In a land far, far away, there is a magical island in the middle of a turquoise sea, full of cute, cuddly, and — if we’re being real — very hungry bunny rabbits. Your littlest OCONUS princess and — again with the realness — you can channel your inner Disney princess and make friends with these sweet little woodland creatures. You can feed them from the palm of your hand, sing little songs together, and then they’ll help you with your daily chores — oh, wait, got a little too deep into that childhood fantasy of actually becoming Cinderella. Anyway…the bunnies on Bunny Island don’t sing or do laundry, but they are pretty stinking cute and, when you visit, you can get up close and personal with all 700 of them and their twisted island paradise.
Getting to Bunny Island
Bunny Island (technically called Okunoshima Island) is in Takehara city, in Hiroshima prefecture — so it’s an easy day trip from MCAS Iwakuni. It’s accessible by ferry, which departs from Tadanoumi Port. The ferry rates vary based on the size of your group, age, and whether you plan to bring a bike or car, but in general, adults pay 310 yen for the ferry and children (ages 7-11) pay 160 yen. Children under 7 are considered infants, and the first infant is free. If you’re bringing more than one child under 7, you’ll pay the 160-yen fee for each additional child.
The ferries depart roughly every 70 minutes, beginning at 7:30 a.m. You’ll want to catch the earliest one you possibly can so you get to experience the hungry bunnies, not the bunnies who have been stuffed with lettuce and carrots all day by enthusiastic tourists. The amount of time you spend on Bunny Island is up to you. Three to four hours is typically enough time to get bunnied-out, have a picnic lunch, and oooh and ahh at the view for a bit. The ferries don’t run all night, so be sure to peek at the departure schedule to avoid unintentionally camping on Bunny Island.
What Is Bunny Island?
Sure, the bunnies are totes adorbs, but this island has some baggage. And all that baggage is full of…any guesses…poisonous gas!
Yeah, we know, that may be the plot twist of all plot twists.
Long before the island was the Bunny Island of today, this place wasn’t even on the map because it housed the very secret Tadanoumi poison gas production facility for the Secondary Tokyo Military Arsenal beginning in 1929. This facility was tasked with producing poisonous gasses for the Japanese Army through World War II when U.S. Forces shut that sucker down for good.
So, from poison gas to bunnies — feeling like you missed a chapter? There are a few theories about how the bunnies came to the island. Some believe the poisonous gasses were tested on the bunnies (don’t hate the messenger) and they just stuck around after the facilities closed and — you know — did what bunnies do. Others, likely the ones that needed a more G-rated version for their kids, have versions of the story where bunnies were brought to the island much later for the specific purpose of creating a tourist attraction.
According to the Okunoshima Island website, it seems like the truth is a combination of the two theories. After the facilities were shut down, bunnies were allegedly released on the island to identify any poisonous gas leaks, “just as caged birds were dropped down into constructing wells to see carbon dioxide concentrations back in the day.”
Don’t you cry for those bunnies, though, they’re living a good life on Bunny Island today. They have all the carrots, lettuce, cabbage, and clean drinking water their hearts desire, they are idolized on the island, and they have beachfront property.
A Little Dark and Twisty and a Little Cute and Cuddly
There is no denying the stark contrast between the island’s dark past and the blinding cuteness of its present. All around the island, you’ll catch a glimpse of tourists feeding bunnies in front of deserted buildings — eerie remnants of a hollowed-out power plant, the charred walls of a storage facility that tell the story of the day the U.S. Forces came in and incinerated all that poisonous gas. You’ll stumble upon (quite literally if you aren’t careful — rabbit holes abound) a couple of overgrown tennis courts — likely a later edition, but we can’t help picturing the poison handlers working in a game of tennis in their lunch breaks in their hazmat suits. You’ll discover an air raid bunker for the tip of the Japanese military sword, the crumbling remains of an armory, and huge concrete rooms used for storing huge drums of liquid poison.
You’ll find several facilities off limits, and just when you’re sufficiently creeped out and beginning to feel like you unintentionally caught the ferry to Shutter Island, you’ll round the corner to a modern-day resort! The resort has a restaurant (although — hello, poison island, we packed our own lunch), vast front lawn (again, full of rabbit holes), and a pool that looked more “no thanks” than “don’t mind if we do,” but chalk that up to visiting off season, maybe.
Unless you’re staying overnight in the resort or you snagged a spot at the waterfront campsite, you’ll be making your way back to the pier about now. You can stop into the Poison Gas Museum. If you’re visiting in the heat of the summer, know it’s really just a single, unairconditioned room. Admission is 100 yen for adults and 50 yen for kids. The displays are in Japanese, obviously, but you can get an English brochure that is a pretty in-depth read on for 100 yen. Across from the museum is an interactive stop-off that is a little more kid- and English-friendly. It has a birdseye model of the island and a tunnel that your kids will love to run and scream through.
On the ferry back to Tadanomi Port, your kids will pretend like their flying at the front of the second deck — like Jack in Titanic. And you’ll try to process what you just experienced. You saw a lot of bunnies, worked your way through three tubs of commissary carrots (yes, you’ll want to pack your own), and peeled back a dark, poisonous layer of Japan’s history. You’ll snap back to reality and tell your kid to get down off the first rung of the railing, and laugh to yourself as you shrug it off as one of those only-in-Japan experiences.
Need a Crash Course in Japanese Culture before you head out to Bunny Island? Study up!
Photo Credits: Kristi Stolzenberg
Resources: The Gateway to Rabbit Island | Okunoshima Island Poison Gas Museum