Hop on over to “Bunny Island”
Hello. I’m Bunnicula! (Photo by Natalie Oram)
By Natalie Oram
Okunoshima Island (大久野島) is an island on the Seto Inland Sea. The island is tiny, but there are many things to do and see there, like learning about the poison gas production on the island during World War II, having a picnic and playing with the cute rabbits that hop all over the island.
Okunoshima is sometimes called “Bunny Island” because of all the rabbits that live there. They are very cute and friendly, but they originally came to the island for a sad reason. The rabbits were brought to the island to be tested on in the laboratory of the Poison Gas Factory. After the factory was closed down, people could not live on the island, but the rabbits were set free to enjoy the island as they wished.
The rabbits hang out all over the island. You may first meet them the moment you step off the ferry. Sometimes, if they feel hungry or super friendly, they may come to greet you and all the other visitors, so don’t forget to bring cabbage and carrots!
While the rabbits are my favourite part of the island, they would not be there if it were not for the Poison Gas Factory. There is a museum about the factory on the island, and it tells all about the island’s fascinating history.
Okunoshima was chosen as the site for the Poison Gas Factory because it is far away from Tokyo and rather secluded. During the war, trains that travelled the Kure train line along the Seto Inland coast would have to close their blinds so that no one could see the island. Okunoshima was also removed from all maps.
Okunoshima used to be a farming island and the army attracted a lot of workers from nearby towns such as Takehara and Tadanoumi, where salt farming had gone into decline. In total, 6,616 tons of gas were produced on the island from 1929 until Japan’s defeat in 1945.
Sadly, the people who worked at the factory still suffer the effects of the strong chemicals because the suits and gas masks were not worn by all, and those who did wear them were not fully protected. Okunoshima is thus both an embarrassing and depressing island for many Japanese people, so don’t expect them to get as excited about it as I do.
The poisonous gases were very dangerous and the Japanese army was deeply worried when it realized Japan lost the war. The army proceeded to hide much of the gas on the island, but many of the buildings are still there. Most of the factory is underground, though we can still see the Electrical Plant Ruins, which is a massive building covered in ivy. Many of the windows are broken, but those that are not give the building a very eerie look.
As you pull into the island by ferry, you can see the factory a little to the right of the ferry port. Exploring the island you will find many other remains of the factory and you can almost imagine how claustrophobic the people who worked there must have felt.
This island may be tiny but it’s not just about rabbits and poison gas. Probably due to the island’s bad reputation, a Visitors Centre was set up. In this centre you can walk on a glass walkway that gives you a bird’s eye view of the island. There also is an under-the-sea experience where little television sets tell you about the animals and fish of the Seto Inland Sea. The Seto Inland Sea is important for the discovery of the horseshoe crab, so you can learn about that.
Check out the large room at the back. They change the display in this room quite often. At the moment, if you are lucky, you can catch a large display of photos of, well, rabbits, of course. These photos are quite different though because the photographer seems to know how to get the rabbits in very funny poses.
Also, if you climb to the highest hill on the island you will find other interesting scientific things that tell you about the stars. From there you can see the Seto Inland Sea bridges and other surrounding islands. There’s a spot where you can become a human sundial and tell the time while feeling away from the stresses of life.
Getting to the island is very easy. Either take the train to Tadanoumi (忠海) Station (Use www.hyperdia.com for a good train schedule) or catch the Geiyo bus from Saijo Fuji Grand and Hiroshima City. Once you get to Tadanoumi Station, turn right and walk about two minutes. Turn right again and walk toward the port. Buy a return ticket from the vending machine (less than 500 yen) and jump on the ferry to the mystical island of Okunoshima.