Camping on Rabbit Island

A few years ago, back when we had jobs and regular living arrangements, back when the unexpected was not quite so regularly expected, Caroline excitedly told me about a magical place in Japan called Rabbit Island. It was a small island that had been used during the war to produce the poison required for (illegal) chemical warfare.

Rabbit Island is actually called ‘Okunoshima’, but it won’t be called that anymore in this post.

After Japan surrendered, all the poison and most of the facilities were destroyed by the occupying Allies. The Allies did what any responsible group would do to hundreds of tons of poison liquid: they burnt some of it with huge flame throwers, and tossed the rest into the Pacific Ocean. They didn’t completely destroy the facilities, and eventually made use of them to store ammunition during the Korean war. Those days have thankfully passed, and now the tiny island is home only to ruins and rabbits (and a resort hotel, a poison gas museum, an onsen, and children’s discovery centre. Oh, and a golf course that is no longer in use due to the overwhelming number of rabbits eating its grass, and several tennis courts that are no longer in use due to an apparent lack of interest by the island caretakers to remove the weeds from them).

There are a few different ports where ferries to Rabbit Island can be caught from, and the first one we arrived at was Tadanoumi. Tickets were cheap enough: 310 yen per person and 100 yen per bicycle for the 15-minute crossing.

Arrival at the island revealed instant satisfaction. I thought we might see a few rabbits scampering through the bushes, but the furry little beasts were everywhere. They were completely tame, and ran from person to person to check for food. If food was not forthcoming, they would turn around and bound off only to be replaced by two more. Most of the bunnies didn’t like to be touched, but there were a couple who sat down and closed their eyes if you scratched behind their ears. It was all very adorable, and we slowly made our way around the 4 km perimeter of the island to see the sights.

Rabbit Island, Japan

Rabbit Island, Japan

Rabbit Island, Japan

Rabbit Island, Japan

Rabbit Island, Japan

Rabbit Island, Japan

Rabbit Island, Japan

Rabbit Island, Japan

Rabbit Island, Japan

Rabbit Island, Japan

Rabbit Island, Japan

Rabbit Island, Japan

Rabbit Island, Japan

The poison gas museum was small and only a small handful of signs were in English, but the artifacts on display told the story adequately. It seemed there was a lot of secrecy around the poison gas factory, and none of the liquid death made there was ever actually used. About the only thing it succeeded in doing was inflicting horrible skin conditions on the inadequately rubber-suited workers.

No photos were allowed inside the museum, but here are some shots of the island and various other buildings that are still somewhat intact.

Rabbit Island, Japan

Rabbit Island, Japan

This is where 10-ton storage tanks of liquid poison were held. Fun! Now, the rabbits hang out here.

Rabbit Island, Japan

This was a huge storage facility for…guess what??? Yes! Poison! It was INCINERATED by the Allies, hence the black.

Rabbit Island, Japan

Another storage facility on the northern side.

Rabbit Island, Japan

This was the most impressive building still on the island: the power plant. Sadly, you weren’t allowed inside (happily, we went inside anyway in the early morning – photos below)

We wanted to camp, and a map of the island showed a place there we could do so. Nothing was in English, so we assumed (incorrectly) that we could simply set up the tent in the designated area and hope that nobody would come and demand cash. Setting up after dark, we decided, would be the best way to implement our plan.

So we played with rabbits all day, taking pellets from a large food bowl that they were ignoring and feeding it to them by hand which they seemed to prefer. Then we used the onsen at the island’s only hotel, took a couple of teas in the cafe, and I frantically typed up diaries to be later turned into my last blog post (it is a never ending battle, trying to stay on top of these posts) while Caroline crocheted fat cats.

After dark we cycled to the camping area (which was a large, empty patch of grass), and set everything up. We settled in to watch some TV shows (Better Call Saul), but after 1.5 episodes a beam of light interrupted us. The man who was shining the beam of light managed to convey, through his broken English and our awful Japanese, that we needed to go to the hotel and pay for a campsite.

We really should have known this would happen.

So we got dressed, trudged back to the hotel, and paid 410 yen per person plus a ‘site fee’ of 1030 yen. The receptionist, a very friendly man, produced a map with lot of labels and asked which site we were at. I pointed at campsite ‘B’, which looked to be approximately where we were located. It was an entirely unnecessary step and everybody involved knew it. We were the only tent in the whole campsite. Imagine two rangers showing up to ask us something:

Enter Ranger 1 and Ranger 2.

R1 Well, here we are at site B, but there’s no tent here.

R2 points to the only tent in the campsite. Do you think that’s them there?

R1 pulls out paperwork. No, no. It says here that they are in site B, but that tent over there is in site C. What do make of it?

R2 Well I simply have no idea.

R1 This mystery is bigger than us, my friend. Let us return to HQ and fill out the correct paperwork required for escalating the situation.

Exit Ranger 1 and Ranger 2.

It poured with rain that night, and Caroline woke at one point to find a miserable looking rabbit huddled under the our tent flap. So cute.

Rabbit Island, Japan

Drying the tent in the morning

The first ferry back to Tadanoumi left at 9.20. This gave us time in the morning to dry the tent a little bit, play with more rabbits, and climb over the railing the blocked off the power plant in order to get some photos from the inside.

Rabbit Island, Japan

Rabbit Island, Japan

Me for scale

Rabbit Island, Japan

Nom nom nom

Just an ordinary train

4 thoughts on “Camping on Rabbit Island

  1. as many photos of rabbits as there were in this post…. I STILL WANTED MORE. How fabulous and incredible. Rabbit Island seems too strange to be real! This was so much fun to read. And what about the picture of the rabbit under the umbrellas?!?!? ^v^

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