Japan is such an incredible country and it has so many things that makes it different from the rest of the world. But excluding the most obvious examples like on time transportation or sparkling clean streets, Japan shows an incredible care and love to the nature and animals. That’s why there are several places in Japan where you can get very close to the wildness including wild deers (with the most famous places to spot them being Nara or Itsukushima), cats (with the famous Aoshima island) and even rabbits – and the reason why today I’m telling you to visit Okunoshima.
Less famous than the other animal friendly destinations, Okunoshima is a small island of 4.3 km circumference which belongs to Hiroshima Prefecture. Located inside the Sea of Japan it makes it already charming, but more than than, it has its own ~1000 living charms hopping around the island. Therefore the name of the place, the “Rabbit island”.
And with so many cute faces to see around, I would definitely recommend you to come and spend the days here. I know you may think that 1 or 2 hours should be enough, but trust me. If you love rabbits, once you get there will be hard to leave. And even if people told me there is not much to see there and I should be back from Okunoshima in about 2 hours, I spent the entire day there, coming with the 1st ferry and leaving with the last one. And now, let me tell you how could you spend the time in Okunoshima.
The main reason for people to visit the island is with no doubt the rabbits. And because you know what you’re coming for, you have to come prepared. This means bringing some food! The best one to bring is the fresh one, including salad, cabbage, carrots. But in case you didn’t had the chance to buy some in advance, your last chance is to buy it from the ferry terminal (in Omishima or the port you’re coming from). Just keep in mind there is no food available on the island, so get prepared in advance if you’d like to have the honor of feeding the locals.
If you love rabbits, you’ll feel like in paradise. Of course you’ll see many happy children, but you can also be a happy adult with no exception. The good part is that the island it’s relatively small and with about 1000 rabbits living on it, it’s pretty easy to spot them.
Once you step out the ferry just follow the main road as it will always lead you to them. Just don’t expect them to be precisely on the main road. They are always around – under a table, in the forest, near the main road, under the bushes, just all around the places.
The only difficult time you’ll have is to move on. Basically, stop feeding one rabbit and move to the next one. It’s magical as you get so close to them, that some may come and sit on you. They even put their little hands on you, so you can easily cuddle them. Fortunately they aren’t scared of people at all, but on the contrary. They are even friendlier than some pets.
Keep an eye on the babies as they are simply adorable. You can find nests with 2-3, so do don’t lose the chance to feed them. The mothers are cool and they don’t seem bothered for you to get close to them, which is great.
Around the island
Okunoshima is part of the Setonaikai National Park. This means you’re always surrounded by beautiful nature and hiking trails, and this island won’t make an exception. And the good news is that you don’t even have to take a break from the rabbits. They will always be around you, just pay enough attention around.
First of all, there’s no chance on Earth to get lost on this island. So whatever path you take, don’t worry, as you’ll always find your way back. Basically, there is the main road circling the island, for which you can use the bicycle to go around, and then another few small roads leading you to the observatory / top of the island. If you spend the day here, you’ll have the chance to experience every little road as the island it’s already tiny. So try to get lost and enjoy the scenery.
Okunoshima – Poison Gas Museum
And until now, did you even thought for a second why this precise island is full of rabbits? Why is this more special than all the other islands around? Well, I do have an answer for you but the story behind is not a happy one at all.
The only existing museum on the island is called “Poison Gas Museum”. Going back in time, more precisely in 1929, we discover that the Tadanoumi production facility was established on Okunoshima island with the purpose of producing poison gases for the Japanese Army. It survived until the end of the war, in1945, when the US forces destroyed it. But even if opened for a relatively short period of time, the impact it had was huge.
There were various types of toxic gases produced in the facility, signal barrels, pipes, balloon bombs, but the priority was given to the production of Ipelit gas. And despite the fact the workers tried to cover themselves with rubber uniforms, anti-poison gas masks, gloves, long boots and so on, this Ipelit gas was so strong that was still managing to penetrate through the protective equipment. This resulted in injured skin, eyes and throat, conjunctivitis, pneumonia, bronchopneumonia and so on. As you can understand it was a disaster, people were getting sick day by day with little chances for recovery.
There are no photos allowed inside the museum, but there you can see pictures with the actual workers. Unfortunately, you’ll be able to feel their suffering only watching them. It is sad to see the effects of the war and chemical weapons on people. Not to mention that everything it has been secretly kept until 1984 and the island was erased on purpose from the maps.
The traces of the past
But despite the sad past, today there are only a few traces on the island highlighting the story like a gun platform, an electricity generating station, a poison storehouse and many rabbits. And now you’ll wonder what the rabbits have to do with this?
Well, you won’t be able to read about this anywhere apparently, at least not on official documents or inside the museum. But, rabbits were brought to the island with the purpose of testing the chemical weapons on them. And once the activity was over and the factory was destroyed, the rabbits were released on the island and lived there ever since.
So just imagine, that these precious creatures you see today are the descendants of those targeted as “guinea pigs” less than 100 years ago. It is heartbreaking to think this way, but unfortunately that’s just one of the consequences of the war. So think deeply and let’s do whatever we as individuals can for this to never happen again.
Despite the sad story, I do recommend you to enter this museum (one room) and reflect to all these sad past events. They do have some English translation and as the entry fee is only 150¥ you can’t say no.
Apart from the museum, there is another space where you can spend some indoor timing and even for free. Okunoshima visitor center is a beautiful space where you can learn more about the flora and fauna of the island and surroundings. It’s totally worth in a stop and don’t miss the lower floor exposition.
It may not be a big island, but it has everything it needs, including a hotel in case you want to extend your visit overnight and a restaurant. There is a good selection of food and drinks, so there’s no need to pack anything before coming here. Just come and enjoy.
There are regular ferries connecting Okunoshima with the island of Omishima and Tadanomi port. Always look for the latest timetable and prices on internet, but I can tell you it won’t cost a fortune. One way ferry from Omishima to Okunoshima costs as today 360¥ per adult, and if you bring your bicycle with you there is another 120¥ that you have to cover. The journey takes about 15 minutes only.
Inside the island
As the island it’s small, you can easily explore it by foot or bicycle. If you choose the bicycle, just be careful at the rabbits as they may sometimes stay in the middle of the road. There is a small area where you have to walk near the bicycle as the road becomes steep, but overall you’re good to go. Having a pair of snickers helps a lot too!
Well, that’s it from my side. I hope you enjoyed the article and one day you’ll visit Okunoshima by yourself. Meanwhile, get inspired from more articles across Japan and not only, here.
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