As promised last time, I’ll continue to tell you about my trip to Hiroshima with this article. This is going to be the second of three posts, so you can expect another one to appear soon! For now I’d like to tell you about my day trip to Ōkunoshima together with Chad – enjoy reading!
The island of Ōkunoshima is located in the Japanese Setō Inland Sea and belongs to the prefecture of Hiroshima. It has been famous for its abundance of rabbits that live there without any natural predators that decimate the population. Still, due to the slightly remote location of the island not many tourists ever found their way there. This changed recently, when the neighbouring town of Takehara became the setting of a popular anime and anime fans started to travel to the region. Being close to Takehara, Ōkunoshima received its share of tourists too – like me.
Already shortly after arriving on the island by ferry you could see rabbits everywhere. Due to it being a hot day, most of them spent their time in the shadow of plants, rocks or anything they could find. The remaining rabbits were completely occupied with eating all of the food that the other tourists had brought for them. They were all really used to humans and tried to beg for food whenever they had the feeling that you were about to eat something. At the same time, the local souvenir store and café had specialized on selling various products and foods related to these cute rodents.
Now, you might ask, where did these rabbits actually come from? And that’s a good question! There are a few theories, but the one that seemed most plausible to me (incidentally that’s also the one that makes for a better story) is related to the past of the island. Before and during the Second World War Ōkunoshima was actually used a the location of a poison gas factory for the Japanese army. The factory was destroyed after the war, but the rabbits, who were used as ‘guinea pigs’, where set free. Without any dangerous predators on the island, they could easily reproduce and began to populate the whole island. The result of this process can be seen on the pictures above.
However, the ruins of the poison gas factory and the attached military facilities can still be found all over the island too and make for a particularly eerie feeling when you get close to them. Nevertheless, they can still be explored (though you might need to ignore a few warning signs) and I found them to be much more interesting than the rabbits, to be honest. I’ll show you some of them, to give you an impression of what the island is like as well, once you get away from the main rabbit spots.
The first one is the former power plant building, which also included some of the factory’s offices. The ruin can already be seen from the sea, once the ferry gets close enough to the island. I was told thatyou were still allowed to go inside a few years ago – nowadays you have to climb a small fence. Being made of concreet and steel, the building didn’t look like it was going to fall apart anytime soon, so entering shouldn’t be too dangerous, despite the official warnings.
Next on the list were the locations of the poison gas tanks. Those have obviously been removed (as in: dumped into the Pacific Ocean), but the concrete foundations and the storage facilities are still visible. If you take a look at the second picture, you’ll see that the size of the tanks must have been huge!
The main military facilities were located at the highest point of the island to be more easily defendable in case of an attack. Several former barracks as well as artillery replacements can still be seen, even though the emplaced weapons were distroyed along with the poison gas facilities. None of these structures are closed of at all, so you can even walk into the old ammunition storage (though I’d recommend a good flash light – you’ll want to see the huge insects living in there before they appear right above your head).
In my opinion, these ruins could and should be promoted a lot more. They could be used to teach people about the war (even in an interesting and entertaining way, if you consider nightly hikes with flash lights and camping on site), as well as expanding Ōkunoshima’s image beyond that of the “Rabbit Island”.
I doubt this is going to happen anytime soon, but one can hope, right?