The last time we were in Japan, we visited Miyajima island where deer roamed freely and peacefully mingled with humans. I remember being gently head-butted by a deer that was hoping to get his teeth into my corn on a cob, which, admittedly was one of the best animal experiences I had. This year, we decided to choose a smaller animal. Smaller than a deer anyway.
While the guide book and websites tell you how to get to Okunoshima island, actually getting there is a very, very long trip. And that’s just getting to the port to hop aboard the ferry that will take you to the island. A family friend brought us there this time around since one of our nieces was sick. The long drive may or may not get a bit dull due to the distance, but I still had a good time. And that small curry restaurant that we had lunch at along the way was a nice bonus.
So what is Okunoshima island exactly?
Well, if Miyajima was an island overrun by deer, Okunoshima on the other hand, is overrun by rabbits. Yup, welcome to rabbit island.
We bought feeds from the visitor center at Tadanoumi port before we even boarded the ferry to the island. You can buy them cheap and you would want to buy them because the point of going to the island is to see (and possibly interact) with rabbits. Feeding them is one way of getting their attention. And true enough, once you get off the port at Okunoshima, there are rabbits everywhere. And just like that, we went off on a long hike through the island. That is to say, we didn’t really think about the route that we were going to take.
Of course, with rabbits to your left and to your right, the hike wasn’t really a hike. It was actually kind of a fun walk. We passed a museum that showcased the history of Okunoshima. A dark history that unfolds in contrast to the fluffy and gentle-natured population of rabbits that roam the island. The Okunoshima Poison Gas Museum represents a part of Japan’s wartime history. As the museum name suggests, Okunoshima was once used to produce poison gas to be used in the war. This was despite Japan having signed the Geneva Protocol banning the use of poison and chemical weapons some years before. The Okunoshima plant had been operating in secrecy during that time. Following Japan’s defeat, the factories in Okunoshima were destroyed. However, no one was prosecuted for the use of poison gas. This was because Japan never prosecuted any of its citizens for war crimes. The museum itself is quite small and entry is quite reasonable. It displays the actual weapons, some equipment used by the workers, historical photos and documentation.
Probably halfway around the island, we reached the hotel (and the café, yey!). We had a snack and got some souvenirs. This is the only place on the island to eat by the way, unless you packed your own food.
Continuing our trek, it has dawned on us that the last ferry out of Okunoshima is probably in two hours time. The fact that we were out halfway, and that we didn’t have a map stirred a bit of concern. So we braved the trail while feeding rabbits and still enjoying the scenery of the island. We hiked uphill and went through some of the island’s old ruins. We found the old barracks and the remains of old gun placements. We also managed to find the old storage structures but was not fortunate enough to find the old power plant and the tallest electricity pylon in Japan. There was a visitor center though that was surprisingly stocked with information about the islands flora and fauna. We may not have explored the whole of the island, but what we experienced was plenty. And more importantly, we made it to the last ferry (yey!)!
There are already numerous guides all over the Internet providing directions on getting to Okunoshima. We took our ferry from Tadanoumi, but there is another port on the Omishima. Have fun when you get there, and please take note of ferry departure times.