Recuperating the Monstrous: Matter and Entropy on Hashima Island

Forthcoming, in the edited volume Monstrous Geographies, Inter-Disciplinary press, Oxford.

How can we respond to sites that are ‘ruined’ and made ‘toxic’ by layers of trauma, psychic, social and environmental? How can we reclaim their hospitality – that is, their potential as sites for living with and alongside the ‘other’ – whilst at the same time welcome their monstrousness? How can we encounter and engage with the logic of matter transmogrification and entropy manifest at such sites, such that these become habitable? In this chapter, we address these questions via reference to some of our work on Hashima Island, Japan. Bought by the Mitsubishi company in 1890, and mined for coal, Hashima played a vital role in creating Japan’s industrial and political revolutions in the twentieth century. By 1907, the small rock reef had doubled in size; this extension, formed from slag waste, was levelled, ready for the construction of dormitories for miners. Within this 1.2 square mile area, by 1950, people lived in and amongst concrete tower blocks, a school (with gymnasium and playground), a hospital, cinema, shops, public baths, shafts, stairways, parks, tunnels, staircases, a police station, a promenade, a swimming pool and an encircling sea wall. This wall, Brian Burke-Gaffney writes, ‘gave the island the appearance of a battleship riding the waves. The resemblance was so uncanny that a local newspaper reporter dubbed it Battleship Island…’, or Gunkanjima (軍艦島).