This small island located in the Inland Sea of Japan has grown in fame during the last twelve months at a quite staggering rate and its present fame has been heightened by appearances on a BBC2 nature programme (watch it here) and an Expedia advert in the UK (watch it here) as well as a few mainstream articles in the printed media. It may be nicknamed rabbit island but its history is so contrasting to its cuteness appeal these days.
During WWII the Japanese army secretly produced poison gas on this isolated island which was considered to be discreet and away from civilisation. The rabbits were brought to the island for testing the effects of the poisonous gas though there is debate as to whether the thousands of rabbits present today are relatives of freed test bunnies or were in fact brought to the island by schoolchildren in 1971.
My wife is very much an animal lover and I thought that Okunoshima would be very much to her liking and an ideal birthday treat as attending the Sanfrecce Hiroshima J-League football game wasn’t her present. It just happened to fall on the actual day of her birthday!
Anyway, her mum agreed that taking her there was a great idea and together we plotted when to take her there for a surprise trip. That day had to be in Golden Week on a gloriously sunny day inevitably leading to huge crowds of people lining up in the port of Tadanoumi to take the ferry on the twelve minute journey across the water. It wasn’t until we were queuing up that my wife realised where we were taking her (she wasn’t aware of the place beforehand) and immediately her face lit up with excitement.
Having left Hiroshima at about 7:30 am that morning we finally got on to rabbit island just before midday and took the 10-15 minute walk round to the west side where there is a large hotel and it is there that many of the bunnies are supposed to congregate.
Normally, wild rabbits are difficult to see as they’re so alert to danger from predators but not so on Okunoshima where they have no fear and it didn’t take too long for us to see our first rabbit and the look on my wife’s face was exactly how I hoped she would react. She was delighted and seeing her play with them throughout the day was a memorable one for me.
Sadly, there were far too many visitors on the island on the day we went for the rabbits to mob and surround us like in the aforementioned TV appearances. On the day we went, there were bits of carrot and cabbage lying all over the island as well as the rabbit food (the packets of this aren’t sold on the island and are only available at the ferry port ticket office) which is probably no surprise as every visitor wants to obviously feed the rabbits so for the cuddly, tame bunnies it’s basically all-you-can-eat each and every day! No wonder some of them are a bit fat!
What was also very interesting for me were the half a dozen haikyo (abandoned ruins) on the island. These valuable war ruins recount the times of the very distant past including cannon batteries of the Geiyo Fortess period, and the power plant and poison gas storehouse from the days of the Imperial army. Entry is prohibited though as they are still considered to be dangerous.
After a lunch break we cut through the middle of the island (which is only 4km in circumference anyway!) on a lovely hiking trail that ascended to a lookout point for some fine views of the surrounding islands. It really doesn’t matter how many rabbits you’ve already seen as we were still pretty excited every time we saw one which it has to be said was very, very often!
It may have taken a couple of hours to get off the island and it was a very long day trip (13 hours in total) but certainly one I’m glad we did. Of course the rabbits are the main star attraction and rightly so but Okunoshima is a beautiful and interesting island in itself and I would’ve probably enjoyed it just as much even without the bunnies!
How to get there: From JR Mihara station you need to take the Kure Line to Tadanoumi station and it’s a short 10 minute walk from there to the port. A return ticket on the ferry is ¥620 and it takes just over ten minutes to reach the island.