Nippon Day Sixteen: Okunoshima The Rabbit Island

A rabbit greets visitors to where the ferry is caught.

A rabbit greets visitors to where the ferry is caught.

I'm sure that you know that Japan is an archipelago, meaning it is made up of islands. The four main islands of Hokkaido, Honshu, Shikoku, and Kyushu are not alone, in fact there are 6,852 islands making up the country. That's a whole lot of islands, but today I'm going to talk about one in particular, which has recently been getting more social media press due to the adorable nature of its majority inhabitants. That is to say, the tiny island of Okunoshima is home to hundreds, if not thousands, of rabbits.

Have you heard of kawaii? It's the Japanese word for cute, but it's also a cultural appreciation of all things cute. That's why Japan is home to Hello Kitty; Pokemon; Hamtaro; Lolita fashion; and all that adorable animal artwork, backpacks, dolls, lunchboxes, and so much more. With all this cuteness floating around it isn't surprising that there is an entire island full of rabbits, but the history of Okunoshima is less fluffy than dark. During the second World War it was home to poisonous gas factories and the first rabbits there were test subjects. If you're envisioning a NIMH sort of situation, the rabbits of Okunoshima are not super intelligent decedents of science experiments (that does sounds like an anime plot though). In fact they probably aren't even related to those original rabbits, since it is believed that they all perished when the factories were destroyed.

So where did the current fluffy residence come from? There are several different theories, one of which is that they were purposefully released when the island was turned into a park. Another is that school teachers released a few class pets and since there are no natural predators on the islands and rabbits breed like...rabbits, well the rest is history. Whatever there origin, the bunnies are much better at attracting tourists to the island than the gas museum. People come in droves enjoying the hiking, camping, swimming, golf, and of course the rabbits. As visitors leave the ferry they are surrounded by a fluffy, long eared, horde begging for food. Many tourists are happy to lay on the ground and be engulfed in an adorable stampede of adorableness. Seriously, YouTube is full of videos of this.

And really, who wouldn't want to spend a day or two in the company of hundreds of wild, and yet completely friendly, bunnies? I know that Okunoshima has definitely made it onto my list of destinations, along with Tashirojima (cat island), Sarushima (monkey island), Zao Fox Village, and Nara Park home to around 1,200 sika deer. Ah Japan, you never fail to give the world a bit more kawaii!

Until next time, may the rabbits be with you.