Travel

Rabbit Island Japan: Okunoshima

Hiroshima Prefecture is a popular tourist destination, well-known for the Atomic Bomb Dome, the Peace Memorial Museum in Hiroshima City and the sacred island, Miyajima. Very few people know that there’s another “treasure” to explore: Okunoshima also known as “Rabbit Island Japan”.

Yes, that’s right! There’s an island full of rabbits here in Japan. Well, if there’s “Cat Island” and even a “JR Station Master” who is actually a cat, then why not also have an island inhabited mostly by rabbits?

Visited: September 23rd 2013

Rabbit Island Japan - Okunoshima

 

How to get to Rabbit Island Japan

Okunoshima (大久野島) is located in the Seto Inland Sea and belongs to Takehara City, not too far from Hiroshima City, in Hiroshima Prefecture (map).

The small island, which is also known as “Rabbit Island” (ウサギ島), can be reached by ferry from Tadanoumi (Hiroshima) or Omishima (Ehime).

Rabbit Island Japan - Okunoshima

Access via Hiroshima

The vast majority will approach “Rabbit Island” from Hiroshima. Just take a train or a bus to get to JR Tadanoumi Station.

From JR Hiroshima Station it takes less than 2h, from JR Mihara Station (with Shinkansen stop) only about 20 mins to get to JR Tadanoumi Station. There are also buses, but usually less frequent than trains.

Rabbit Island Japan - Okunoshima

The ferry terminal is literally around the corner from the JR Station. I managed to walk there in 2 mins, but I’m quite fast. As long as you have about 5 mins, that should be enough. A one-way ticket from Tadanoumi (忠海) to Okunoshima (大久野島) costs 310 yen. The ferry ride only takes about 12 mins.

The ferry schedule is in Japanese, but Google Translate will help.

 

Your 1st Stop: Hotel Kyukamura

Once your arrive on Rabbit Island there will be a free shuttle bus (normal-sized bus) waiting for everyone. It will bring you to the only hotel on the small island “Kyukamura” (休暇村大久野島). If you have a lot of luggage you can store it there. I’m sure they’ll take it even if you’re not a staying guest.

Rabbit Island Japan - Okunoshima

You can rent a bicycle there. They have a lot, even smaller ones suited for children and motorized ones for older people. The island is quite small with a circumference of 4.3km, so I recommend walking instead! After all, you’ll have to get off the bicycle a hundred times to feed the rabbits. It’s just going to be in the way – and there are a few slopes as well. Cars are not allowed – only the people working on the island and the bus can drive around at a VERY slow pace in order to protect the rabbits.

As it’s a hotel, you can of course stay overnight. There’s also a small (souvenir) shop and a restaurant – pretty much your only chance to get food on the island.

Rabbit Island Japan - Okunoshima

That’s also where I ate lunch, trying the local speciality called “Takoten Zaru Udon” (タコ天ざるうどん). Delicious!

The restaurant is only open during lunch time, not in the evening!

Rabbit Island Japan - Okunoshima

The hotel is also the place where you can buy dry food for the rabbits. One plastic cup for 100 yen. I bought one and it was enough for the whole day. The cups have no lid, so if you’re alone it might be difficult to hold the cup and take photos at the same time. I prepared a little plastic bag that I could wrap around the cup / the food and put it into my bag when I didn’t need it.

Rabbit Island Japan - Okunoshima

Of course, you can also bring food suited for rabbits from back home such as cabbage or carrots. There are pamphlets in the ferry telling you how to treat the rabbits and what kind of food they can and can’t eat. If you’re unsure, definitely read it. Even if your Japanese is not so good, they have a lot of pictures in the pamphlet, so you’ll understand.

 

 

The “Dark” History of Okunoshima

Rabbit Island Japan - Okunoshima Rabbit Island Japan - Okunoshima

Okunoshima has not always been a tourist destination. In fact, it has a very dark past.

A few fishermen families used to live there, but everything changed when the Imperial Japanese Army decided to develop chemical weapons on the small island. From 1927 to 1929 a plant was built where poisonous gas was produced.

As Japan had signed the Geneva Protocol it wasn’t allowed to use chemical weapons. The production and storage were not forbidden, though.

Okunoshima was chosen as the place of production for poisonous gas because they wanted to keep it a secret. The remote island was far away from Tokyo and other major cities in case there was an accident while experimenting with the chemical weapons.

 

Okunoshima Poison Gas Museum

Rabbit Island Japan - Okunoshima

The “Okunoshima Poison Gas Museum” (毒ガス資料館) opened in 1988. For 100 yen you can go inside (open 9:00 – 16:30). Photos inside were not allowed.

