Cuddle with the Bunnies on Japan's Rabbit Island, Okunoshima

Shikoku / chugoku Tour Animal experience 2019.07.10
Ever dreamed of being swarmed by a flock of fluffy bunnies? Of feeding them each a carrot and watching their noses twitch as they nibble their way through the snack? Of sitting down among the fluff and watching the sun set over a peaceful ocean? Whether you have or not, we bet you'll love the magic of Hiroshima's Okunoshima!
Japan is known for its enclaves of adorable wild animals! Plenty of visitors will find their way to Nara or Miyajima to see the somewhat tame wild deer, head up north to play with the foxes at the Zao Fox Village, or maybe even run into the many cats of Enoshima Island.

But how familiar are you with Hiroshima's Okunoshima? A.K.A. Rabbit Island! It hasn't quite reached the same level of fame as some of the other animal-filled spots, but it's on its way. If you think about the ratio of adorable animals to visitors, you'll be hard pressed to find anywhere better than this little island, so grab your carrot sticks and make some new rabbit friends!

Where Did All the Rabbits Come From?

For such a fun place, the island has a surprisingly dark past. Starting in the 1920s, the Imperial Japanese Army started developing chemical weapons on Okunoshima. The project was kept entirely secret, even through the construction of a chemical munitions gas manufacturing plant on the island, where thousands of tons of mustard and tear gas were produced. Not so cute. But the reason for initiating the military project on this island are the same reasons why the rabbits thrive there now, isolation.

A common rumor is that the rabbits on the island are descendants of rabbits used as test subjects inside the chemical weapons plant, which is kind of horrifying. The reality is that those rabbits certainly existed, but the bunnies you see now frolicking freely on Okunoshima were simply brought to the island after the factory's demolition, when the space was developed into a park. They do add a lot to the island!
  • What's up, doc?
Nowadays, Okunoshima is mostly just a destination for rabbit-loving travelers! You can certainly learn about the island's history during your visit by taking a look at some of the building ruins or the local museum, but the real focus is all the furry critters.

How to Get There

  • The island is about two hours from Hiroshima City, but it's a pretty simple trek over. Don't let the distance discourage you! It's a great day trip.


    ⇩ Travel Tip ⇩

    Before you set out, go to the grocery store and buy some veggies for bunny snacks! Grab some carrots and some leafy greens, and cut them into strips if you have the time (we did it the night before, which made it easy). There aren't a lot of places to buy rabbit snacks on your way there, and the bunnies are discriminating enough to ignore cheapskates who didn't bring them any grub!

    ⇩Getting to The Island⇩

    ① Starting from Hiroshima Station, get on the JR San-yo Line (usually towards Itozaki or Hiro), and try to find a comfy seat! You'll be on here for over an hour.
    ② Get off at Mihara Station, and transfer to the Kure Line (bound for Hiro). This trip's a little shorter, coming in at under 25 minutes.
    ③ Get off at Tadano-Umi Station, and walk 5 minutes or so to the Tadano-Umi Port.
     ➤ If you forgot to get any rabbit snacks... or eat lunch, this is your last chance! Near the train station is a convenience store that sells baggies of vegetables (for a relatively high price), along with all your Japanese convenience store standards. At the port itself is a little souvenir store, if you want some rabbit-themed goods to remember your trip by, and a counter selling some snacks (for humans).
    ④ Buy yourself a ferry ticket at the port, and when a line starts to form, join the crowd getting onto the boat. It's a quick trip of about 15 minutes over.
    ⑤ There's a hotel on the island, but unless you've planned ahead to stay there, do keep track of time! The last ferry back to the mainland leaves at around 7 pm. You can check the schedule here.

Seeing the Sights

  • Check Out the Abandoned Buildings, and the Museum
    Check Out the Abandoned Buildings, and the Museum
    As a fairly small island, it's easy to circle Okunoshima's circumference of about 4 km during your visit. While you enjoy this stroll punctuated with many wonderful rabbit interactions, the occasional ruins of old military buildings create kind of a fascinating and sobering backdrop.

    If you're really in the mood to learn about the island's not-so-pretty past, visit the Poison Gas Museum for a fairly horrifying history lesson. At least you'll be greeted by cute pointed noses and long velvety ears on your way out, to cheer you back up!
  • Wander Into the Okunoshima Shrine
    Wander Into the Okunoshima Shrine
    Unfortunately for any goshuin (御朱印) shrine seal collectors out there, this shrine is unmanned. But that does mean that the island's rabbits roam the shrine freely, giving visitors a chance to see their fluffy tails in the dappled shrine light. Very cute, highly recommended.
  • Admire the Ocean View
    Admire the Ocean View
    Being an island, Okunoshima has some great views. The rabbits know better than to frolic right into the ocean (they're not planning on getting carried away anywhere, thank you very much), but you might spot a view of them in the sand. And even sans-rabbits, the ocean beach can be really gorgeous!
  • And of Course, Snack with Your New Furry Friends!
    And of Course, Snack with Your New Furry Friends!
    Step off the ferry with a few carrot sticks in hand, and you'll be swarmed by cute faces within the minute! They're really all over, and while many of the rabbits tend to gather in places where they know they'll find people, there are bunnies to be found all throughout the island. Wander down a tree-lined path, and you'll see a ball of brown fur, or two, hopping hesitantly towards you. (Scoping out the snack situation.) They're all quite friendly, and unlike the deer of Nara or Miyajima, their headbutts are cute! 

    So bunny hop right onto that ferry and get going, the rabbits of Okunoshima are waiting to meet you!
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