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Japan’s most famous urban ruins weren’t always deserted, as shown in this video from the 1960s when Gunkanjima’s ghost town was still alive and well.

Looking at the abandoned ruins of Gunkanjima, the island in Nagasaki Prefecture seen in movies such as Skyfall, Battle Royale II, and the live-action Attack on Titan, it can be hard to imagine anyone living there. The structures, deteriorating even as their remains become overgrown with vegetation, have such an atmosphere of oppressive emptiness that it’s easy to forget it really wasn’t all that long ago that Gunkanjima, or Battleship Island, was home to a thriving coal mining community.

▼ Gunkanjima today

It wasn’t until 1974 that the mine was shut down, and while that was the result of a long-coming shift away from coal power in Japan, the facility was still a legitimate enterprise in 1965, when Mainichi News sent a camera crew to record footage of life on Gunkanjima.

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The transportation technology of the time made Gunkanjima, officially called Hashima, a one-hour trip from the Nagasaki mainland. Rather than commute by ship, though, the mineworkers lived on the island, along with their families, and in 1965 some 2,700 men, women, and children called Gunkanjima home.

While there were rich mineral deposits to be found below, there was precious little buildable land on the surface of the manmade island. With no direction to build except up, the average apartment house was 10 stories tall, and the Mainichi video reports that “the residents live comfortable lives.”

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▼ Although with one kid looking through a telescope, the other playing the piano, and Mom vacuuming, we’re not sure why the TV is still on.

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Obviously, everyone’s life was in some way linked to the coal mines, from which massive quantities of the ore were pulled up.

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Priests were periodically called to the island to pray for the safety of the workers, and even young children would participate in the ceremonies, asking for the protection of their fathers and older, working-age siblings.

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After their shift, the miners would come back so covered in soot that they’d hop into the communal tub still wearing their work clothes, turning the water opaque in the process.

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The miners weren’t the only ones who spent part of their day underground, though. The island’s topography meant that travelling on the surface from point A to point B meant climbing up and down a series of stairways.

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As an alternative, though, there were subterranean passageways that allowed residents to take a more direct course.

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Gunkanjima wasn’t exactly brimming with entertainment options, although it reportedly had a movie theater and a pachinko parlor. The video says that fishing was also a popular way for miners to spend their downtime.

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There wasn’t any father/son bonding going on there, though. Fishing along the seawall was considered too dangerous for children, so they were prohibited from casting their poles into the ocean. Instead, many took up raising carrier pigeons.

▼ We wonder, did they endlessly bicker over which kind of pigeon was the best, like how gamers argue about Nintendo vs. Sony?

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And while the community’s layout meant that there was no advantage to using a bicycle to get around, being able to ride one was still considered a necessary skill for if and when the children left the island, which is why they would practice on the school’s athletic field, one of the few open areas on Gunkanjima at the time.

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Another tricky thing to teach kids was an appreciation for nature, seeing as how they were surrounded by concrete high-rises. The 10th-story preschool shown in the video tried to instill some sense of the natural environment with a small indoor garden and fish pond.

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▼ A sign near an athletic field with “Let’s all plant grass and trees” written on it

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The video closes with the narrator saying, “The people living on the island are hoping to create a warmer atmosphere with more greenery.” Ironically, though, Gunkanjima is now greener than ever after more than 40 years of no one at all living there.

Source: Grape
Images: YouTube/懐かしの毎日ニュース