You’ll find a lot of shocking photos and information about what has been kept secret for a long time:

Residents and potential employees were not told what was being produced in the factory. Working conditions were extremely hard and the “protection suits” were a joke. The workers wore rubber uniforms, anti-poison gas masks, gloves and long boots, but that was not enough to keep the gas completely away from them. Many got sick after being exposed to poisonous chemicals every single day with diseases such as conjunctivitis, respiratory illness.

In the plant, balloon bombs, signal barrels, pipes and different kinds of toxic gases were produced. However, the priority was given to the production of Yperit gas. The latter can cause severe pain and skin blistering within 2-3h. When inhaled it can lead to injuries all over the body.

Rabbit Island Japan - Okunoshima Rabbit Island Japan - Okunoshima

After the war the Allied Occupation Forces got rid of the gas by dumping, burying or burning it. They got rid of related documents and all the people involved were asked to keep silent about the fact that kilotons of poisonous gas were produced there from 1929 until 1945. Okunoshima was even erased from WWII-era maps at that time.

It was not until 1984(!!) that it became public that Japan had carried out chemical warfare.

 

Ruins of the Former Power Plant

In the photo below you see the ruins of the former power plant of Okunoshima.

Rabbit Island Japan - Okunoshima

A very spooky atmosphere that is disrupted by the cute rabbits that hop around everywhere nowadays. As it is a ruin, you’re not allowed to get too close to it, let alone to go inside.

Rabbit Island Japan - Okunoshima

It’s a great spot for “haikyo” (廃墟, ruin) fans!

 

Ruins of Former Batteries

Besides the power plant you’ll find some other remains on “Rabbit Island”.

Rabbit Island Japan - Okunoshima

Here’s a map of the small island, so if you have a bit if time and can bring yourself to get away from the rabbits for a second, there’s more to explore.

Rabbit Island Japan - Okunoshima

There are ruins of former batteries. Here you see the ones of the “Middle Battery” (中部砲台跡).

Even there were rabbits! Can you spot one?

Rabbit Island Japan - Okunoshima

This also belongs to the “Middle Battery”. From there you can walk to the “Northern Battery” which is close to the shore while the middle one is on a hill.

 

From “Toxic Island” to “Rabbit Island”

We learned a lot about Okunoshima’s dark history. Of course, it doesn’t sound like a place people would want to visit, right?

Furthermore, it’s a super tiny island, so why even bother?

Rabbit Island Japan - Okunoshima

Yet it’s a tourist destination nowadays. There’s a hotel, a golf and tennis court, a camping site, beautiful beaches, an observation deck offering views of the Seto Inland Sea and of course the uber-cute rabbits.

But how come there are all these rabbits in the first place?

There are actually two theories about the origin of the rabbit population on Okunoshima.

Rabbit Island Japan - Okunoshima

Theory 1: The guinea pigs were freed after the war.

It is said that rabbits were kept as guinea pigs to test the effects of the poisonous gas. After WWII when the factory was closed, workers freed the remaining rabbits.

However, the former director of the “Okunoshima Poison Gas Museum swears that no rabbits were used to test the effects of the chemical weapons.

Rabbit Island Japan - Okunoshima

Theory 2: School children on a field trip brought them.

According to a second theory a group of elementary school kids, who were on a field trip, brought 8 bunnies with them in 1971 and left them on the island.

It seems nobody knows what really happened, but it’s a fact that the island is populated by a few hundred rabbits now.

 

Rabbit Island Japan Nowadays

It’s great to see that an island with such a dark past could turn its fate into something good after all. The image of the island has certainly changed – although some people think that it’s still dangerous as there has never been a thorough decontamination operation and poisonous gas might still be buried somewhere.

According to Oddity Central the water supply was found to contain arsenic in 1996. The Environment Ministry reported in 2005 that the level of arsenic in the atmosphere was 49 times the environmental standard.

Rabbit Island Japan - Okunoshima Rabbit Island Japan - Okunoshima

As for the cute bunnies, they are wild, but used to people. They’ll even hop onto your lap or eat out of your hand.

However, I noticed that none of them wanted to be petted.

Rabbit Island Japan - Okunoshima

You’ll get to see very cute scenes if you are patient. This rabbit was cleaning itself.

Rabbit Island Japan - Okunoshima

A “rabbit kiss”. So adorable! ^___^

Rabbit Island Japan - Okunoshima

As it’s still very hot at the end of September (we had 30°C that day), most rabbits were dozing somewhere in the shadow.

Rabbit Island Japan - Okunoshima

And wherever I went, a lot of expectant stares were awaiting me: “You have food for us, right? RIGHT??!!

