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The Most Desolate City on Earth: Gunkanjima, aka 'Battleship Island'

The Most Desolate City on Earth: Gunkanjima, aka 'Battleship Island'
Jordy Theiller/Wikipedia

Of all the places to conduct a really wicked paintball match, Gunkanjima just about takes the cake.

Utterly abandoned, the former coal-mining site stands like a rotten tooth jutting from the turbulent waters off Nagasaki. A formidable seawall protects a dense warren of empty factory buildings and crumbling apartments. Roofs have blown off or caved in and walls have sloughed off their skins, leaving the skeletal underpinning of buildings visible. Dark hallways and dangerous, twisting staircases abound in M.C. Escherian complexity, leading to ruined vistas with names like "Block 65" and the "Stairway to Hell."

The government is pushing for World Heritage recognition for the island's role in the Meiji Era, characterized by a blitzkrieg push to industrialize the country using Western technology. The Gunkanjima mine, also known as Hashima or "Battleship Island," served as an underseas fuel-extractor beginning in the 1880s through 1974, when its owner, Mitsubishi, decided to close up shop. Milestones in its history include holding Japan's first nine-story concrete building and nurturing an incredible population density of 835 people per hectare, which is about nine times higher than New York City's present density. (Otaku take note: The island also served as a backdrop for Battle Royale II.) Today, it's densely populated with ocean birds and disturbingly large spiders.

Tourists can hop in a boat and motor out for sight-seeing around Gunkanjima, although they're not supposed to go deep into the failing structures. Some folks have ignored that, as you can see in these photos. For further information on the history of this incredible ghost town, go here; more photos are available here and here.

John Metcalfe is a staff writer at The Atlantic Cities. All posts »

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