Okunoshima, the Japanese island of rabbits

Japan’s Okunoshima island, once used for chemical weapon research, is now one of the cuddliest tourist destinations in the world. This is the island of rabbits.

In the 1920s, the remote tiny Japanese island of Okunoshima was covertly tasked with the production of mustard gas and tear gas. This work, which was outlawed by the Geneva Protocol, was carried out in secrecy for years. Even employees in the factories producing the gas weren’t allowed to know what they were making. In fact, the facilities were such a secret matter that Okunoshima was removed from Japanese maps. It would be easy to see why this island could have been branded a shameful place, a symbol of cruelty and war. Instead, the island has since been converted into a park and is almost overflowing with rabbits.

Rabbits swarming tourists in the hope of a tasty snack. (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)
Rabbits swarming tourists in the hope of a tasty snack. (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

Hundreds of rabbits roam the island, which is visited by droves of tourists each year. Far from the shy, skittish rabbits most people might be used to, these bunnies aren’t afraid to say hi. In fact, they’ve been known to follow tourists around in adorable waves, in hopes of a treat to eat. Some speculate that the rabbits are descendants of lab animals freed when the poison gas factories were destroyed by Allied troops. However, the Japanese government denies this, insisting that the rabbits were purposely added when the island became a park. However these rabbits came to Okunoshima, the island is a bunny-paradise. There are no natural predators on the island and even cats and dogs are strictly banned. This could explain why the rabbits aren’t even afraid of people and why their population has grown so much.

However, all is not perfect. Human tourists often feed the rabbits, something they aren’t allowed to do, with unhealthy foods, which can have a harmful effect on rabbits’ delicate digestive systems. This, coupled with the fierce competition of such a large population on a tiny island can create unfortunate health issues. It is important for tourists to appreciate the natural beauty of Okunoshima, but there is also a valuable lesson to be learned from its history. Perhaps the lesson of Okunoshima is about the damage that mankind is capable of, and that we should strive to do better.

Ronan Daly

Ronan Daly is a writer who specialises in Technology and Science. With a Masters Degree in English, and over a decade's academic experience, Ronan has brought a breezy, learned style to My Good Planet, making occasionally complex material accessible and understandable to all.