When you think about it, there is no way that something as cute as a thousand rabbits could relate to poison gas. Well, it turns out you can actually relate two very different things, and this island is proof of that! Also known as Usagi Shima, or rabbit island, we introduce to you: Okunoshima!
What is Okunoshima?
Okunoshima is an island located in eastern Hiroshima, only requiring a 15-minute trip from the mainland to get there. This makes for a popular spot for tourists, and rightfully so, as people from all over the world flock just to go to this island! But what makes Okunoshima so special?
If you are a fan of rabbits, then this is the place for you! Over a thousand feral rabbits can be found on the island, that very fact being one of the main reasons why people visit the island. The good thing about the island is that you don’t have to worry at all about the rabbits suddenly acting out of place, because they’re all tame and friendly towards the people who visit! Sure, they might follow you around if you have food in tow, but they won’t hurt the people they approach.
Rabbits are said to be a sign of fertility and ambition, hence why Usagi Shima is said to be a good place to seek good fortune when starting a family.
It’s not just rabbits that make up its popularity. The island itself has picturesque views, especially of the ocean and the trees surrounding the area. It’s the perfect spot for camping and hiking, and having little furry friends to accompany you is an added bonus to it.
But above everything else, there is one other thing that shrouds the seemingly innocent island in mystery.
In 1925, the Japanese Army decided to start the production of chemical weapons after hearing that Europe and America were starting to make them as well. A chemical munitions plant was built on the island between 1927 and 1929, a facility there having the ability to produce over six kilotons of mustard gas and tear gas.
The reasons for them choosing the spot was firstly because it was a good distance away from Tokyo but close enough to reach it and any other surrounding areas with ease. The island was perfectly isolated from the rest of the country and high security measures were implemented to keep being able to hide the fact that poison gas was being made and researched in such a place. They even went the extra mile and made sure that Okunoshima was removed from the map entirely to keep this practice a secret.
The residents were not informed about what the plant was made for, and many employees and residents suffered from the exposure to the toxic substances released by the plant.
When the war ended, all traces of the plant ever existing were removed. All documents relating to it were burned, and the substances made were hidden. Because of all the happenings, everyone who knew about the plant’s existence were silenced. Decades later, in 1988, the Okunoshima Poison Gas Museum was opened for people to know the true story behind what had happened in the island many years ago.
Okunoshima in the Present
You wouldn’t even be able to guess that Okunoshima was an island used to develop chemical weapons in the past, because now, it’s populated by over a thousand rabbits! You may be wondering how a bunch of rabbits ended up on the island, especially with its history.
The reason for that is because Okunoshima was later on developed to become a park, hence why a lot of rabbits were let loose. The rabbits later on multiplied and multiplied, and ended up populating the entire island! That’s a little crazy, knowing that there’s an entire island dedicated to just rabbits in Japan. It’s ironic too, because rabbits were also used to test the effectiveness of chemical weapons during the time the plant was still active.
The Okunoshima Poison Gas Museum is still open to this day, and shows the effects of the poison gas towards people. It displays the stories of victims of the poison gas, and wants to show that the Japanese were not only just aggressors, but victims as well. The museum also showcases the different buildings and factories used in the production of chemical weapons, though most are already worn down.
Tourists are not allowed to visit the buildings, as they are unsafe to approach. They are free to examine it from afar, however.
And that’s all you need to know about Okunoshima! If you plan on taking a visit to Japan, going to this island is a good way to know a little more about the country! Like we said earlier, it’s only a 15-minute ride from the mainland, and it won’t take you long at all to get there! If you’re looking for other “Animal Islands”, check out the cat island Ainoshima or Miyajima Island, another island just outside of Hiroshima City which is home to many deer!
You won’t just be able to feed and make friends with the rabbits there, but you’ll also be able to explore the past a little by looking at the ruins and museums of Okunoshima.
This little island proves that there is more to something than what meets the eye. I highly recommend that you read more on Okunoshima’s history, because it truly is interesting to see how much an island has grown from its dark beginnings.