So, a couple of posts ago I wrote about Kyoto’s Arashiyama bamboo grove being bucket list worthy – which it definitely is. However, during my time in Japan, the number one thing on my list of ‘musts’ was a visit to Okunoshima, an island near Hiroshima. Okunoshima may not be a name you immediately recognise, but you possibly will have heard of ‘Bunny Island’ which has gotten its name for exactly the reason you will be thinking.
Though Okunoshima is marketed as an island full to the brim of fluffy bunnies – which it is and yes, it is just as cute as you can imagine – the island itself has a much more sinister history.
In the 1920s, Japan signed the Geneva Protocol of 1925 – which banned the use of chemical and biological weapons. However, this agreement failed to ban the development, storage or transfer of such weapons, a whopping great loophole which Japan took advantage of.
In the late 1920s, Okunoshima underwent construction to make it suitable for the development of chemical weapons. The island was erased from all maps, ferry routes were changed and window blinds needed to be closed on certain train routes. During this period of development, all natural predators (cats, foxes, rats etc) were eradicated.
Between 1929 and 1944 Okunoshima was kept top secret, as it became the location where horrifically toxic gases such as lewisite, phosgene, yperite (mustard gas) and numerous other poisonous gases were produced and stored. During this time, these gases were tested on rabbits before being put to use by the Japanese military. Historical research also reports that on at least two occasions, the mustard gas produced on Okunoshima was tested on Chinese prisoners in the now infamous Unit 731.
Fast forward to the present day and the island is now home to hundreds and hundreds of fluffy bunnies. Reports of how the bunnies came to make Okunoshima their home vary. Some believe that when the weapons development and production ceased in the 1940s, factory workers released remaining laboratory bunnies onto the island. Others believe that a class of Japanese school children released some domestic rabbits onto the island in the 1970s. Either way, as a result of all natural predators being eradicated from the island in the 1920s, these bunnies have been able to live and breed safely for at least several decades, resulting in the spectacular number of fluffy buns who now call the island home.
Getting to Okunoshima is fairly easy if you are based in Hiroshima.
First, get yourself to Hiroshima Station.
Then jump aboard the Tokaido-Sanyo shinkansen (included with JR Pass) bound for Tokyo. Ride for 27 minutes and then disembark at Mihara Station. At Mihara, change to the local Kure line (included with JR Pass) towards Hiroshima. Ride for around 23 minutes and then jump off at Tadano-Umi (also written as Tadanoumi) Station.
Immediately upon exiting Tadanoumi station, take a right and proceed on foot for about 150 metres, then take the first possible right turn. The road curves around, follow it over the railway lines (as seen in the picture above) and about 10 metres further on is the ferry port.
At the ferry port, purchase tickets to Okunoshima which will set you back 310¥ ($4) each way. At the port you can also buy bunny food for around 500¥ ($6) and if you want to have bunnies crawling all over you, purchasing a bag is not a bad idea at all.
You can find information regarding the ferry timetable by clicking here.
Within seconds of getting off the ferry, bunnies will come into view!
When I say that I almost cried with happiness, it is not an exaggeration. I fricking LOVE bunnies.
The only pets I have ever had have been bunnies, and ever since I cuddled my first baby bun when I was around 3 or 4 years old (ever so creatively named Blackie), my heart has belonged to the buns.
Visiting bunny island was the absolute highlight of my time in Japan. For me, it was absolutely, without a doubt, a dream come true.
The buns are incredibly tame, and have absolutely no qualms about coming up to check you out. They will happily climb all over you and seem completely at ease while doing so. However, they are not huge fans of people picking them up and most will run away (sadly) if you do attempt to scoop them up for a quick bunny snuggle.
If you absolutely must have a proper bunny snuggle, the little babies are the most chilled out about being handled. Check out this adorable little baby bun!
Buying food at the ferry port is a great idea if you want to give the buns extra incentive to come and hang out with you. They have certainly learned that people equal food, but if no such food is shown to them they will lose interest fairly quickly – something which I can relate to on an almost spiritual level!
While the ferry port pellets did well, if you have extra time to prepare, bringing a bag of fresh veggies will get you even more attention from the many inhabitants of Okunoshima. I spotted a lady with a bag full of goodies such as spinach, carrot and cabbage – and so did the buns – they were far more interested in her offering than ours!
But even though these little balls of fluff preferred the fresh food, they certainly weren’t going to turn down our pellets when offered them!
This bunny in particular was a very feisty character! He/she was clever enough to wait until I left my handbag unattended for a split second and then proceeded to climb up on it to go foraging for pellets! The first time bunny tried this, he/she actually succeeded and managed to tear open the paper bag and cause pellets to spill everywhere! Cheeky little bugger. By the time bunny tried this again though, I was prepared and had tucked them well away out of reach. However, did not stop bunny from trying and you gotta admire such perseverance.
Look at these two little babies sharing a carrot! They look like twin siblings – so bloody adorable!
This little bun was truly tiny, it probably could have fit in one of my hands.
Eventually, it was time to board the ferry back to the mainland and head onwards to Miyajima to explore another noteworthy Japanese island. I was sad to leave my buns behind, but I know I will definitely be back to visit them again one day.
T H E L O W D O W N
Getting to Hiroshima: Though Hiroshima airport is the closest airport to Hiroshima city, it is not a major international hub and it may make more sense to land into Tokyo or Shin-Osaka before making your way there via train
Getting to Tadanoumi Station: From Hiroshima Station, catch the Tokaido-Sanyo shinkansen bound for Tokyo, get off at Mihara Station and change to the local Kure line bound for Hiroshima
Okunoshima: Entrance to the island itself is free, but the ferry will set you back 620¥ ($8) for a return trip
Threads: Both my white top and maxi skirt are by Tigerlily Swimwear
Camera: Olympus OM-D E-M1 with M.Zuiko 12-40mm f2.8 lens
Remember: Bring food for the gorgeous buns and try to get there as early as possible
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