Lie down with a couple of carrots and rediscover, for a fleeting moment, the pure joy of a child holding their first pet.
The instant you set foot on Okunoshima, it immediately becomes apparent why the tiny and tranquil island is also known as the “rabbit island”. Nearly abandoned by humans, the island is home instead to an enormous colony of wild bunnies.
Though they roam free, these cottontails aren’t afraid of cuddling up to human company if food is involved. Their excessive friendliness reels in boatloads of visitors to hand-feed them treats, stroke their twitchy noses, and snap photos while covered in rabbit blankets. Relics of the island’s dark history remain standing, but the adorable locals have turned it into their own fluffy sanctuary.
With a circumference of around four kilometers, the island is easy to explore leisurely on foot within a few hours. From an original eight rabbits released on the island in 1971, the descendants have multiplied to number in the hundreds. Though they can be found everywhere, the most social of them tend to congregate around the hotel, where the most people and therefore the most food can be sniffed out. There’s not much technique involved to getting the attention of these fickle customers; if you have food out, they’ll mob you for it.
The lucky chosen ones will drown tragically under a soft and fluffy sea of bunny snuggles.
Now the picture of innocent family-friendly fun, this safari slash petting zoo has bleak origins. During World War II, Okunoshima was chosen as a research and production site for poison gas, despite its use being prohibited under the Geneva Protocol. The island was removed from maps, and locals forced to keep hush hush about the circumstances.
The ruins of the power plant and gas storehouse are easy to come across, and their large, hulking figures cast a solemn shadow as you pass by. The Poison Gas Museum close to the visitor’s center presents more information on the horrors of chemical warfare.
There is only one hotel on the island, with an attached restaurant. Hiking trails cut through the island’s hilly centre, offering short but adventurous treks through jungle-like terrain, with excellent views of the ever lovely Seto Inland Sea.