One of the quirkiest destinations in all of Japan has to be Okunoshima. This island is famous for two things: deadly poison gas, and the fact that it currently houses an extremely large number of cute, fluffy bunnies.
Okunoshima, or Rabbit Island, as it’s more commonly referred to these days, is a strange place. This tiny island, just a few kilometers in circumference, has gone from being a secret military site that was even removed from maps of Japan in the first half of the last century, to becoming famous all over the world thanks to social media and the power of viral videos on YouTube.
The story started back in the 1925, when the Japanese army started a secret program to develop chemical weapons, despite the country agreeing to never using such weapons with the signing of the Geneva Protocol earlier the same year. This meant that the work that was going on at this facility was a military secret, and needed to be kept under wraps in every imaginable way.
The secret facility was in use until the end of World War II, and in total about six kilotons of various poisonous are believed to have been produced. During the post-war years the plant was left abandoned, and in 1988 the Okunoshima Poison Gas Museum was opened.
But what about those rabbits? Well, no one seems to know for sure why this island today has such a large rabbit population. One theory is that there were test specimens at the poison gas factory, and that these were just let out once the factory ceased to operate. That would make the current rabbit population the great great grandchildren of the test specimens. This is not something that has been confirmed though. Another, perhaps more likely, story is that a handful of rabbits was released by students from a primary school near the island back in the 1970’s, and that these have been reproducing freely throughout the years.
Regardless of the origin of the rabbits, they truly make the island worthy of its nickname. As soon as you arrive here, you will be greeted by countless hungry rabbits that will come up to you and beg for food. And the rabbits are literally everywhere on this island. No matter where you go you will see them, and if you bring food they will be very eager to be your friends too – they hardly seem scared of humans at all.
There is a hotel and a camping site on the island if you want to stay overnight, but unless you are truly a rabbit lover who just can’t get enough of those fluffy animals, we would recommend spending the night in one of the towns on the mainland instead. This island is tiny after all, and besides the rabbits and the poison gas museum.
To get to Okunoshima from most major cities in Japan your easiest route would be to take the Sanyo Shinkansen to Mihara station. From there, change to the local JR Kure Line to Tadanoumi station. From there, the island is just a quick ferry ride away. The ferry between Tadanoumi and Okunoshima takes around 15 minutes and cost 310 yen, there are departures roughly every hour from 7:00am to 6:40pm.
As of 2017 there is also a boat connecting Mihara and the island directly, but it only operates on weekends and national holidays, and there are only five departures per day. The boat ride from Mihara takes approximately 30 minutes.
From Hiroshima, the ride to Tadanoumi takes approximately one hour by Shinkansen or two hours if you opt to riding the local train the entire way.