Bunny Island – Japan’s Rabbit Island
Do you like cute animals? Looking for a unique experience during your Japan trip?
Then, read on!
Okunoshima (“大久野島” in Japanese), a small island in Japan’s Inland Sea has an interesting, yet dark history.
The island played a key role during World War II as a secret poison gas factory.
Because it manufactured the chemical weapon which was prohibited under the international treaty, the existence of the island was deleted from the official map.
The place was chosen as its geography was such as to allow the factories to be hidden from view of the mainland, but also because it was far from Tokyo, in the case of an accident.
At the time, an unfortunate colony of rabbits was brought to the island in order to test the effects of the poison.
Nowadays the island is home of friendly rabbits who are known to approach tourists in large groups to scavenge for food – hence the name, ‘Rabbit Island’.
The island is completely inhabitant, the rabbits are the only living creatures on Okunoshima.
Sounds like heaven, right? A place just full of animals. Well, plus the tourists.
While some claim the rabbits that live there now are relatives of the test bunnies that were freed by the workers at the end of the war, others are less convinced.
Another version is that in 1971 a primary school outside of the island released 8 rabbits onto the island. The first 8 rabbits grew in the number over the years.
In order to keep the population from declining all other kinds of pets, like dogs or cats, are banned from the island.
Anyhow, the rabbits are now free from predators of any kind and very unafraid of humans visiting them.
Before I headed to Bunny Island I did some research online and got super excited by all the photos I saw. So many cute bunnies, kind of Bugs Bunny heaven.
But I had my doubts. Isn’t that a fairy tale? Can such place really exist?
So I tried to lower my expectations when I left Hiroshima for the day, bound to Okunoshima aka Rabbit Island.
How to get to Rabbit Island? When to go?
From the JR Hiroshima station you can take the Shinkansen (“bullet train”) towards Mihara (duration about 30 min). Then change to the local train (JR Jure Line) and get off at Tadanoumi station.
The total trip will take you about 90 minutes and is fully covered by the Japan Rail Pass.
As soon as you get off the train you will see billboards with bunnies showing you the way. Leave the station to your right, the ferry terminal is only about 5 mins by foot away.
Before you head there I recommend stopping by the Family Mart (on the left side leaving the station) to buy some food for the bunnies.
They have cabbage and carrots in portioned bags. It’s cheaper than getting the food from the ferry ticket counter.
Be aware that there is no option to buy rabbit food on the island.
You might also want to buy some snacks for yourself, because there are no restaurants on the island either.
The cost for the ferry is JPY 620 for a round trip and the ride takes only 10 minutes. The schedule can be found at the ticket counter and at the ferry gate at Okunoshima. There is a website as well, showing the schedule, however only available in Japanese.
Since the recent popularity, there are many visitors to this island. Be prepared to queue for about 30 min to buy the ticket and then again to board the ferry. Especially weekends and national holidays get really crowded.
I suggest to get there as early as possible, ideally before 8 am. This has two advantages – first you avoid the tourist crowds and second bunnies are still very hungry. Later during the day the bunnies are already full so they don’t really bother with the humans offering them food.
Getting to Okunoshima Island
Are there really so many rabbits?
All my doubts where gone as soon as I set foot on the island. Hundreds of rabbits greeted the arriving humans. So yes, it is true!
Signs ask visitors not to touch or hand feed the bunnies, but honestly everyone does it and the cuties are very used to humans. You may even gently stroke them. Just don’t force them to anything and don’t over feed them.
I had one bag of carrot sticks and two bags of cabbage with me. You can also buy dry rabbit food, but they are most attracted by veggies. Healthy rabbits 🙂
The bunnies are really everywhere and you will find them on all the paths across the small island.
A mere crinkle of a bag of rabbit food and you have them hooked.
They will hop in your lap, climb on your arms, or totally cover you in bunny love if you let them.
It depends how much time you are planning to spend on the island, but don’t give away all your kibble at once.
“Hey human, give me food!”
What else is there to do?
I spent around 2 hours feeding the bunnies and playing with them. Then I ran out of food and got to a point where enough fur was enough.
I headed off to see a bit more of the island. Needless to say that the bunnies are the absolute highlight of the island, but there is a bit more to explore.
The island is home to one hotel (for those who want to spend some more time there), a visitor centre, a poison gas museum (fairly small and mainly for Japanese visitors due to language barrier) and the leftovers of the poison gas factory.
There are also several trails, one of them is leading to the peak of the island which offers stunning views over the other small islands that are scattered across the Seto Inland Sea.
From the ferry, when approaching Okunoshima, I spotted some white beaches which seemed to be completely unspoiled.
So I was on the mission to find these beaches. There are not that easy to access and there are no signs leading the way.
By chance I found a very small path and climbed down through the trees.
And I was there, on my ‘private beach’ which I had all to myself.
I took the ferry back with a big smile on my face. It was a great, unique and relaxing day!
Beaches and leftovers of the poison factory