It looks like Alcatraz and could be a prison. Hashima, a former mining island about twelve kilometres off the coast of Nagasaki, is so smothered in concrete it once had the honour of being the most densely populated plot on Earth. In 1974, it was abandoned, presumably when the coal mined from two kilometres below its surface became too expensive to pull out of the ground, or simply ran out.
I have taken images from Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre’s book with my Iphone but, if seen in person, their photos are incredibly detailed. A tricycle left presumably where a child last rode it slowly rusts into a reddish smudge on the concrete path it lies upon. A barber’s shop (I hesitate to use the word ‘shop’ because there is no real evidence of shops in the way we would know them, no advertising, no twinkly music, no slick surfaces) provide an intense splash of red: recliner seats with that familiar leather-coloured hue. Trees swoop down like rivers through corridors once bustling with people. It is open to the elements. On windy days, the waves whip over the retaining walls surrounding Hashima flooding the streets with water.
And yet people actually lived here. One old image the photographers use for comparison shows two stylish women walking down the concrete passages and it struck me because they were laughing. In another old shot, kids play on the balconies. For me, there is little joy in such intimidating structures, which were built on the cheap to house miners and their families.
The city also has another name, sort of slang, in the same way New York is called the Big Apple. Gunkanjima means, I think, fortress.
If you feel these images look familiar, Marchand and Meffre were responsible for the startling shots of Detroit’s urban decay.