While the trek is a bit difficult, some travelers with disabilities can visit Gunkanjima in Nagasaki with help from a local organization.
Though it is officially called Hashima, the small mining island off the cost of Nagasaki came to be called Gunkanjima (Battleship Island) because the silhouette of the over-built island looks like a naval battleship. Its eerie look even became the inspiration for a Bond villain’s hideout.
Coal was first discovered on Gunkanjima in 1810 by the feudal lord of Saga, and after mining operations continued to build up, it was purchased by the Mitsubishi Corporation and permanently inhabited from 1887 onward.
Though the island is only 480 meters long and 150 meters wide, it was home to 5000 residents – both miners and their families. The island was expanded and high sea walls were erected to protect the mining operations, residential space, schools, restaurants, shops, public bath and hospital.
Operations were closed down in 1974 and the residents were required to leave the island. The buildings slowly gave way to the elements, leaving a haunting atmosphere.
Starting in 2009, tours made use of a newly created pier and started offering 45 minute visits to the island.
The island can be reached only via tour boats operators like Gunkanjima Concierge: https://www.gunkanjima-concierge.com/en/
Gunkanjima is not easily accessible for most people with physical disabilities, particularly for those in wheelchairs, due to the pier on the island. The pier is below the height of the island and requires crossing a gangway from the boat to the island that is less than the width of a wheelchair, and then going up a flight of stairs. However, with the advance notification and the help the local accessible tourism organization, getting to Gunkanjima is a possibility.
Unfortunately, power wheelchairs cannot get on the boat due to the steep ramp up to the boat and two step inside the boat, so transferring to a manual wheelchair will be required. Once transferred, there is a wheelchair space on the boat with tie-down straps to secure the wheelchair from moving. On the trip to the island, there is an explanation of the history of the island and some short videos. An accessible toilet is available on the boat.
Upon arrival at the island, the captain will decide if it is safe or not to go on land. Since the sea can be quite rough in the area, there are times where it is not safe to go on land and the boat will just cruise around the island instead. It should also be noted that there are times where it is considered safe for those without disabilities to go on land, but those with disabilities must stay on board due to the extra difficulties of crossing the gangway. The captain will make the decision upon arrival. In the event that going ashore is not allowed, VR sets are available at the Gunkanjima Digital Museum near the Oura Church in Nagasaki.
Since the gangway is too narrow for wheelchairs, those who cannot walk will be carried via a sling stretcher over the gangway and then carried up the steps.
A manual wheelchair is provided for use on the island.
Once on the island, visitors must cross a slightly bumpy bridge made of corrugated metal but the newly created observation path is very flat and smooth. There are a few benches to rest on.
Visitors are only allowed to stay for a short period of around 45 minutes. Guests with special needs disembark after other guests and re-embark first, therefore the time on the island is further shortened. Of the three viewing decks, guests with disabilities may only be able to visit the first two.
The visitor center at the departure dock also has an accessible toilet.
Advance reservation and preparations are needed to visit Gunkanjima. Please be sure to contact the Nagasaki Barrier Free Promotion Committee: [email protected].
It is great to see local organizations help visitors with disabilities visit an otherwise inaccessible location. The trip to Gunkanjima is a bit strenuous for some travelers, but is a unique opportunity that is worth the extra effort.
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