.

[35.000 dólares: el precio de morir con plomo en la sangre que pagará Perú a 80 vecinos tras una sentencia histórica]

Despite its abandonment, this small and curious territory has not been forgotten, and we are not just talking about its appearance in skyfall (2012), being the lair of the James Bond villain. In 2002, the Japanese company donated the island to the city of Nagasaki and in 2009 it opened to tourism.

Later, in 2015, the UNESCO included Hashima as part of the World Heritage Site under the ‘Sites of the Miji Industrial Revolution in Japan: Steel, Shipbuilding and Coal Mining’, recognizing the historical and cultural importance of the place.

 
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