Great day today, in many ways. We met with Professor Brian Burke-Gafney in Nagasaki, and he is a brilliant collaborator – calm, friendly, informed. Brian wrote the first article on Hashima to be published in English in the 1990s and is an expert about Thomas Glover, the Scottish engineer who did so much to help Japan industrialise in the late nineteenth century. We’ll meet with Brian tomorrow for a 2 hour lecture seminar about the island and its history (and will of course report back about that).
In the afternoon, we went on a commercial tour to the island and visited the place that we have looked at and imagined for so long now. The tour was run by the Black Diamond tourist company – in Japanese black Diamond is a poetic word for coal – and it lasted for about 3 hours in total. Saying that, though, we only spent about 30 minutes on the island, and that time was heavily supervised. We were kept firmly within bounds. No time to wander off and enter the buildings, which appear on the verge of imploding into their own ground….into the sea.
We weren’t really surprised by that as we knew that this was the official tour, and that the history of the island as well as any wandering would be sanitised and policed. I’m sure that things will be better when we visit the island with Brian on 30 July, weather permitting.
The tour was a classic piece of heritage tourism, and no mention was made of the forced labour of Japanese and Korean prisoners of war between 1939-45. Very little either about specific human stories, the sort of stuff that creates imaginings and connections, and which allows you to feel.
So strange to be in Nagasaki in many ways…thinking about the atom bomb; hearing about its hypocentre 500 metres above the ground; imagining the prisoners on Hashima having a perfect image of the mushroom cloud exploding over the city; hearing about survivors and fires raging….all the dead, and infected. Difficult not to make links with Terror from the Air by Peter Sloterdijk, and his concept of atmoterrorism, a type of violence inflicted on the environment itself with the express intent of maximising damage.
So strange too to have visited Hashima island….a site of rubble…..The weather was hot, 100% humidity, but a sea fog engulfed almost everything, covering the mountains on the mainland, clothing sky and sea….riding through the whiteness until we came to Gunkanjima, the Gunship island, standing there in the mist rotting, stressing, breaking itself up more and more…
After the visit, so much going on my head and body that I find it difficult to say anything interesting about it….I feel like I’m some kind of data collector, but the data is atmospheric, mere mood stuff, intangible….will hopefully be able to process and shape it over the coming days….at the minute I’m just lost in it….standing sideways, tripped up…maybe not such a bad place to be….
I was interested by Mark’s translation of the final words spoken by the tour guide to his large Japanese audience who gasped in appreciation at his heroic discourse about the island’s role in Japanese modernity. He said that Gunkanjima (the island built by the Mitsubishi Company to mine coal) was in the process of returning to Hashima (the name for the island before industrialisation).
These words are essentially futural, and to my mind, open up a philosophical space wherein the idea of a world, a world of (human) dwelling is being superseded by a different paradigm or value system based on what we might call the elemental. Whereas the ‘world’ is built, planned and known by human beings, the elemental obeys its own agencies and creates it own complexities. Uncontrollable…going on without us….maybe the way that Hashima is working on me now.
Lesson for the day:
If we are ‘to care for the future’, then, we perhaps need to start to dealing with the elemental, learning to embrace it and to reconfigure how we open ourselves to it — if we can, that is…