"Gansho-kun embodies the history of Gunkanjima."

An interview with the architectural mascot of Gunkanjima Island.

The eerie ruins of Gunkanjima Island, nine miles from the city of Nagasaki, were — at one time — home to the world’s most densely populated community. Meaning “Battleship Island”, this rugged rock bristles with abandoned concrete structures, testament to the once profitable undersea coal mines which supported the island and its residents. Established in 1887, during the peak of the Meiji Restoration, the island is a symbol to Japan’s rapid industrialization.

But by 1974, the coal reserves began to dry up. The mine was shuttered, and the population began their rapid departure. Since 2000, tourists began to rediscover the abandoned skeleton of this trembling and ominous place.

But I’m not interested in the tourists. I’m interested in the island’s moody and frowning mascot; Gansho-kun. The warden of an architectural ghost town; a living relic, hewn from coal and rebar and earth. Wearing a hat of demolished buildings, and sporting a fussy, troubled expression, he is one of the world’s few architectural mascots. So it’s obvious that we had to talk.

I shall keep the identity of the mascot secret. You might have seen them on Mondo Mascots, the twitter account dedicated to Japan’s flourishing trend for regional mascots.

So let’s take it to Gansho-kun. The interview has been edited lightly for clarity.

Tell me a little bit about yourself - who you are, and what you do?

What I can tell you is that I am one of staff who works for Gunkanjima Concierge company. I can’t tell you any more.

I understand that, on occasion, you play the role of Gansho-kun. Tell me about Gansho-kun, what they represent and how they relate to the island? Also, what does their name mean?

Gansho-kun is a two – year- old little boy. His body is made by shore reef, and the hat he wears is actually Gunkanjima. “Shore reef” in Japanease is “Gansho”. I am working hard on performing [which receives] love from people of all ages.

I've read about the really interesting phenomenon of mascots in Japan, and it was called yuru-kyara. Is that correct, and can you tell me more about it?

Yuru-kyara is coined word which means mascots engaged in promoting a company or prefecture revitalization.

When did this tradition begin? Is it quite recent?

It was started from Japan local expo in 1980’s. “Yuru-kyara” is named by Jun Miura who is [a] Manga artist.

What's it like to perform as Gansho-kun?

I am very happy that I can bring people a lot of fun. I hope to make children start to be interested in Gunkanjima by playing Gansho-kun.

When people visit Gunkanjuma, what are they most interested in seeing and doing there? 

They are interested in the scenery of the island which looks like a real battleship. They can also learn a lot about Hashima history at Gunkanjima Digital museum.

How unusual is it to have a mascot for a building or an island? Normally, I've seen mascots for brands, prefectures, government departments, and so on. I'm interested in the idea of a mascot for architecture.

The architecture on the island are very important in Hashima. They are not only parts of the island but also valuable to Japanese buildings history. With the shape of those buildings, Gansho- kun contains [the] history of Gunkanjima.

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