Japan is a mystical land full of wonders, mysteries and all things kawaii. No place in Japan quite encapsulates all of these things the way Okunoshima aka “Bunny Island” does. Originally used as a research facility for biological weapons during World War II, the island was kept secret and the rabbits its test subjects. Towards the end of the war when the island was discovered, the scientists were ordered to cull the remaining rabbits. Rumour has it, either a group of school children who snuck into the lab or perhaps an empathetic member of staff, upon learning of the rabbits’ fate, smuggled some of the bunnies out and released them into the nearby forest. Those rabbits’ descendants make up the numerous fluffy hordes that roam the island now.
Okunoshima is a teeny tiny island located in Hiroshima prefecture and can only be accessed by ferry. For those looking to make their own trip; catch the Tokaido-Sanyo Shinkansen to Mihara station, then switch to the Kure line and get off at Tadano-Umi station. From there, it will be a short walk to the ferry terminal where a 20 minute ride will get you to the island. But be warned: the last regular ferry leaves at 6pm. It is important to note that one of the only places you can buy the bunny food is at the ferry terminal. I recommend 2 or 3 bags of food. If you want to be SUPER prepared and truly curry favor with the fuzzy residents, bring your own fresh fruits and vegetables along and crush your opponents as you make your bid for lapine love.
Once you arrive on the island, you will see bunnies straight away. From here you will have a choice: walk or hire a bike. You can catch a bus to the main resort area where bike hire is available or make the 15 minute walk yourself. Personally, I recommend the walk; along with the furry inhabitants, Okunoshima offers spectacular island views which are definitely best enjoyed at a sedate pace. Once you reach the main area, you can hire a bike for the day for around 1000 yen. There is also a café and souvenir shop close by for food if you forgot to bring your own. There is also a museum dedicated to poisonous gases if a bit of science and history tickles your fancy.
Upon selecting your bicycle or walking shoe, you can follow along the easily marked paths that lead around the island and up the large hills in the center. A lap of the island by bike at a placid speed will take about an hour and a half, on foot three to four. Apart from the few hills in the center, it is a very easy journey. Throughout, there are several ruins and historical sites from the war era that you can visit, each with their own helpful little plaque explaining the ruin’s purpose and history. In some ways, it’s quite a somber place but seeing a rabbit bounce over a long forgotten chemical lab certainly lightens things up a bit. Especially when there are twenty of them.
The rabbits themselves are an interesting bunch. They come in a range of colors and sizes, with brown being the most common. Years of being fed by tourists have made them quite fiendish in their plights for food. They will ambush you the moment they hear the rustle off the tell-tale paper packet, jump in front of your bike as you ride and guilt you with adorable perky ear flops. Those uninterested in your treats will settle for basking in the shade or having a roll in the cool dirt. The bunnies are more than happy to be pet but do not like to be picked up (honestly I tried, on multiple occasions) but perhaps the best method for surprise cuddles was lying on the ground, throwing a handful of food on yourself and lying still till they jumped on you. It may not be dignified but it definitely works.
Once you are out of food, the lapine love screeches to a halt and the little buggers won’t even come near you. For this reason, I recommend ending your day on the beach near the main area with an ice cream and watching the nearby rabbits frolic about in the shade. If you decide to stay, there are of course several hotels to stay at on the island, but for the most part they all range from moderately to really expensive. There is also a more affordable camping ground but it tends to book out quickly. Instead, I would suggest staying in nearby Hiroshima City and making a night of it.
Bunny Island is a remarkable experience, and one that is very uniquely Japanese. I highly recommend it as either a day trip or an overnight outing during the warmer months. It will be a lovely day with a plethora of photo ops that will rake in the Instagram likes like leaves in the fall but most importantly BUNNIES, BUNNIES SO MANY BUNNIES! ARRGH!