Floppy ears and drumming feet are not just the product of Disney’s character Thumper. Imagine being surrounded by hundreds of Thumpers – on your lap, shoulders, and pawing at your back as you hand out carrots. No, this is not some bizarre, childhood daydream but a true scene that can be witnessed on Okunoshima. Otherwise known as Bunny Island, this tiny island off the coast of Hiroshima Prefecture in Japan is home to hundreds of friendly rabbits.
Learn history first
The real name of Rabbit Island is Okunoshima but called it Usagi Shima or Bunny Island is totally acceptable. Situated in the Inland Sea of Japan off of the coast of Takehara in Hiroshima Prefecture, the island played a pivotal part in Japanese warfare since the early 1900s.
During the Russo-Japanese War (February 8, 1904-September 5, 1905), Okunoshima was comprised of 10 defensive forts. The island did not have any battles, but it was a highly utilized position for marine movements.
In 1925, the Imperial Japanese Army of Science and Technology choose Okunoshima as a location for developing chemical weaponry. This went against the 1925 Geneva Protocol that banned the use and storage of such weapons.
The Japanese government did extensive research on what islands could be erased from maps or go disregarded by international forces. Over a three-year period, a weapons facility was constructed; and by 1929, it started churning out tear gas and mustard gas.
However, residents and businesses on the island were kept in the dark – even when the fish preservation processor was converted into a noxious gas reactor. Many developed illnesses related to exposure to the poisonous fumes.
With the end of World War II, the Allied Occupation Forces destroyed the documents pertaining to chemical warfare research then disposed of the gases by dumping and burying the containers. Still, the real purpose of the island was kept under wraps. That is, until 1988 when the government opened the Okunoshima Poison Gas Museum.
Head to museum
Even though the 1950s have come and gone, it took years for the devastation of the chemicals to be cleaned up. Imagine the damage of the gases paired with radioactivity. Built with the purpose of educating the masses about the danger of poisonous gas, the museum is small but packs a tremendous punch.
The Okunoshima Poison Gas Museum consists of two rooms in a single building. The first room discusses the working conditions of the island during the reign of the chemical plant and how the locals were exposed to dangerous materials unknowingly. In the second chamber, you can learn about the effects of poison gas on the human body. Images from victims of mustard and tear gas in Iran cover the walls.
Enjoy all those cottontails
Another living portion of the museum would be the hundreds of rabbits living on Okunoshima – hence the nickname. In the past, rabbits were one of the main test subjects at the chemical plant. Though it is said that the rabbits affected by the poisonous fumes were laid to rest, some continue to think that some had escaped. Others will tell you that the rabbits dwelling happily on the island now have no relation to the test-bunnies.
The other favorite theory is that in 1971 a school teacher and the kids in tow brought rabbits to the island and set them free. One can surmise what the rabbits did afterward.
When the bunnies were intentionally allowed to multiply to such great numbers on Okunoshima, officials probably had no idea how popular of an attraction these critters would become. With the aid of Facebook and Youtube, fame has skyrocketed.
Tourists climb aboard the ferries that depart from the port in Tadanoumi (off the Kodama Shinkansen Mihara Station in Hiroshima Prefecture). At the island, you can not only make new fluffy friends, you can get smothered by them.
The bunnies are really sociable. Hordes of them will gather around you, and if you lay down on the ground, they will climb and jump all over. Of course, they might also relieve themselves out of excitement, so bring a change of clothes.
Bring a bag of carrots and other rabbit-friendly goodies to enjoy a picnic in the park. Kids will love the “stampede” they can create by teasing the rabbits with a carrot or two and running around.
And remember to follow the biggest rule of all: no dogs or cats can accompany you to the island. Predators are banned from setting foot on the soil.
Japan is home to many ‘animal islands,’ like the eleven cat islands, where the felines outnumber people 6 to 1. If the idea of being covered in animal friends sounds like paradise, going to Japan might be the ultimate vacation for you.
Top Image Source: pinterest.com