After being back at work for a couple of weeks, my girlfriend and I took a day trip to Ōkunoshima, also know as “Rabbit Island”. Located between Kure and Mihara, you have to take a 10 minute ferry trip from Tadanoumi to the island. Ōkunoshima has become increasingly popular over the last five years with the help of social media. My Facebook page is constantly being littered with the likes of BuzzFeed and other similar sites showcasing the “cuteness of Rabbit Island”. With it being in the same prefecture as us, we bought our lunches at the convenience store, along with cabbage and carrots for the rabbit, and headed there.
While social media present it as a “rabbit paradise”, Ōkunoshima has an important history. The small fishing island, turned into an key location for chemical weapon manufacture in Japan from 1928 until the end of World War Two. Under the 1925 Geneva Protocol, which Japan signed, chemical warfare was banned. But under fierce secrecy, the Imperial Japanese Army devoted resources into the research and production of chemical munitions. According to the museum, even the employees had little to no understanding of what they were actually making.
After the war, the Allied Occupation Forces and those involved in the manufacturing process were assigned with the disposal of the poison and the decommission of the plant. In 1988, the “Poison Gas Museum” was opened to inform people about the controversial nature of the island, and the devastating impact of chemical warfare. In fact, the museum doesn’t hold back in it’s narrative of those horrors. While there, a mother had to cover her child’s eyes from the photos of victims because of their gruesome nature. Elsewhere on the island, the ruins of power plants, bunkers and storage facilities stand as haunting reminders, while hundreds of rabbits sleep next to them. It’s a slightly surreal experience.
Speaking of the rabbits, the current population is said not to be attributed to those that were tested on during poison manufacture. I find that hard to really believe. With their appetite being sufficed by visitors and the abundance of “breeding partners”, the small island has become overrun with the rabbit population. I imagine that the first passengers of the day would find themselves swamped by a tsunami of hungry rabbits. They’ve undoubtably become reliant on the tourists for food, which wouldn’t bode well with environmentalists. That being said, it’s a pleasant experience to enjoy the sea view, find the most shaggy rabbit and feed it. Let’s hope that they don’t swim to the mainland though.