Rabbit Island Japan - Okunoshima Rabbit Island Japan - Okunoshima

Oh, well. Who can resist those adorable bunnies?

Rabbit Island Japan - Okunoshima

I think we have a winner for the most stupid (and yet cute) stare! *g*

Rabbit Island Japan - Okunoshima

Let me introduce “Grumpy Rabbit“. Size-wise it was one of the most adorable rabbits on the whole island and from far away it really looked cute, but once you got closer, it gave you this “Piss off or die” glare. What a shame!

 

Rabbit Island’s Visitor Center

Rabbit Island Japan - Okunoshima

If you manage to get away from all the rabbits, you can check out the “Visitor Center“. It’s free of charge and open from 9:00 to 16:00 (closed on Wed, Jan-Feb: also on Thu).

Rabbit Island Japan - Okunoshima

There’s some information about Okunoshima and also cute photos of the rabbits.

It’s just a short walk away from the hotel and across from the “Poison Gas Museum”.

Rabbit Island Japan - Okunoshima

The visitor center is facing the Seto Inland Sea, offering a great view. You can sit outside and just relax or play around with the rabbits (that were sitting nearby in the shadow).

Rabbit Island Japan - Okunoshima

Or you can squeeze your head between those “rabbit ears” and listen to the sound of the ocean.

Rabbit Island Japan - Okunoshima

A few steps away from the visitor center on the way to a small lighthouse (see below), there’s also a little shrine.

It’s another good spot to find a bunch of rabbits, so check it out!

Rabbit Island Japan - Okunoshima Rabbit Island Japan - Okunoshima

There’s a small lighthouse from where you’ll have a breathtaking view on the beautiful ocean. It’s not too far from the visitor center, the hotel and the museum.

Rabbit Island Japan - Okunoshima

If you walk a little bit beyond the small lighthouse, you’ll get an even better view of the Seto Inland Sea.

Rabbit Island Japan - Okunoshima

Back from the lighthouse walking towards the visitor center and the camping site, there’s a beach.

In late September swimming season seemed to be over, although it was still very hot.

Rabbit Island Japan - Okunoshima Rabbit Island Japan - Okunoshima

Another highlight is the observation platform, but it’s quite a walk from the rest of the attractions. If you go there without stopping even once (which is impossible with all the rabbits along the way), it’ll take about 20 mins.

It doesn’t matter if you have a bicycle as the slope is really steep. Most likely you’ll have to get off and walk up.

Rabbit Island Japan - Okunoshima

Once up there, you’ll have a great view, so it’s definitely worth it – if you have enough time.

On the way you’ll also run into a few ruins from WWII and older.

Rabbit Island Japan - Okunoshima Rabbit Island Japan - Okunoshima

There are several ways that lead up to the observation platform. I went up from the camping site near the visitor center and went down to see the “Middle Battery Ruins” and descending to finally check out the “Northern Battery Ruins“.

Rabbit Island Japan - Okunoshima

Back at the ferry terminal. Actually there are two: Sanbashi #1 (which is close to the hotel) and Sanbashi #2 (which is the one above).

Usually the last ferry leaves from #1. If in doubt, just ask at the hotel lobby. They’re very helpful and friendly.

As you can see Okunoshima is part of the Seto Inland National Park which contains about 3000 islands, including Awaji Island, Miyajima and Naoshima.

 

Travel Tips For Okunoshima:

  • Try to come during the week, so you have all the rabbits mainly for yourself.
  • Best rabbit spots are: visitor center, hotel, observation platform, ferry terminals and the little shrine.
  • You can easily do this as a day trip from Hiroshima. You can spend as much time there as you want. If you’re short on time then even 1-2h are sufficient.
  • It’s a great destination for families with young kids who can stay overnight at the camping site.
  • Onomichi with lots of temples, cats and the starting point for the cycling tour to Imabari as well as Fukuyama with its nice castle are nearby – just in case you want to check them out.
  • There are enough vending machines on the island, so you don’t have to worry about drinks. However, you might want to bring snacks for yourself (not only for the rabbits).

68 Comments

  • I just wanted to thank you on your great post on Okunoshima. It’s really a great help, especially when I’m planning my itinerary on how to go about places! :)

    • As Okunoshima is in Hiroshima, it will be very, very difficult to do it as a day trip – if not impossible.
      Have you had a look at a map yet? Hiroshima is very far from Tokyo. However, many first-time travellers get the Railpass and then do a Tokyo-Kyoto-Hiroshima route. You could do the same and just stay in Hiroshima for a few days. From there it’ll be a nice day trip. :)

  • Thank you very much for the full info. I like how you broke down the places accordingly.
    This is truly helpful :) Thank you.

