One of the main reasons why I wanted to visit Hiroshima again was to see the adorable and friendly rabbits that reside in Okunoshima (otherwise known as Rabbit Island) in Japan. This island actually has quite a dark history because it was originally used as a secret location for gas testing in the early 1900s during WWII. Though some of the abandoned facilities still remain, the island itself today now serves as a popular tourist destination attracting many visitors each year.
According to All Things Interesting:
A group of school kids who released eight rabbits onto the island in 1971 may have contributed to its rebirth and flourishing of bunny populations. By 2007, experts believed that there were 300 rabbits living on the island. The population continued to grow as the government banned new animals on the island as well as hunting.
Though they were suspected to once be used a test subjects in cruel experiments, now hundreds of rabbits inhibit the island. It is unclear how they have multiplied so fast because the island is very small and does not have a sustainable ecosystem, meaning they heavily rely on tourists for their food. The government also forced the scientists and military personnel to stay quiet about the experiments, so the island itself is shrouded in mystery. Though Okunoshima is suspected to have small traces of poison gas remaining (a lot of places in the world might), it has been deemed safe to visit by environmental specialists. It is definitely worth seeing if you are an animal lover or history buff.
Getting to Okunoshima
The easiest way to access Okunoshima is to ride the Sanyo Line from Hiroshima Station to Mihara Station, then transfer to Tadanoumi Station which takes about an hour and a half. Fortunately it is a relatively inexpensive journey. From Tadanoumi Station, Tadanoumi Port is just a 5 minute walk away. You can find the ferry time tables on the Okunoshima Tourist Website. The ferry ride is 15 minutes and costs only 310 yen. You can buy food for the rabbits at the harbor or also bring vegetables yourself (as I saw many Japanese people doing). I bought the recommended rabbit food for 500 yen because it gives them the best nutrition.
The island has one hotel accommodation/restaurant, but other than that almost everything else on the island is abandoned or roped off so visitors stay safe. I walked around the entire island in around 30 minutes and found it to be extremely peaceful.
Interacting with the Rabbits
I owned a pet rabbit as a kid named Patches, and she was extremely docile. However, since the rabbits here have no predators and are so used to human interaction, they behave somewhat like extremely hungry puppies. When you first get off the boat, the will hop towards you almost immediately and wait for you to take out the food. Instinctively they know what the crinkling sound of a bag means, and if you kneel down with food they will surround you!
I have been to rabbit cafes in Japan before, but these rabbits were completely different. I wouldn’t call them aggressive exactly, but they definitely know how to get the food from you. One rabbit ripped part of my food bag, but he was so cute I could only forgive him. You will see a number of rabbits digging holes and lounging in them, as well as palm trees grown around the island, so this place truly feels like a rabbit paradise.
The Okunoshima Tourist Website asks that you do not pick up the rabbits and instead let them come to you. They are virtually harmless, but can nip you if you are not careful. Just use common sense, and you will be fine. Despite what some videos show, the rabbits are peaceful for the most part.
Exploring the Abandoned Facilities
Seeing the remains of the poison gas facilities is somewhat haunting, but the gentle appearance of the rabbits will set your mind at ease. As you walk around the island and into the forested areas, you will notice that less rabbits are around but they will still come out to greet you (in hopes of getting food). As previously mentioned, most areas are roped off so tourists cannot get inside, but seeing the remnants of this former off-the-grid island is an unforgettable experience. It’s amazing seeing the rabbits live with virtually no fear.
The Future of Okunoshima
Though this island is a happy place, a lot of people worry about the future of the rabbits. Th ecosystem is unbalanced, and people are unsure of whether their growing population will be sustainable in the future or not. On rainy and cold days, not a lot of people come to feed them even though they have some caretakers on the island. The rabbits are living in a paradise for now, but if the island runs out of vegetation in the future, there will likely be famine.
Unfortunately the future is unpredictable, but all we can really do is continue to feed and support them. Like us, they only have a short time on this planet and should be taken care of as much as possible.