Long story short, this island, off the coast of Hiroshima prefecture to the south, is full of rabbits. My travel buddies and I had been watching YouTube videos of the place for months beforehand in anticipation. Of course we had to go and see it for ourselves…
Pronounced “Ohhhhkunoshima” (learnt this the hard way, after Japanese people couldn’t understand what we were saying because of our awkward pronunciation!), the island is a fabulous mishmash of cuteness and fascinating history.
There are a couple of theories as to why the island is filled with rabbits, but the one I believe is that they were used as test subjects when the island was a production factory for poison gas around the time of the Second World War (the island was also scrubbed off the map, as it was a top secret operation). The war ended, some rabbits survived, and have bred (like rabbits, because they are rabbits) until the island was covered with them.
Epic journey: Tokyo to Ōkunoshima
Travelling from Tokyo to Ōkunoshima was quite the epic trip of around 500 miles starting off with a Shinkansen (Bullet Train) ride (with a few changes) from Tokyo to Mihara…
The Shinkansen is amazing! Super fast, super smooth, and super on-time. It’s amazing that we travelled half way across the country in just half a day.
From there, we took overground and local trains to Tadanoumi, where we hopped on the ferry over to Ōkunoshima island.
The minute we stepped off the ferry onto the island, we saw rabbits. I felt like I had gone temporarily insane, had somehow fallen down the rabbit hole into Wonderland, or cropped up in a Father Ted episode – where else can you be on an island surrounded by rabbits? Hint: nowhere?
We took some food along for them (purchased at Tadanoumi ferry port – funnily enough, they don’t sell it on the island), and this had to happen (there is also a video clip):
The rabbits on the island are used to people, so they will run up to you expecting food. They’re not very affectionate though and don’t really like to be petted. We did see some… more savage elements to the rabbits; there were a few with mangy eyes (one looked like a zombie) and some of the older ones didn’t look like they were in the best of health. They are wild rabbits, so they don’t get vet care or anything. Plus, they have to compete with each other for resources (a.k.a. fight).
Within the first hour of us being there, one of the older rabbits went for a smaller rabbit and actually ripped its ear off… I think that poor rabbit’s screams will be ringing in my ears for a long time.
Anyway! They were still very cute, especially this little guy who was the smallest rabbit I saw on the island 🙂
Hotel and grounds
We stayed in the only hotel on the island, a traditional Japanese hotel called the Kyukamura Ōkunoshima.
Our room looked like this (we had futon beds to lay down on the floor at night):
I woke up in the middle of the night one night, couldn’t get back to sleep for a while, and guess what popped into my head? The Grudge. Yep. Probably the worst thing that could have entered my mind at that point!
This was the view outside our hotel window, looking down onto the delapidated golf course and out to sea:
The hotel grounds are odd; supposedly it used to be, or was planned to be more fancy than it is currently, as there is a neglected swimming pool, golf course, and lots of tennis courts.
The island is beautiful; really lush and green, with pretty beaches. It’s only 4km around, so we were able to walk and cycle around it to enjoy the sights.
I was a bit disappointed that I couldn’t get closer to the lighthouse – pretty sure that’s a warning sign of some kind (to-do list: learn Japanese).
Bunnies on the beach!
A shrine filled with rabbits!
World War II and poison gas
There are a few pieces of evidence in the form of ruined buildings nodding to the fact that the island had quite a grim past as a production centre for poison gas. There is also a museum, which only cost about 100 yen (50p-ish) to get into:
This is quite an ominous-looking ruin; it’s the remains of a poison gas storehouse. All the ruins are stained black from when flame guns were used to incinerate materials after the war.
Travelling around the island, you can see the remains of artillery batteries also.
This was the most ominous-looking building of them all – it is the ruins of a former power plant. The rabbits lying in the path just reign it back a little, so it doesn’t look so scary 🙂
Good news! Just before we left, a little rabbit was hanging out outside the hotel; it was One-Ear! We recognised him because, well… you get the idea. It seemed like he was putting himself in our view to tell us he was ok despite the savagery. Go One-Ear! 🙂