A Battleship Island in Second Life

Hashima, February 2023 – click any image for full size

Occupying a Full private region leverage the Land Capacity bonus, Hashima Island (or more simply, Hashima, given the -shima suffix can mean “island” alongside the more familiar (to western ears) rendaku form of Jima) is the latest regions design by Titus Palmira, Sofie Janic and Megan Prumier, appearing in-world under the “Skrunda” banner.

Like Skrunda-2, which I wrote about in February 2021 and again in November 2021, and which was modelled after the Soviet-era township / base of Skrunda in Latvia, Hashima is modelled after a physical world location which might not be otherwise well known to many: a tiny abandoned island situated some 15 km from the centre of Nagasaki, and one of over 500 uninhabited islands lying within the greater Nagasaki Prefecture.

Hashima, February 2023

Known to locals as Gunkanjima – “Warship Island”, more usually referenced as “Battleship Island” – it is a place indelibly linked to Japan’s industrialisation in the late 19th / early 20th centuries, and which has more recently been a focus of some international controversy. It is said that the nickname arose in the 1920’s and was due to the resemblance the silhouette of the island had, when seen from the city, with the the hulk of the inter-war battleship Tosa.

The latter had been been launched just months before Japan signed the Washington Naval Treaty of 2022, which effectively outlawed warships of her intended size and armament. As a result, her hull, sans its big guns and much of its superstructure, lay in Nagasaki harbour for much of 1922 prior to her being towed to the Seto Sea, to be used as a target for the Imperial Japanese Navy whilst testing new gun and torpedo systems.

Hashima photographed in 1930, when it had gained the local nickname “Gunship Island”. Credit: Shinkosha publications

By the time of the Tosa’s construction, however, Hashima had already been continuously occupied for more than 30 years. It had come to prominence as the Meiji Restoration sought to establish Japan as an economic and military powerhouse under the slogan Enrich the country, strengthen the military from the 1890s onwards, spurring massively accelerated industrial growth within the country. Coal was known to lie beneath the island, so as part of this drive, Mitsubishi purchased the island to exploit the coal reserves beneath and under the surrounding seabed.

Four deep shafts were cut through the island’s rock to reach the undersea coal seams, and by 1916 work was underway to both expand the island through land reclamation and offer better protection for its growing workforce. In particular, this lead to the construction of large sea wall defences and the first large-scale use of concrete in the construction of extensive housing in Japan through the development of the island’s 7-storey tall apartment blocks, designed to give workers and their families better protection from typhoons.

Hashima, February 2023

The island’s coal production reached its zenith in the late 1950s, when it was home to over 5,000 inhabitants – which is a lot for an island roughly 16 acres in size. It boasted a school, a playground, swimming pool, cinema, welfare centre, shops, a shrine and a hospital – all packed into a space just 480 metres long and 160 metres across. However, the rapid rise of oil and gas in Japan during the 1960s saw an equally rapid decline in the country’s use of coal. By January 1974 Mitsubishi decided continued mining, even at a reduced scale, was no longer viable on the island, and so closed down the pits and within three months had completed removed all inhabitants and all salvageable equipment, leaving the buildings and streets to nature.

For their interpretation of the island, Sofie and Megan offer a setting post the April 1974 island clearance, with nature in a state of rapid take-over – although there are still signs of some activity: steam rises from one area of plant, smoke periodically belches from the finger of a chimney stack, and a small fresh fish market is open on the pier where tourists would normally make their landing. How much of the build is based on the actual Hashima and how much has been pulled from the creator’s imaginations is unclear.

Hashima, February 2023

The apartment blockhouses clustered to one end of the island offer a reasonable facsimile, but some liberties appear to have been taken in the placement of features such as the mine shafts (one of which rather imaginatively leads to a hidden cafeteria). Similarly, while the island’s shrine is represented, the “stairway to hell” which climbed up to it has been replaced by a more roundabout route to reach it.

Not that these differences from the actual island diminish the build in any way; there are plenty of references about Hashima to be found on the web – I would certainly suggest this interactive tour – so those with an interest can research the original with ease; and the build itself is atmospheric enough to give more than a good flavour of the original and encourage one to learn more about its history.

Hashima, February 2023

In 2002, Mitsubishi relinquished their ownership of the island, with Nagasaki city now holding jurisdiction over it. It has been the subject of limited tours 2009 onwards, which is also the year in which the current controversy concerning the island first arose. It was in 2009 that Japan first applied to UNESCO for Hashima and 22 other sites within the country to be awarded World Heritage Site status for their roles in the nation’s development. This led to objections from both South Korea and China on the grounds that from the 1930s through to the end of the Asia–Pacific War, Korean and Chinese nationals were forcibly moved to the island and made to work the mines.

South Korea maintained its objections through until 2015, when Japan agreed to admit the use of forced labour at Hashima and other locations during the war, and to establish a full record of this at visitor centres related to the UNSECO sites. However, immediately following UNESCO granting World Heritage status to the sites, Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida effectively walked back the agreement, and UNESCO has remained critical of Japan for failing to acknowledge the full history of the island, with the Japanese government refusing to adhere to the agreement as recently at December 2022.

Hashima, February 2023

In the meantime, and while it might not be widely known in terms of its role in the industrialisation of Japan, Hashima is likely known to film goers around the world as the fictitious “deserted island off the coast of Macau” which served as one of the setting for the 23rd James Bond film, Skyfall, in 2015. It was also indirectly referenced in a 2017 South Korean war film, The Battleship Island, which told the fictional story of an attempt by Korean labourers imprisoned on the island to make their escape.

Rich in historical context, and a springboard for explorations both in-world and across the web to capture the story of its namesake, Hashima Island is an engaging place to visit.

Hashima, February 2023

SLurl Details


One thought on “A Battleship Island in Second Life

  1. How exciting! I have long been fascinated by this place so it is absolutely wonderful to learn that there is a homage to it in SL. I will look forward to visiting.


Have any thoughts?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.