From my connecting flight mishap to the freakiest place on earth – my blog is getting creepier by the minute.
I mention this place, however, for a reason. The recent horror film “GONJIAM: Haunted Asylum” is showing in theatres right now and received huge commercial success. The film came first at the domestic box office in March, and I have seen it last week. I have to say the film is a classic horror film (there was no surprise), but still, I enjoyed the chilling atmosphere that the director created based on a real haunted place in Gonjiam, Korea. I told my friends in Korea that I was quite surprised that I have been to Gonjiam a few times (but not the haunted house), yet they have never told me about this place. When they heard, they told me that the house was well-known. The film became a hit because the storyline was based on an actual abandoned psychiatric hospital, and it was named the “freakiest places around the world” by CNN travel in 2012. The 7 freakiest places (cited CNN, authentically and unintentionally weird, macabre, and mysterious), in order, are:
- Chernobyl Amusement Park, Ukraine
- Sedlec Ossuary (Bone Church), Czech Republic
- Aokigahara Forest, Mount Fuji
- Akodessewa Fetish Market, Lome, Togo
- La Isla de las Muñecas (Island of the “Dolls), Mexico
- Gunkanjima (Battleship Island), Nagasaki, Japan
- Gonjiam Psychiatric Hospital, Gyeonggi, Korea
The beautiful Gonjiam resort and foliage
While you might want to visit these freaky sites. Technically, only the Bone Church in Czech is located in a town and actually “tourist-friendly”. While Akodessewa Fetish Market is open, Togo may be quite difficult to get to. Somehow, I have been to one of the sites myself, and it is named the second place on the list, the Gunkanjima (Battleship Island).
Gunkanjima (meaning “Battleship Island” as the island resembles a warship), also known as Hashima, is a 60,000-square-meter cluster of concrete ruins in the sea of Nagasaki, Japan. In the 1950s it was the bustling home of 6,000 coal mine workers, and the island has been abandoned since 1974 when the coal mines shut down. Hashima was entirely closed off until 2009, travelers are allowed to visit now with a boat tour in Nagasaki.
I have seen on the Internet that a common question about the island is – “does it worth visiting”? So here, I am going to share my experience for you to decide.
What’s the draw?
- First, I wanted to visit Gunkanjima because I have heard about this abandoned island from the Internet. I didn’t know that it was named one of the freakiest places by CNN Travel back then. But then, it has the draw because it’s a completely desolated place on such a scale that’s located quite close to a major city in Japan – it’s only 18 kilometers off-shore west of Nagasaki in the Nobo Peninsula. It’s currently uninhabited and the 6.4-hectare ruin is floating off in the ocean with buildings and facilities unattended and maintained.
- In fact, the island was featured in a number of movies, including the “Project Hashima” (2013), “The Battleship Island” (2017), and the James Bond Hollywood blockbuster “Skyfall” (2012), serving as the villain’s secret hideout and headquarter. (The movie was shot in Glencoe as well, check out: The Unique Existence of Highlands).
- The incredible view of the island is unique. It’s named the “Battleship Island” because of its shape that looks like a giant battleship that floats on the ocean. To me, it looks even more like a mysterious sea castle with an abandoned city still standing on it. If you are a fan of ruins, you will definitely find it fascinating as you don’t usually get to see a desolated ruin like that.
- Though it stirred up some controversies, Gunkanjima is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2015, and it’s probably the only place like this got listed.
- The island is full of fascinating history and backstories. It was once a productive coal mine during the industrialization of Japan, yet it was dramatically closed and abandoned until reopened for Tourism in 2009. It gets even freakier as it operated during the war with forced workers shipped there from China and Korea, working under harsh and inhumane conditions.
I guess the island was named a freaky place because of its isolation and tragic history: The coal mine workers were enslaved and tortured when the island was operating, many of them died on the island and the Korean called it “prison island” in the past.
The Guided Tour
We joined the Black Diamond tour when we were in Nagasaki. The tour office is located in the city’s harbor, close to the Ohato tram station. It’s possible to sign up for the tour when you got there, however, check the website to secure your ticket during peak season, as they only operate only a few group tours a day.
The tour was about 3 hours, including visits to both Hashima and Takashima. We checked in at the reception at 2 pm at the pier and we headed to the Coal Museum and Statue of Yataro Iwasaki on Takashima before we went further to Hashima.
Before we landed, we had a good look at the island from the sea – and I could already feel the “sinister” vibe with deserted islands. The island was fully developed at one point and now there is nothing but rubbles. The island has a designated route and the guide walked us through the route, filled with history and stories, in about 50-minutes.
What’s the Put-offs?
- Safety concerns. The island is abandoned for decades and it’s still currently not maintained with lots of buildings left there unattended. They are at risk of collapsing and that’s why the guided tour has designated paths for visitors to walk on. Part of the site may require to wear helmets in case of rocks falling.
- That’s why the tour may lose part of the “thrill” as it is not as adventurous as some hope for. The visit is quite organized and visitors cannot walk around and explore the site freely.
- Visiting the island is also not as freely as some expect because it’s an island in the middle of an ocean. It can only be accessed by boats, which is a part of the guided tour. That’s why it is difficult to go to the island individually.
- Visitors can walk on the island, however, the walking paths only cover a part of the site and you only get to see many of the abandoned buildings from afar. In other words, you don’t get to actually “enter” the site and you will probably get to be on the island for about half an hour, and look at it from certain angles due to the restriction of the walking paths.
There are a few places in Nagasaki: the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum documents the horrible atomic bomb attack of the city during World War II, and Mt. Inasayama Observatory offers one of the best night views in the country. Gunkanjima is simply one of the city’s must-sees among these attractions because of its popularity and uniqueness.
I agree it’s a bit of a buzz kill having visitors walk on the designated paths in a guided tour, it may sound too “organized” and “touristy” to the true adventure seekers. All in all, I found it was a unique experience, as I have never been to such freaky places in the past.
The tour agency was professional and we got to see Nagasaki from the water during the boat ride. I had a good time on the island, although I wish we could spend a little bit more time on the island as I thought the itinerary was a bit rush. 🙂
Nagasaki also features one of the most impressive night views in Japan from Mount Inasa. 🙂