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This island was once the most densely populated place on earth, now it’s empty

Battleship Island in Japan Hasima Gunkanjim

Just a mere 20km (12 miles) from Nagasaki Port in southern Japan lies the abandoned island of Hashima. Nicknamed Gunkanjima (meaning ‘battleship’ in English), the island was once densely populated to take advantage of the coal mine above which it sits.

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Battleship Island in Japan Hasima Gunkanjim
Flickr: Stuart Frisby

At its peak in 1959, it housed more than 5,000 residents. Since the island is less than half a kilometre long and only 150m wide, it was necessary to build high rise towers on pretty much every piece of available land to accommodate for the influx of workers, resulting in the highest population density of anywhere in the world at the time and giving the island the appearance of a battleship – hence its moniker.

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Battleship Island in Japan Hasima Gunkanjim
Flickr: Roger Walch

In 1974, the mine was closed and the inhabitants forced to move off the island, leaving it to the mercy of the elements. The intervening 40 odd years have not been kind to the buildings, with typhoons and other extreme weather events giving the island a battered and eerily haunting aesthetic.

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Battleship Island in Japan Hasima Gunkanjim
Flickr: Waka

In 2009, the island was opened up to tourism and was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2015. Today, it stands as a stark and poignant reminder not only of the intensity of the Japanese industrialisation of the 50s, but also the forced labour and uncomfortable conditions that came with it.

Fans of the 007 franchise will be interested to know that this was used as the ghost island set in the movie Skyfall.

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