Rabbits are a pretty common pet to have when you’re little, but how does an island populated by more bunnies than people sound as a holiday destination? If your answer’s ‘Yes!’ then Okunoshima, a tiny island in the Hiroshima prefecture, is probably the place for you. Sadly it isn’t on our holiday itinerary this April.
In Japanese tradition, rabbits live on the moon where they make mochi (a very popular Japanese sweet) – a much cuter version than the western ‘man in the moon’. In case you were wondering, rabbit on the moon translates to ‘Tsukino usagi’. Rabbits represent the female, divine inspiration, spirituality and fertility, which is probably where the phrase ‘breeding like rabbits’ comes from. So, it doesn’t take a genius to work out why there might be so many rabbits on a fairly remote island in the Inland Sea of Japan.
Okunoshima’s earned the nickname usagi jima (rabbit island) because of its bountiful number of wild bunnies. It’s only 4.3km long but thousands of visitors flock to its beaches in summer to relax, visit the onsen and stroke/feed all those tame balls of fluff.
So, how did all these rabbits end up on a remote island? Okunoshima actually has quite a dark history. During World War II it was a secret military site manufacturing gas for chemical warfare, due to its conveniently remote location. The operation was so secret that, for 16 years, Okunoshima was even erased from maps and residents were not told what was being manufactured in the factory. When the war ended, documents about the plant were burned and the Allied Occupation Forces ‘disposed’ of the gas.
This is where the rabbits come in. Some say the rabbits were brought to Okunoshima to test the effects of the poison and released by workers at the end of the war. A cuter theory is that some schoolchildren released eight rabbits on the island in 1971. The rabbits on Okunoshima Island today are descended from one of these groups of rabbits, depending on which story you believe.
A Poison Gas Museum stands on the island to remind people of the dreadful truths of poison gas. Some people believe the island is still dangerous as there are several locations where the gas was secretly buried.
Either way, Okunoshima Island is a beautiful island full of rabbits, if you fancy a trip. You can reach it by ferry from either Tadanoumi (on the JR Kure Line) or from Omishima.
Enjoy this video of a lady being swarmed by bunnies on Okunoshima: