Hiroshima’s Okunoshima | Exploring the “Rabbit Island”

The rabbit island of Okunoshima in Japan and the Seto Inland Sea in the early hours of the moring

In today’s article, we’ll be heading back to a different side of Hiroshima Prefecture to explore the isle of Okunoshima. Famous as the “Rabbit Island” overseas, this small landmass is home to anywhere between 700 and 900 adorable bunnies. While the exact count is anyone’s guess, it’s safe to say that you’ll encounter MANY wild rabbits all around the island. What’s more, for the price of just a mere 100 yen, you can procure yourself a bag of rabbit feed too. Since these critters have no real natural predators on Okunoshima, they will run right up to you expecting to be fed. It’s really quite cute!

Personally, I am not really big on attractions like cat cafes and the like so I was originally only planning to visit Okunoshima for social media content (those viral TikToks and Instagram Reels don’t make themselves). Alas, I found myself thoroughly enjoying the act of providing some much-appreciated feed to an overwhelming horde of bunnies. Honestly, there’s really something therapeutic about feeding a wild animal that has absolutely no fear of you. If you’re in Hiroshima, I highly suggest that you budget for an extra half of a day to explore Okunoshima. It’s a great experience that’s sure to bring a smile to your face.

By the way, do note that this island has a dark and complicated history to it. While Okunoshima is today a place that draws people from all over the world, the specter of its wartime past still lingers and you’ll find hints of the island’s former history scattered about. I’ll dive into Okunoshima’s legacy in the latter sections of this article so if you’re a World War II buff like I am, don’t be too quick to write off Okunoshima just because fluffy bunny rabbits aren’t really your shtick…

How to Get There

A line of tourists waits to take photos get off at one of the pier sites on the "Rabbit Island"

Seeing as Okunoshima is an island, tourists interested in visiting will need to take a 15-minute ferry ride to reach the destination. Luckily, the logistics involved in making a trip to Okunoshima are not as challenging as some other similar sites. For the purposes of this section, I am going to assume that you’re already in Hiroshima City. If not, you’re going to want to hop on one of the bullet trains that run from Tokyo and Osaka to Hakata. As always, Jorudan or a similar service can help you calculate departure schedules. Alternatively, you can also fly to Hiroshima if you prefer to travel by air.

Anyway, the trek from Hiroshima to Okunoshima will begin at the main transportation hub of the city, Hiroshima Station. From there, you’ll need to hop a local train on the Kure Line to Tadanoumi Station (FYI, you’ll need to transit at Hiro or Mihara Station en route). Thereafter, you’ll need to hoof it over to Tadanoumi Port. From here, you can catch one of four boats that depart for Okunoshima every hour. The one way journey takes about 15 minutes and costs 310 yen but I suggest you check Google for the up-to-date schedule as it can be subject to change based on the season.

I’ve also read that there is a bus that leaves from Hiroshima Station too but I cannot comment on its reliability as I was driven to the Tadanoumi ferry terminal by the kind staff in charge of the Seto Inland Sea DMO (destination marketing organization). Since the prefecture’s more rural train lines can have some rather awkward transit times, you might be better off just taking the direct bus if the logistics work out for you. If you need help, just inquire at the help desk for tourists inside Hiroshima Station. I’m sure they’ll lend you a hand!

Whether you take the bus or the train, know that right by Tadanoumi Station, you’ll find a Family Mart. Here, you can snag yourself a baggie of rabbit food. Since there is little infrastructure on the island, this will save you the hassle of needing to hunt down a place to procure some pellets after arriving. Additionally, you’ll also want to get to Okunoshima early as the rabbits can get full later in the day. In fact, it’s for this very reason that many people stay overnight in the island’s sole hotel. After all, bunnies need their breakfast!

Lastly, do note that Okunoshima can also be explored as one stop on a day-long cruise from Hiroshima. This posh boat tour will whisk you around from island to island, thereby allowing you to skip all the hassle of making transfers. The only downside to this alternative is that your time on Okunoshima will be greatly limited. Personally, I’d rather have the freedom to explore the island and its trails at leisure but this is a great option for those who are traveling with kids.

Enjoying the “Rabbit Island”

A population of many rabbits wait near the ferry port from Tadanoumi in Takehara Hiroshima

OK, let’s now dive into what you can expect upon arriving at Okunoshima. Basically, your nautical options for reaching the island will leave you off at either the eastern or southern side. From there you’ll be free to explore the island. Assuming that you have your bag of rabbit food in hand, you’ll not have to search hard to find a furry friend (if not, I suspect you can purchase some at the hotel or the restaurant). There are many, many rabbits to be found everywhere on this rather small island. Hell, the bunnies probably seek YOU out. Despite being wild animals, they know no fear of humans and will run right up to you.

The best way to feed the rabbits is to squat down and put some bunny feed into your palm. Then, with your hand outstretched, let the cute little floof balls have at it. While you can occasionally get an Okunoshima rabbit alone, oftentimes you’ll have a horde come to eat from your bunny buffet. It’s a free form of therapy that will brighten up your day. Just be sure not to be stupid and put a pellet in between two of your fingers as this is a good way to get bit. As anyone who has seen Bugs Bunny can attest, rabbits have some teeth to them.

Most tourists who visit Okunoshima only go as far as the Kyukamura Okunoshima hotel complex and the sections nearby it. This is a real shame as there’s a lot more of the island’s environment to explore. Assuming that time allows, I suggest that you walk around the entire circumference of the isle before taking a ferry back to the mainland. While not what I’d call “attractions” per say, there are a number of spots related to the history of Okunoshima (we’ll address that next) as well as the tallest powerline in Japan.

If you’re going to do a full trip around the so-called “Rabbit Island,” you’d do well to ration your resources. If you blow all of your food in the sections of the island near the hotel, you’ll run out of food before you complete the lap. Your punishment for this will be a walk of shame as you pass by bunny after bunny just begging for rabbit feed. Unless you’re an exceptionally cruel human being, you don’t want this to be you!

World War II & Poison Gas

One of the many rabbits that was released onto Okunoshima by human hands in front of the power generator.

By now, you must be wondering why the hell there are all these hares on Okunoshima. Well, as history would have it, this now-joyous island has an extremely dark legacy. You see, Okunoshima was onced used by the Imperial Japanese Army Institute of Science and Technology to produce chemical weapons, an act that was a direct violation of the 1925 Geneva Protocol. Seeing as it is but one of many isles in the Seto Inland Sea, Okunoshima proved to be the perfect place for these sinister machinations. Japan’s wartime leaders even went so far as to remove Okunoshima from maps to prevent it being discovered, thereby making the island indistinguishable from its neighbors.

So, why was Okunoshima overrun with bunnies? Well, the terrible truth was that they were released originally onto the site to serve and protect its human inhabitants who were working with volatile substances. In addition to being test subjects for the island’s poison gas, they were essentially Okunoshima’s proverbial canary in the coal mine. If the soldiers and mad scientists stationed on the island happened upon a host of dead rabbits, they’d be able to take this as a sign that there was a chemical leak somewhere near to them.

The present population of rabbits on Okunoshima today are not direct descendants of the animals that were originally on the island. Those wild critters were all euthanized when the chemical weapons factory was demolished and are therefore not related to the rabbits currently on the island. The bunnies today come from a second lineage that was intentionally let loose when Okunoshima became a public park following World War II. With nothing to prey on them, the rabbits quickly took over and thus the “Rabbit Island” was born.

Today, you’ll find lots of nods to Okunoshima’s sickeningly dark past all about the island. In addition to the ruins left behind by the military facilities, there is also now a poison gas museum to see too. While there’s little to no English available inside, those who can read Japanese can learn all about the horrific conditions that those working on Okunoshima were subject to during the war. Sadly, it wasn’t only the rabbits on the island who suffered.

By far, the most impressive remnant of Okunoshima’s wartime legacy is the old power generator building. Found close to the primary ferry port on the island, this perfectly preserved structure once powered all of the revolting machinery on the island that was used to produce poison gas. If you do a full circuit of Okunoshima, be sure to check out this section of before the ride back to Tadanoumi Port.

Other Nearby Attractions

The center of the town of Takehara which is near to the "Rabbit Island" of Okunoshima.

In addition to the “Rabbit Island” of Okunoshima, know that there are many other local allures back on the mainland in this part of Japan. Once you’ve taken your photos and exhausted all of your rabbit food, consider checking out another site from the following list after the short ferry ride back to Tadanoumi. I’ve visited them all and can vouch for their viability in terms of an add-on to the island of Okunoshima.

  • Takehara
    Located near Tadanoumi Port, Takehara is a town that is near to everyone’s favorite “Rabbit Island.” Previously a place where salt makers marketed their goods, you can feel Takehara’s 350-year history as you wander about its idyllic streets. Like with a lot of other picturesque locales around Japan, Takehara is often considered to be the “Kyoto” of the region and was selected as one of Japan’s top 100 most scenic towns. If you’re a fan of Japanese whiskey, know that the father of the industry was born in Takehara.
  • Kure
    If you’re wondering why Okunoshima was chosen as the location for Japan’s poison gas facility, know that its proximity to Kure Naval District was one major factor. This port on the Seto Inland Sea was basically THE headquarters of the imperial navy during World War II. What’s more, Kure’s shipyards produced the biggest battleship to ever set sail, the Yamato. If you’re a fan of wartime history, be sure to check out this hidden gem in addition to the rabbits and the poison gas museum on Okunoshima!
  • Other Islands
    The Seto Inland Sea has a TON of other islands to delve into. Honestly speaking, featuring them all or even diving into recommendations would take far more time that we have at the closure of this article. What I can say is that the local DMO team and I elected to visit the nearby isle of Osaki Kamishima. While you need not follow in my footsteps, I do suggest that you spend some more time exploring the other isles. After all, there is a reason why people call this natural marvel the most beautiful part of Japan!
  • Onomichi & Fukuyama
    Finally, we have the seaside cities of Onomichi and Fukuyama. Located to the east of Okunoshima, these historic port towns have a lot to offer. For starts, Onomichi is the starting point for the famous Shimanami Kaido and it also has a charming temple walk to enjoy too. Fukuyama on the other hand is a former castle town that also boasts the picturesque hamlet of Tomonoura. If any of these tickle your fancy, I highly encourage you to do some more digging!

Until next time travelers…

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Donny Kimball
Donny Kimball

I'm a travel writer and freelance digital marketer who blogs about the sides of Japan that you can't find in the mainstream media.

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