With not one but two Cat Islands, Japan is known for having tiny islands with significant populations of cute domestic animals. You may already know this but, yes – there is also a Rabbit Island in Japan.
Properly called Ōkunoshima, this small island is the place to go if you want to see an island full of bunnies! Like so much of Japan, there is more to this place than first meets the eye. With beautiful natural scenery and intriguing history, there’s more to do here than look at rabbits, so here’s what you should know before you go.
Japan’s Rabbit Island
Rabbit Island Wasn’t Always Rabbit Island
It all started back in 1971 when an elementary school released just eight rabbits on Ōkunoshima. Rabbits did what rabbits do, and the rest is history. That means they’re not technically wild rabbits, but they’re certainly a huge colony of feral, domesticated rabbits who have populated the island for well over 40 years. To be precise, these are European rabbits or ana-usagi in Japanese.
By 2013, there were 700 rabbits, so you can only guess how many there are now! We love how the cute sight of all these rabbits has a cute background, too. However, there definitely aren’t millions of them, so make sure you aren’t expecting to see that many. It could be just a little disappointing if you were expecting a literal sea of fluffy bunnies as soon as you jump off the ferry.
Rewind further back in time – let’s say around the early-mid 20th century – and you’ll find there were rabbits on this island back then, too, but it wasn’t such a cute story, as you’re about to find out…
Rabbit Island Has A Dark History
Today, there is a huge kawaii appeal to Rabbit Island. Japan, however, hasn’t always been about cuteness. In fact, Ōkunoshima has a teensy bit of darkness in its early years of modern history. Well, more than a teensy bit.
In 1927, long before the rabbits were introduced, the Imperial Japanese Government set up a factory that manufactured various types of chemical weapons. Since the Geneva Protocol banned the use of chemical weapons in warfare, Ōkunoshima was virtually wiped from the map. It became a very secret place; even the ferry port that takes you to the island today still boasts a thick wall separating it from the rest of the town.
Sadly, there were actually some test rabbits for the chemical weapons introduced in 1929, but they say they were euthanized by American troops in the late 1940s. There is no proof that the bunnies now days are direct ancestors from their wartime friends, but I suppose some of them could have lived and repopulated the island!
We’re done with bringing you down about it, so check out Ōkunoshima Poison Gas Museum to learn more. Visiting nearby Hiroshima can easily make you forget that Japan during WWII wasn’t just a victim, so it’s important to get some perspective, which makes Ōkunoshima a good place to visit.
It’s Not A Theme Park, So Know Your Dos And Don’ts
Officially, Rabbit Island is a National Park Resort. The rabbits will chase you! They’re not actually wild. And because of that status, there are a lot of rules to consider. We thought we’d just run down a few of them, so you don’t endanger the lives of these fluffy friends.
Firstly, you should be careful when you cycle – rabbits aren’t always quick to move away from traffic, and that includes bikes!
Feeding the rabbits human food is not okay! The rabbits on Rabbit Island, Japan, are totally about their own food, which you can purchase there at the hotel. Human food just isn’t for them. In fact, they can’t even digest potato properly, so definitely no chips. Another thing about feeding the rabbits here is to make sure you don’t feed them on the road; they will get distracted with their meal, and eating at the roadside is risky for a rabbit.
They may look super cute, but probably the best rule to think about is not chasing after or holding them. Rabbits don’t like to be held and they have have sharp nails. Chasing and holding the rabbits will make them panic. Not cool!
In Japan, Rabbits Are Considered Good Luck
Bunny Island was definitely famous in Japan before the rest of the world took note. Yes, there’s the whole kawaii appeal of an island full to the brim with cute rabbits, but there’s also a different side to rabbits in Japanese culture that makes the island that bit more significant.
These critters are considered to be lucky. They often appear in Japanese folklore, tales, and even as motifs on all manner of things – from kimono to ceramics. Rabbits are not only part of the Chinese-influenced zodiac that Japan uses, but they are also considered to be clever, friends of Shinto (native Japanese religion) gods, and are associated with spring.
