You’ve seen it in Skyfall*, and in the numerous articles about it. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the ruins of Nagasaki Prefecture’s abandoned Hashima Island, better known as Gunkanjima (which translates to Battleship Island), has attracted attention (especially among haikyo—abandoned properties—enthusiasts) for its post-apocalyptic appearance.
Gunkanjima’s increase in popularity and status as a World Heritage Site, though, has not been without controversy. What many do not know is that the island has had a history of forced labor—which tour companies don’t mention, and which this author only learned of after writing this article. Although Gunkanjima currently has no memorials to the victims of forced labor, Japan has pledged to set up a memorial and an information center in the years to come.
Nevertheless, ever since the Japanese government lifted a ban on tours to the island, tour companies offering a chance to visit Gunkanjima from Nagasaki Port for about ¥3,900 — ¥4,500 have sprung up. If you want to visit Gunkanjima for whatever reason, here are some things to know beforehand:
1. You can’t visit on your own.
Safety first is the key principle here! The buildings on the island are actually at risk of crumbling, and no one knows when, so the government mandated that tourists can only visit as part of a tour group. Unless you’re in journalism or media in general, sorry, that solo trip isn’t happening.
2. Tours may be canceled depending on the weather.
Gunkanjima is surrounded by treacherous waters. The waves are harsh, and even a slightly rainy, cloudy, and/or windy day is enough to set off the waves and impede visibility. Consequently, cruise companies reserve the right to cancel tours due to bad weather, even on the day of the tour itself or while you’re aboard the ferry. Don’t worry; you’ll usually get a full or partial refund and/or something else to not waste your efforts, such as a replacement tour or a souvenir. In any case, just keep in mind that there’s always the risk of the tour not pushing through for reasons beyond human control. For reference, Yamasa Shipping’s website mentions that on average, the number of days in a year that tours successfully push through is around 100.
3. This is not for the faint of heart.
See the above point on Gunkanjima’s waters. More than the cost, the major obstacles to visiting Gunkanjima are inclement weather and health. If you’re prone to seasickness and motion sickness, this isn’t the tour for you. On a particularly rough day, even those who don’t easily suffer from those conditions may also feel unwell. I don’t get motion sickness easily, but there were several times when I felt like throwing up, and I finally did during the ride back. Having anticipated that guests will feel uncomfortable on the journey, the staff distributed towels, candy, vomit bags, and even a wristband that’s supposed to help combat motion sickness, but those still weren’t enough for me. (They don’t sell anti-motion sickness medicine, though, so bring your own just in case.) If these don’t discourage you, then good for you, but just remember that your health is more important than any tour, however awesome it may be. In my case, it was a short but memorable experience, but would I do it again? I don’t think so, because of the bumpy ride!
4. You may be refused admittance based on your physical condition.
This isn’t because of discrimination, but again, it’s for safety reasons. The tour companies we listed don’t reject reservations from pregnant women, as well as people with disabilities and chronic illnesses. However, harsh weather conditions and other unforeseen circumstances could still lead to pregnant women suddenly being barred from joining a tour. Moreover, ferries are not wheelchair accessible, and Gunkanjima isn’t a wheelchair-friendly location, either. Those with chronic illnesses are also discouraged from joining. It’s best to inform the tour companies beforehand about any physical conditions you have, just so you have an idea of whether you can go ahead with that reservation.
5. Newborn babies and pets are not allowed on board.
We’re not sure why anyone would think of bringing a baby or a pet to a tour like this one, but if you’re thinking about it… don’t. While the tour companies’ FAQs don’t mention banning babies that aren’t newborns, we really don’t think it’s a good idea to take babies or small children along a tour of Gunkanjima.
6. Tour companies will make you sign a safety contract.
You have to agree to follow their rules, which are basically common sense anyway: don’t join the tour intoxicated; don’t go off on your own upon disembarkation (yes, following the guide is really important—they need a license to conduct those tours so they know better)—things like that.
7. You have to pay an additional ¥300 (or ¥150 for kids) for entrance on top of the tour fee.
It’s an entrance fee imposed by the local government, and it goes to the preservation of Gunkanjima. You pay this to the tour company. For further reference, the prices quoted in this article include the entrance fee.
