Life on Hashima, where population density was highest in Japan
At the time, the population density of Hashima was the highest in Japan; nearly 3,200 people, comprised of workers at the coal mine including company staff, underground miners, and surface miners, as well as their families, lived mainly in the symbolic, high-rise, reinforced concrete apartment building - the first of its kind in the country - on this tiny island.
An island with the highest population density in Japan
The Hashima coal mine was literally nightless, where workers worked 24 hours in two shifts (three shifts after the war). In addition to the coal mining facility, office, and homes of the workers, the island had a hospital, a school, a dining hall, communal bath houses, a shrine, a temple, stores, a hotel, a cinema, a billiard ground, and a brothel - every essential establishment needed for living, and then some. Farmers and fishermen came from Takahama on the opposing bank on the Nomo Peninsula to sell their goods at the open-air market called “Hashima Ginza”. It is said that the market was always crowded, even on rainy days.
The town of showering tides
There was a part of the island that was called “town of showering tides”, because whenever there was a storm and the sea was rough, the waves would hit the sea wall and splash water over the apartments, showering the town. The two-story, brick-built, 400-seat cinema, built in 1927, named “Showa-kan”, was placed in a spot that was hit particularly hard by the tides. One magazine (“Shufu No Tomo” magazine, March 1, 1956 issue) described being in the cinema as follows: “The cinema was in the worst-hit spot on the island. You can hear the water hitting the roof with a disturbing splash”.
The author Suiin Emi, who visited the island in 1933, wrote in his book “Suiin Angya Zenshu (Suiin Pilgrimage Collection) Vol 5”: “The lights from the buildings illuminated the island, which reminded me of the Palace of the Dragon King (from the Japanese folktale Urashima-Taro). For a moment, it looked like it was a floating department store.” “There is a shrine, a school, a temple, a cinema, and restaurants on the island - it is truly a Utopia on the sea - or an actual paradise.” He also said “the miners are no longer rough as they used to be. Were (Leftist) ideologues to visit the island, they would have no chance, as rescue and aid agencies are there to maintain order.”
Japan's first high-rise apartment building
The reinforced concrete apartment buildings - the first of its kind in Japan – came to symbolize Hashima. The enormous, 7-story, quadrilaterally-shaped apartment complex (“Building Number 30”) was built in 1916. 145 residential units with a single room the size of 6 tatami mats (approx. 10 m²) surrounded a courtyard. Each unit was furnished with a kitchen stove, but the sink used for washing was communal, which was placed in the open hallway. The 9-story building called “Nikkyu Shataku (meaning Day Worker Company Housing, because it housed workers paid by the day)”, built in 1918, was an even bigger apartment building, with a gross floor area of 12,000m², housing 255 residential units. Here, each unit had two rooms and the kitchen had a stove and a sink. Residents interacted with one another in the common areas; adults used them for cooking, washing and cooling off in the evenings, while the children used them for playing. The magazine “Funjin no Tomo”, issued in October 1936, said that there were 130 Korean workers living in the half basement of the “Nikkyu Shataku”.
Precious water and sense of community
In Hashima, water was a precious commodity. Freshwater was brought to the island by a water boat, and distributed from a storage tank located at the most elevated part of the island. Every household had its own water pot, and people used water sparingly. At the Nikkyu Shataku, each household had two faucets, one for freshwater and one for seawater. Water supply was limited to only certain hours of the day. The price of freshwater was two tubs (approx. 260 liters) and two cans (approx. 36 liters) for 0.015 yen. Seawater was free - therefore, families of miners used seawater for laundry, cleaning, washing dishes, and even for rinsing rice. When boats were cancelled due to stormy weather, use of freshwater was strictly restricted.
There were three communal bathhouses on the island: One was in the coal mine office for the pit workers; another was in the 9-story Nikkyu Shataku for the families of the miners; and the other was for the families of company staff. The magazine “Fujin no Tomo” described in its October 1936 issue that “when the weather turned stormy, the first thing to be replaced by sea water was the bath water”. The difficulty in obtaining water played an important role in heightening the sense of community in Hashima.
Children on the island and education
There were many children living in Hashima. On November 3rd, 1893, the Mitsubishi Company opened Hashima Elementary School, which later became a public school. According to the document “Summary of the Current State of Takahama Village” (issued June 30, 1926), the Hashima Jinjo Higher Elementary School had a total of 376 students, with 6 elementary classes and 1 high school class; there were 7 regular classrooms, 1 sewing classroom, and 1 science classroom. A new school building was completed in 1934. In 1941, the school was renamed from Takahama Sonritsu Jinjo Higher Elementary School to Hashima Kokumin Gakko. According to the accounts of the people who knew the island, children of Korean workers also attended the school, without discrimination.
Severe shortage of food during the war
As the war progressed and the country’s position worsened, supplies became scarce. When rice ran out, “defatted soybeans”, or dregs of soybeans used for extracting oil, became a replacement. People who lived in Hashima at the time said they often experienced diahrrhea from eating the “defatted soybeans”. Korean workers have made similar testimony describing the situation, but this demonstrates the overall shortage of food suppply on the island during those years.