And one final fact about rabbits in Japan: you know the Man in the Moon? In Japan, there is no Man in the Moon; instead, it’s a rabbit that people see when they look up at those light and dark patches on a full moon. It’s not just any rabbit either, but a rabbit making mochi (rice cake) with a specialized traditional hammer. So now you know!
You, Will, Need To Know How To Get to Rabbit Island
Rabbit Island, Japan, is not the sort of place you can just fly to, like Tokyo or Osaka. It’s a small island located in Japan’s Seto Inland Sea, just off the coast from the town of Tadanoumi in the west part of the main island, Honshu. Already that sounds more complicated than a single flight, right? It will require some legwork do get here, but it’s certainly doable.
From Hiroshima, you can take the JR Kure Line east to Tadanoumi towards Mihara. That’s pretty slow, so you can always opt for a 25-minute Shinkansen ride from Hiroshima instead. From Mihara, it’s a bus ride to Tadanoumi.
From Osaka, we recommend that you take the very speedy westbound Tokaido-Sanyo Shinkansen to Mihara and change to the bus from there. There’s a more complicated journey you can do, but… it’s complicated! Major win if you have the coveted JR Pass to make this trip happen. Plus, having a JR Pass will mean that either of these options are going to be a good idea for you (and your budget). Once you exit the train station turn right and the ferry terminal is less than a five minute walk away.
To check the train schedule look on Hyperdia, and make sure you grab a JR Pass before you arrive in Japan.
From Tadanoumi, it’s a matter of catching the ferry to Ōkunoshima (here’s the schedule). This costs 310 yen one way, takes about 20 minutes, and runs hourly, approximately. You should always check the website for conditions, though. When I was there there was a big bunny sign letting you know you were at the right spot.
Bunny Island Has A Beach!
And not just any beach, it’s a pretty nice stretch of pale sand lapped by a turquoise sea. Not only do rabbits sometimes congregate on the sand – which makes for an impressive sight, to say the least – but so do humans.
Bring along something to lay out on, make sure you pack a towel, and don’t forget the sunscreen! However, it’s not just about catching some rays. Swimming here definitely makes for a refreshing thing to do on Bunny Island when the island (and most of Japan for that matter) gets completely boiling in the summer months. Being part of Japan’s Inland Sea, the currents are pretty calm, so you can splash around in the sea all you like.
Fans Of Urban History Will Love Rabbit Island
Thanks to the fascinating (but slightly dark) history of Rabbit Island, Japan, there are a lot of old buildings left over from various stages of its existence. There’s the Poison Gas Museum to go and see, of course, but the chemical weapons factory itself is still standing.
You can go see the massive power plant that served the factory; it’s a vast, empty concrete building with vines creeping all around it that makes for an eerie adventure and unique photo opportunity (especially for squeaky clean Japan!).
But there’s more! Even further back, around 1904-1905, when Japan was fighting a war against Russia, ten forts were built around the island. You can go and see these too and get a sense of the history of the place. There is also an old school lighthouse here to add to the list of historic buildings that populate the island alongside the rabbits. You can even go up the lighthouse for a surprisingly scenic view.
The sight of disused buildings around the place gives Rabbit Island, Japan, an interesting, almost post-apocalyptic feel… which is a really intriguing contradiction when you think about all the bunnies here.
Bring Your Own Human Food
Okay, so there’s only one restaurant on Rabbit Island and there’s also only one coffee shop. This would be fine when you’re visiting out of season. But during times like Cherry Blossom Season, Golden Week (the end of April to early May), and the summer months – especially weekends – the island will get pretty busy with visitors. It’s best to bring your own snacks along.
You can buy a few snacks at the National Park Resort Hotel on the island, but our advice would be to pick up a few different food and drink items from one of the fantastic convenience stores Japan has to offer. In fact, right next to Tadanoumi Station itself, there’s a Family Mart, where you can pick up everything from a freshly made coffee and soft drinks to sushi and egg sandwiches. And trust us; all of it is tasty. Convenience stores are everything in Japan.
You Can Hike On Rabbit Island
It’s fair to say we’ve come to the conclusion that this place isn’t all about the rabbits. There’s definitely a lot of things you could be doing on Rabbit Island, Japan, other than photographing those rabbits (though they are pretty cute). One of those things is hiking.
