Gunkanjima Digital Museum
A museum in Nagasaki
, that makes heavy use of modern presentation technology and is about Hashima
, but in a more celebratory way without any mention of its darkest sides.
Note that Gunkanjima is the nickname of Hashima, meaning “Battleship Island”, in allusion to the silhouette of the island that from some angles is said to resemble that of such a warship. For some reasons the Japanese prefer this nickname over the island's real name.
More background info:
See under Hashima
What there is to see:
This museum is one of the younger attractions in Nagasaki
, set up after Hashima
was awarded World Heritage Site status, and that is associated with one of the operators of boat excursions to the actual island.
As the name suggests this museum involves plenty of state-of-the-art digital presentation technology, but it also has a few more traditional exhibits. So it's not all 100% digital (like a virtual museum would be).
At the entrance on the ground floor you get your ticket and a leaflet and are sent on your way upstairs. There are plenty of museum staff about to provide additional guidance, and several of them spoke fairly good English. The labelling of exhibits and static explanatory texts are bilingual, in Japanese and English, and the level of translation is OK, though occasionally a little clumsy.
The regular circuit through the museum is as follows: you start in an oblong room where you sit down and watch a large-scale presentation film projection that fills two entire walls. Some of the images, especially aerial shots of the current ghost town parts of the island are really quite stunning.
Opposite the video projection wall hang a number of interactive touchscreens on which you can explore the island in more depth, if only virtually, of course.
Next to this is another digital video presentation, this time a simulation of going down the coal mine of Hashima. Another digital station lets you explore the island's inhabitants' lives and jobs – all in an extremely celebratory fashion that portrays island life basically as if it was a little paradise.
Yet another partly digital element is an installation that changes as you move in front of it, turning a rendition of Hashima's silhouette from daytime to night when all the lights inside the buildings were on.
The largest physical exhibit without any digital extras is a recreation of a typical living room in one of the apartment blocks on Hashima
. You can see that the inhabitants were well equipped with the then latest luxuries, such as TV sets, radios and refrigerators – apparently Hashima once had the highest density of TVs, at a time when such a possession wasn't so normal on the mainland.
Another physical exhibit is a scale model of apartment block 30, Japan
's first seven-storey reinforced-concrete building. It's lovingly made and allows glimpses into some of the interiors where little figurines play out various scenes.
Other physical exhibits include coal miners' tools, boots, clothes, personal belongings of residents, as well as a set of models of a gym building in three stages of increasing dilapidation.
There's also a large and detailed drawing produced with colour made from coal dust – namely from coal mined on Hashima, so it is claimed, and a piece of such coal is on display next to the painting.
In the centre of the museum is the virtual-reality station, where you can put on VR goggles and explore – digitally – those parts of Hashima
that in real life are off limits to visitors. I had seen so many images of those parts already that I gave it a miss.
One station promised a video account of the preservation of Gunkanjima – but on the screens it only said “coming soon”. A final section was about the “Road to Nomination on the World Heritage List”. What they don't tell you, though, is the controversy this caused especially in Korea
. Because the commodification of Hashima focuses only on the Meiji Industrial Revolution heritage aspects from the mid-19th century to the early 20th century. The period when Korean and Chinese forced labourers were used by Japan to extract Hashima's coal under the harshest conditions is not mentioned in any way.
I had booked a priority ticket to Hashima
Island with the boat tour operator associated with the museum and such ticket holders were treated to a little extra, namely a short talk by a former Hashima resident who spoke of his memories of his time there – while a museum employee whispered a rough English translation in my ear. In addition this priority-ticket-holder group was treated to the extra service of being escorted from the museum to the pier from where the boat departed. Not that I would have had any difficulty finding the spot on my own …
, as a stand-alone attraction I would probably say you can give this museum a miss considering the price, unless you're really into all that interactive and VR stuff. The rest is a bit superficial, though visually appealing, and you don't learn anything about Hashima's darker sides. So from a dark-tourism perspective I'd say it's not worth the money they charge for admission. However
, since admission is free if you book a boat tour to Hashima
itself with the operator associated with the museum (see below) then why not take the gift and have a look. As a freebie it's OK.
in the heart of touristy Nagasaki
, between the foot of Glover Hill and the waterfront, a good mile (1.7 km) south of the train station.
Access and costs:
relatively easy to get to; quite expensive on its own, but free when combined with a Hashima
Details: The location of the museum isn't difficult to find. The nearest public transport is provided by tram line No. 5 (green) from the city centre and Chinatown. Get out at Oura-Kaigan-dori and walk south-west on the street of that name and turn left behind the big, grey, former bank building into Glover Street. The museum is the second building on the right and hard to miss.
Opening times: daily from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. (last admission half an hour before closing).
Admission: the regular adult fee is quite steep at 1800 JPY (ca. 15 EUR), but for youngsters there are several concessions.
The biggest concession, however, is that admission to the museum is free if
booked a boat tour
with the operator Gunkanjima Concierge – see also under Hashima
Time required: Depends how far you want to delve into the interactive and virtual-reality elements. Sticking to the regular presentation and analogue exhibits, half an hour can be sufficient. With a deeper immersion into the digital elements you may need more than twice that.
Combinations with other dark destinations:
See under Nagasaki
and of course in particular Hashima
. The museum is even associated with one of the boat tour operators that run cruises to Hashima. And since you get free admission to the museum if you book a boat tour with that company it makes this combination quite sensible.
Combinations with non-dark destinations: Some of the city's prime mainstream tourist attractions are just a few steps away from this museum, in particular Glover Hill with its European-style mansions and churches, and Hollander Slope and Chinatown are also only a short walk away.
- Gunkanjima Digital Museum 1 - reconstruction of a typical Hashima resident living room
- Gunkanjima Digital Museum 2a - scale model of Block 30
- Gunkanjima Digital Museum 2b - a glimpse inside
- Gunkanjima Digital Museum 3 - coal mining
- Gunkanjima Digital Museum 4 - coal
- Gunkanjima Digital Museum 5 - interactive installation, Hashima by night
- Gunkanjima Digital Museum 6 - stages of decay
- Gunkanjima Digital Museum 7 - merchandise
- Gunkanjima Digital Museum 8 - the outside
- Gunkanjima Digital Museum 9 - associated boat for Hashima tours