You’ve seen the YouTube vids and the Insta pics. Now it’s your turn to be covered in adorable wild bunnies. So how do you actually get to Okunoshima, the “Rabbit Island”? And what can you do once you’re there?

Japan’s Rabbit Island

There are two competing theories on how Okunoshima became a rabbit mecca. The first is that a few pet rabbits were released by children when the islands were evacuated in the 1940s. The second is that the rabbits are escaped test subjects from the island’s former toxic gas production labs (more on that later). Either way, rabbits were let loose on the island. With few natural predators and abundant resources, the rabbits did what rabbits do and multiplied. By most estimates, there are well over 1,000 living on the island today.

A dark past

Photo by Aaron Baggett

Okunoshima wasn’t always a paradise for bunnies. In the early 20th century, neck deep in wars with China (and later the Allied Powers), the Japanese government ordered a secret poison gas factory be built on the island. Naturally, there’s been a lot of secrecy around the sites, with many reports stating that the gas produced here was never used in warfare. In reality, there’s every chance it was used in China, which was exposed to a wide range of chemical weapons by the Imperial Japanese Army.

The only people we can say with certainty were affected are the factory workers, many of whom were children by today’s standards. With little in the way of training or safety regulation, and poor equipment, many of the island’s residents were left with life-changing injuries long after the island was evacuated. The facilities were built to last. The ruins are still all over the island to this day, in stark contrast to the island’s otherwise idyllic surroundings.

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What to do on Rabbit Island

Photo by Aaron Baggett

While there’s not much in the way of infrastructure, there’s plenty to see and do on Rabbit Island. Food isn’t really available outside of the hotel, so be sure to bring enough to last you the day.

Play with the buns

While you can’t play with them exactly, the rabbits are relatively unfazed by humans. That means they’re happy enough to eat directly from your hands. Be sure to get their food before you reach the island, as we didn’t see any after we arrived. Rabbit food is available from the gift shop in Tadanoumi—or more cheaply in the little shack next door. Alternatively, plenty of folks bring more photo-friendly fresh veggies, many of which are good eatin’ for rabbits. Please don’t feed the rabbits human food.

Explore the island

Photo by Aaron Baggett

The island itself is every bit as cool as the critters that occupy it. It’s well worth visiting a few of the island’s many ruins, abandoned buildings and island vistas. At a steady pace two hours should be enough to circle the whole island. That’ll be much longer if like me, you stop every time you see a cute rabbit. You can rent bicycles from the hotel at ¥600 a pop. Just be sure to keep an eye out for bolting bunnies in your path.

Sightseeing highlights include several old batteries (of the military kind), gas storehouses, a power plant, and an observatory.

Hit the beach

The island is surrounded by surprisingly beautiful (and often deserted) beaches. If you’re the sun, sea and sand type, there’s no reason not to set up shop and leave the rabbits in peace for a while.

Take a dip

If you’re looking to wind down after all that excitement, the island’s only hotel has an onsen (natural hot spring bath). If you’re not staying the night, admission costs a very reasonable ¥410. Be sure to check our guide to onsen etiquette before you dive in.

Bath hours: 11 am–6 pm

Poison Gas Museum

Photo by Aaron Baggett

The Poison Gas Museum was built in 1988 to draw attention to the horrors of war, made especially poignant by the Island’s own involvement in the manufacture of chemical weapons. It’s a small museum, but it’s well worth the admission cost of just ¥100. Much of the information is translated into English, and 30 minutes should be more than enough to see everything. Naturally, such atrocities are going to put a downer on an otherwise adorable day—so consider giving this a miss if you’re with young kids.

Open daily 9 am to 4:30 pm (last entry 4 pm). May vary on holidays

Staying on Rabbit Island

Unlike the locals, you won’t need to dig your own warren to stop overnight.

Kyukamura Ohkunoshima

The island’s only hotel offers relative luxury to those looking to stay the night (apparently guests once stayed in the abandoned military buildings). If you’re looking for budget accommodation you’re better off sticking to the mainland. But if you’re dead set on getting sunrise or sunset snaps on the island, staying the night is your only choice.

Spending the night among the stars

The hotel also maintains a decent-sized campsite. It’s perfect for stargazing, as there’s apparently very little ambient light. There are two plans available, both much cheaper than a hotel stay. The first allows you to bring your own equipment, and costs ¥1,030 for the site and ¥410 per person in “administration fees”.

The second option is the “empty hands” plan, which allows you to rent a tent and sleeping gear, all set up by staff. Based on two people sharing a tent, prices start around [[rice amount=10,000], which includes dinner, breakfast and onsen access. According to their Japanese website, this option is “good for those who are new to camping and women”. Casual sexism aside, it’s a great option if you’re not planning to lug around a tent and sleeping bags for your whole trip. Just renting a tent costs ¥6,000.

Getting there and getting around

The island was chosen as a secret military installation for good reason–it’s not especially easy to get to. So while the island is popular, it’s not as crowded as you might expect for such a well-known destination, especially on weekdays. That said, it’s well worth the trip if you’re in the area!

Photo by Aaron Baggett

Getting to Okunoshima from the mainland

The easiest way to reach the island is by taking the ferry from Tadanoumi, which means getting the train to the pier first. As the nearest big city, there’s a good chance you’ll be coming from Hiroshima, which takes around 2 hours. be sure to check out our Hiroshima guide while you’re at it for advice on where to go and what to do.

A reliable route (especially if you have a JR Pass) is to get a JR San-yo line train to Mihara. From there, take JR Kure line bound for Tadanoumi.

Taking the ferry

Once you’ve reached Tadanoumi, you can pick up ferry tickets at the visitors’ centre by the pier. While you’re there, you can drop off any luggage for the day for ¥500. The ferry trip is just 15 minutes long, and one departs every hour or so, depending on the time and day. Check the official timetable for full details. The first departure from Tadanoumi is usually around 7 am, while the last boat back leaves around 7 pm.

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