That’s right – there are a fair few hiking trails on the island, which is a majorly good thing because it’s a beautiful place. Not only can you trace your way around the coast on various walking routes, but you can also make your way up to the highest point of the island. We highly recommend doing this.
The view from the summit of Rabbit Island is a 360-degree panorama of what the Seto Inland Sea is famous for – islands, and lots of them. The sight of all these small islands layering up on the horizon is pretty stunning, to say the least. The trailhead for this particular hike can be found between the campsite and the visitor center.
Another more coastal walk runs from Ōkunoshima Pier 1 and around the south of the island, where there is no road – just walking trails. Here is where you’ll find the historic lighthouse, amazing sea views, interesting buildings leftover from times gone by, and maybe a few bunnies, too!
You Can Even Stay On Rabbit Island
You may think this is the kind of place that’s only worth a day trip and nothing more, but there are not just one but a few reasons to stay on Rabbit Island overnight. There’s the campsite which we just mentioned (with room enough for ten groups), and the National Park Resort Hotel, which boasts its very own onsen (hot spring). Even if you choose the campsite, don’t worry; you can enjoy the onsen even if you’re not a guest – but you’ll have to pay an entry fee, of course.
First off, and especially if you are visiting during summer or high season, you may want to stay overnight so that you get the place – and the rabbits – all to yourself in the early morning. Secondly, staying overnight definitely gives the place a different vibe. You may think it’s just a tourist destination, but you’ll have an unprecedented view of the stars at night. Plus, rabbits are more nocturnal than they are fans of hopping around in the day time; you’ll get to see a different side to them, too.
Thirdly, staying here could be the start of a unique way to see Japan by island-hopping around the Seto Inland Sea. This area of the country is studded with islands, and the next logical choice after Ōkunoshima is the much larger Ōmishima to the south. Catch the ferry from Pier 1 to here. In fact, on Ōmishima, you can pick up the famous Shimanami Kaido cycling route, which runs between Onomichi on the mainland and Imabari on the island of Shikoku.
How Much Does Rabbit Island Cost?
There is no entrance fee to enter Rabbit Island. Your costs will be the train to get to Tadanoumi, as well as the ferry on and off Okunoshima. You’ll also need to account for things like rabbit food, and your own personal food.
There’s not a lot on the island besides the museums and hotel, so make sure you come with enough cash to get you anything you may need. Your last chance at an ATM will be in Tadanoumi.
Quick Japan Travel Tips
- ‘Hello’ and ‘Thank You’ in Japanese: “Kon’nichiwa” and “Arigatō”
- How to say ‘Rabbit’ in Japanese: Usagi
- Currency: Japanese Yen – (JPY) – ¥
- Visa: Most Visitors to Japan can enter visa free for up to 90 days.
- Weather: The weather on Okunoshima varies depending on season. Japan celebrates four seasons. In the winter you can expect colder, windy temperatures, while summer is hot and humid. Spring and Fall are fantastic times to visit as the air is cool and crisp
What to Pack for Japan?
Wondering what to wear in Japan? You aren’t alone. Japan can be a very tricky country to pack for as there are so many styles you can go with, and of course, every season is different.
We’ve traveled to Japan during all their four seasons. Most of Japan is a four-season country and winter travel is vastly different than summer. Here are the essential Japan packing list items to bring with you depending on the season you visit!
Sometimes it’s nice just to have a real book in your hands when traveling. We recommend picking up a Lonely Planet to get you through the wireless nights.
Chances are you’ll want a camera for your trip to Japan. Our favorite pocket-sized point and shoot camera for quick trips are the Sony RX100V. It takes fantastic photos and video and is the size of your palm. To up your photography game, a bit consider the Fuji X-T3. We just bought that camera and found the images to look amazing. Check out our other travel cameras here.
Japan mainly uses the Type A plug like North America, but there is generally no socket for the grounded portion. Make sure you find a good universal adapter like the one I have to keep you charged. Otherwise, you may struggle to find one once you land.
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