  • thank you so much for your post!
    I am planning on making a day trip to the island but I will have a small luggage with me.
    In your post you mentioned trying to drop it off at a hotel even if I am not staying overnight.
    Do you know of other people who have successfully left their luggage there for the day?
    If they do not allow it, is it easy to go around the island with a small (roll-able) luggage?

    • There are usually small coin lockers, but if your luggage is too big it won’t fit in.
      I’m actually quite sure that the hotel on the island where you can grab the rabbit food will take care of the luggage for a few hours. Not sure if you’d have to pay a small fee for that, though.

      As far as I can remember it shouldn’t be that difficult to walk around with luggage, but most of the trails aren’t paved and so it might be tiring to drag the luggage along and it also might get dusty / dirty.

  • This looks so wonderful, as a strange place where cute meets ominous. Any idea what happens to the island during the winter? Do the ferries still go out? Are the rabbits hibernating/hiding? Or is it even closed during the colder seasons? Do you know if humans intervene in any way like they might in a zoo, such as feedings when not enough tourists visit, birthing, removing deceased rabbits, etc?

    • Hiroshima Prefecture – especially that region of it – doesn’t get much snow in winter (usually almost none at all). The ferries would keep running, there might just be a different schedule for the winter time.
      I have no idea what the rabbits are doing, but I doubt they have any issues. Like I said it’s not that cold and they have many options to hide. But I’m not an expert. I only visited the island once like most tourists and didn’t ask the hotel stuff any such questions. You might want to do that when you visit. ;)
      I’m quite sure that the hotel staff is taking care of the rabbits.

  • I’m going to Tokyo soon, I would like to make a day trip to rabbit island….but how much do you think the train ticket and ferry cost would be in total?

  • I wonder how it would feel to go to the ruins at night… hmmm… anyway, thanks for making this post and for the instructions on how to get there! I will be visiting next month after I get to Cat Island. ^_^

  • I just had a great visit! Thanks for the tips. Some notes:

    1) Ferry station takes cash only for the tickets and pellets.

    2) The hotel would not store my luggage if I wasn’t a guest, but there are coin lockers across the lawn. The lockers were big enough for my laptop bag, but not my rollaboard, so I left that on a shelf, and it was fine. No one’s going to steal my dirty clothes.

    3) In summer it’s hot! hot! hot! And humid. I was sweating profusely the entire visit, and drank 4 bottles of lemonade.

    4) There were plenty of rabbits that would tolerate petting, especially near the hotel. Just be gentle, and move slowly🐰.

    • Hi Steven,

      Thanks a lot for these pointers.

      Actually, it’s quite common that in smaller stations and generally in the Japanese countryside cash is king. So, I guess you just get so used to it that it’s not worth mentioning it anymore. Thanks a lot for noting. :)

      It’s always hot and humid in summer in Japan. The problem with such a small island is that you barely have any spots where you could escape.
      At least in bigger cities you can rescue yourself into a conbini or a café or something like that. ;)

  • Hi, loved this informative article! I am planning a trip to go to the rabbit island, but I was wondering if January would be a nice time to visit? Too cold? Snow? I will be in Japan in January anyway for another event.

    I noticed the Visitor center “closed Wed, Jan-Feb: also on Thu).” does this mean they are closed on only Thursdays throughout Jan-Feb?? Just wanted to clarify..don’t wanna make the long trip there for nothing! :)

    • Hi,
      It usually doesn’t snow very often in that region, but it will be quite chilly. I don’t know if the bunnies would hide somewhere to stay warm.
      To me it sounds like it will be closes on Wed-Thu throughout Jan-Feb. But you still can enjoy the rest of the island even if the visitor center is closed. ;)

  • Are you allowed to take a rabbit from the island? I’m curious because I want a rabbit who’s not territorial and mean and that’s used to being around humans. I’ve had 3 rabbits in my whole lifetime, one lasted for about 3-4 years and died of a heart attack. The other 1 was so mean we had to get rid of it and I’m on the same path with the rabbit I have now.

    • Wait, … what?
      Leaving the question aside whether you’re allowed to take a rabbit from the island or not, do you live in Japan?
      Does your apartment allow pets?
      I’m not sure you’re allowed to bring pets on the ferry, so how are you gonna take the rabbit with you?

      And if you don’t live in Japan, then don’t even get me started on quarantine rules at the airport etc.

      If you just want a wild rabbit, maybe it’s safer to go “hunting” for one in a nearby forest.
      Depending where you live I’d be careful of certain diseases, though.