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Japan isn’t short of places with mythical tales and extraordinary history, but Rabbit Island is certainly one of the most unusual. Tour leader, Robert Kodama takes us on a journey around the island and its chequered history.
Despite the nickname usagi-shima (Rabbit Island), thanks to the hundreds of wild rabbits in the area, the island of Okunoshima in the Seto Inland Sea has a dark history dating back to 1929. The government constructed a large poisonous gas production facility on the island. It was such a closely guarded secret that train customers on the current Kure Line had to shut the window blinds as it travelled the coast within a visible area of the island.
A variety of gases were produced and tested in the facility, but mainly mustard gas which was transported to Kitakyushu for use in chemical weapons. During the expansion of the Japanese empire and World War II, Emperor Hirohito ordered the use of the weapons on Chinese civilians and soldiers, sometimes on the island.
The facilities were destroyed after the defeat in World War II, but these days urban explorers can visit some abandoned structures. To bring back peace, it is thought that schoolchildren released rabbits onto the island, and over the past 50 years, they have reproduced at a great rate, eventually conquering the island. To keep the population stable, other pets are now banned.
The rabbits are incredibly tame and friendly; many will wait by the port for tourists to disembark (and the opportunity of getting fed!). Rabbit food can be purchased from the port, but many choose to bring vegetables with them. To a degree, the primary school children who released the rabbits really have brought back peace; the rabbits have become a source of enjoyment for children and adults alike, and the evil that once resided here is a thing of the past.
To know more about the history of the island, visit the Okunoshima Poison Gas Museum, open from 9am to 5pm and closed on Tuesdays.
Bike rental is possible from the hotel on the island, but hiking is the best way to visit the abandoned structures. Be sure to wear comfortable clothing and hiking boots.
Take the shinkansen from Hiroshima or Osaka/Kyoto to Mihara Station, then take the JR Kure Line to Tadanoumi Station. The island is a short ferry ride from there. Alternatively, those cycling the Shimanami Kaido route can take a short detour once on Omishima Island to the Omishima Ferry Port on route 51 and take a ferry from there. However, the frequency of ferries is limited.
For more information about travelling to Japan, contact our team of travel experts.