In the summer of 2015, I found myself traveling back to one of my absolute favorite places on earth: Japan. The group I was with spent a little over two weeks taking trains from town to town, hiking mountains, eating ramen, and (possibly best of all) celebrating my birthday on an island inhabited by hundreds of bunnies. Yes, bunnies.
Ōkunoshima is a small island off the coast of Japan, just southeast of Takehara and an easy day trip away from Hiroshima. Luckily for me, we were staying at a hotel in Hiroshima for several days leading up to my birthday, so getting swarmed by bunnies was an obvious excursion.
After getting up insanely early and snagging an iced coffee from one of the train station shops, we took about an hour long train ride out to Mihara and then a second train down to Tadanoumi station in Takehara. When we arrived, the tiny costal town was covered in a cool fog, keeping the summer sun at bay and giving me the opportunity to try a banana-flavored hot cocoa (something I never knew I needed in my life until then) while we walked to the port.
Ōkunoshima is only accessible by boat, but a ferry ride there from Takehara is inexpensive (¥300) and arrives about every 30 minutes. While Bunny Island itself is quite an experience, the ferry ride was honestly one of the most unforgettable moments I had while in Japan. As our boat drifted out from the dock, I wandered to the front of the ship with my cocoa and stared out at what looked like the landscape from a fairytale: mountainous islands loomed out of the water in front of us, their tops hidden behind low-hanging morning clouds. I honestly would have been happy riding around on that boat for half the day, but after 15 short minutes, our ferry glided up to the coast of Ōkunoshima and bunnies could be seen speckled along the beach.
From the actual moment you step off the boat, bunnies are hopping all around your toes. After getting over the initial shock of seeing so many free-roaming rabbits at once, we made our way over to a place where you can purchase small bags of rabbit food (¥100). All of the pictures and videos I had seen of Ōkunoshima previously proved to be completely accurate, as the bunnies literally began to swarm, climbing all over each other and us to get some food.
*Protip: Instead of sprinkling the food around to the bunnies like you’re supposed to, plop down and just dump the whole bag right on yourself. There’s a slight chance of rabbit poop, but it’s worth the risk, right?
After feeding and cuddling what seemed to be every rabbit on the island, we all decided to explore a bit and take a walk along the coast. I happened to turn around at one point to see bunnies trailing behind us, hoping to get another snack or two. (Maybe I still had rabbit food stuck in my hair?)
After walking down the beach for a while, we stumbled across the Poison Gas Museum (entrance charge ¥100). Before Ōkunoshima became known for its bunnies and beautiful beaches, it actually served a unique military purpose shortly after WWI. Beginning in 1925, a secret program was initiated to develop chemical weapons on the island and a gas manufacturing plant was constructed. During the next few years, the plant produced several kilotons of mustard gas and tear gas and to ensure secrecy, the island was even removed from most maps. If you’re brave enough to venture down a rather eerie-looking tunnel, you can see the ruins of the old gas manufacturing plant, with ivy clinging to its sides and bunnies darting about the rubble.
* If military history and chemical warfare isn’t really your thing, Ōkunoshima also has bicycles for rent, camping, and a hotel with a restaurant.
And so concluded what is very likely the best birthday I have ever had. The next time I visit Japan (2018?!), I really hope I can make my way back to this amazing place. I’d like to think that I’m adventurous enough to try camping here, as doing it for even just a night would be such an unforgettable experience. (Plus, scary ghost stories by the abandoned gas factory? How fun and spooky would that be?) Until next time, Japan!