8. The tour on the island is only 60 minutes long.
Again, this is a government-mandated thing, and is for everyone’s safety. You’ll follow a guide down a prescribed route and stop for photo ops here and there. You won’t really see much of the island, but you’ll at least get a glimpse of the urban decay. And no, you can’t get close to, let alone explore, the ruins. Safety first, remember? Yes, the round trip to the island takes longer (as a one-way trip is, at most, an hour long), and while this may be a let-down for some, keep in mind that there’s no other way you can see Gunkanjima. It’s not like it’s some tourist spot in Tokyo, Kyoto, or Osaka that’s easy to get to. For less than ¥5,000, an 2.5- or 3-hour tour of an abandoned island doesn’t sound so bad, does it?
All set? Now let’s talk about heading to Nagasaki.
Getting to Nagasaki
First, you may be wondering where exactly is Nagasaki, anyway? It’s in Kyushu, in southern Japan. There are few international flights to Nagasaki, but they’re not cheapo options, so let’s focus on the affordable ways to get there. If you’re coming from another country, it’s best to land somewhere else in Japan, then take a domestic flight. Both Japan Airlines and All Nippon Airways have discounted fare for foreigners who can show proof of residence outside Japan and ticket back home: ¥10,800 one-way for domestic flights.
If you want to go even cheaper than that, go for the budget airlines. Starting at nearly ¥4,000 one-way, Peach Air flies to Nagasaki from Osaka’s Kansai International Airport. The journey is just over an hour. Alternatively, you can fly to Fukuoka via Peach or Jetstar from Kansai (about 1 hour, also for around ¥4,000 one-way for Peach) or Tokyo (about 2 hours, starting at around ¥5,000 one-way), then take a 2-hour bus (for about ¥2,500) to Nagasaki. See our article on getting to and from Nagasaki Airport for more.
There are also overnight buses from various areas in Kansai, but since most cost more than low-cost carriers and take far longer, flying is still your best bet.
Gunkanjima tour companies
All of these tour companies are licensed—so don’t worry, you’re in good hands.
1. The Gunkanjima Concierge Company
You start by meeting in their office at Tokiwa Terminal, which is close to the Ourakaigandori stop of the tramway. Prices are ¥4,300 (¥4,000, plus the ¥300 entrance fee we mentioned earlier) for adults, with discounted prices for students aged 14 and younger, as well as groups of at least 15 people.
They make two tours a day, at 10:10 am and 1:20 pm (assembly time is 20 minutes before departure, but it’s best to arrive earlier), and provide audio guides for foreigners. (The tours are conducted in Japanese.) I booked this company for my Gunkanjima trip, and had a pleasant experience with them. If your tour gets canceled, they’ll take you to an area from which you can see Gunkanjima.
Gunkanjima Concierge allows the chronically ill to join their tours, but a medical certificate proving that the guest is fit to travel on sea is required. Again, it might be extremely difficult to provide emergency medical assistance, so please consider this carefully if you have a chronic illness.
Access (via tram): Ourakaigandori | Address: Tokiwa Town, 1-60 Tokiwa Terminal Building 102, Nagasaki | Phone: 095-895-9300
2. Gunkanjima Cruise
Cruises depart from Motofuna Pier, which is a short walk from the Ohato tram stop, at 9:10 am and 2:00 pm. Be sure to arrive at least 20 minutes before departure for pre-departure procedures such as registration and payment. Tours cost ¥3,900 for adults and ¥1,950 for children; the mode of payment is strictly cash. As with Gunkanjima Concierge, tours are conducted in Japanese.
Access: Ohato | Address: 11-22 Motofunamachi, Nagasaki City | Phone: 095-827-2470
3. Yamasa Shipping Co. Ltd.
Departing at 9:00 am and 1:00 pm (with tours being suspended in January and December), Yamasa’s tours are 2 hours and 30 minutes long. At ¥4,500 for adults (those aged 15 and above), it’s the priciest among the 3 options, although there are discounts for children and groups. There’s a quick explanation in English, but most of the tour is conducted in Japanese. Here are some things to take note of:
- Payment is strictly cash only.
- Children aged 6 and younger are not allowed to explore Gunkanjima, so they will have to wait behind with a parent or guardian on the boat for the duration of the tour.
- Yamasa has an on-board AED, but it asks those with chronic illnesses not to join the tour. In case of emergencies, they could call a medical helicopter, but it still can’t land on the island in harsh weather.
Access (via tram): Ohato | Address: Window 7, Nagasaki Port Ferry Terminal Building, 17-3 Motofuna-machi, Nagasaki | Phone: 095-822-5002
* The island in Skyfall was apparently inspired by Hashima, but the film was not actually shot on Gunkanjima.
This post was last updated in April 2017.