Gunkanjima vs. Tomogashima – which abandoned island is better?
Want to explore off the beaten track? Like to explore ancient and abandoned places? Yes, Japan has many places to explore, so which is better – Hashima Island a.k.a Gunkanjima (Battleship Island) or Tomogashima?
If you haven’t heard of one or the other, then hopefully I can help with a slightly biased view.
Let’s begin with a quick run down of Gunkanjima.
Gunkanjima a.k.a Hashima island
Famous from James Bond’s Skyfall and also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Gunkanjima is an island of ruins off the coast of Nagasaki and is popular among many tourists. Abandoned in the 1970’s, the island was once inhabited by a community of approximately 5000 people who worked in the coalmines from around 1890 – all on an island that’s roughly 1 kilometer long. This ticked a lot of boxes for me, so of course it went on my bucket list.
Some quick facts:
- Impressive in appearance, Gunkanjima looks post-apocalyptic and straight out of a movie featuring crumbling architecture, ancient coalmines, dilapidated structures and nature reclaiming a dystopian-looking place.
- With no memorials present, many tourists don’t know the island’s history includes forced labour which tours fail to mention.
- Tours will cost you roughly ¥3,900-4,500 ($35-$40 USD) plus you may have to pay an additional ¥300 yen for entrance to the island on top of the tour fee.
The low down:
- Tours only last 60 minutes – government mandated and for safety reasons. The guided tour follows a specific route and you can take only photos in certain locations. You wont see a lot of the island and you can’t explore on your own – you’ll walk along a set route on elevated walkways Also there’s no possible way to visit the island on your own so unfortunately your stuck following the tour group.
- Tours sell out fast – so you have to book weeks or sometimes months in advance. There are a few different websites and most are in Japanese. If you use Google Chrome translate, you can easily manage booking. Beware, tours can be cancelled without notice and without notification, due to weather and ocean conditions. The tours operate 100 days out of the year on average, so it’s roughly a 1/3 chance that your tour is going ahead.
- If you get seasick, just give up now. The waters are pretty rough and even towels and candy might not help if you’re prone to motion sickness. The journey across the island can be pretty uncomfortable. Not only bumpy, but surrounded by people trying to quietly puke into a vomit bags on a 30 minute boat ride is not great.
- Not wheelchair accessible – boats or the island. Physical restrictions also apply which can stop you from joining the tour e.g. pregnancy, some disabilities. You also have to sign a contract for safety.
My personal thoughts – yeah it’s cool, but honestly not worth the time or money (I’m more of a savvy, value for money traveler). The risk of having your tour cancelled is not good. Plus I hate being restricted, rushed or having to follow a tour group like a little foreign lemming.
Now onto Tomogashima…