[From February Issue 2015]
Ohkunoshima in Takehara City, Hiroshima Prefecture
Japan is a country consisting of roughly 6,800 small and large islands. Some of these are inhabited by large populations of certain animals. For instance, Tashirojima in Miyagi Prefecture and Aoshima in Ehime Prefecture are known as cat islands and deer roam free at Itsukushima (or Miyajima) in Hiroshima Prefecture. Home to over 700 rabbits, Ohkunoshima in Takehara City, Hiroshima Prefecture, is one such island.
Covering an area of about 0.7 square kilometers, Ohkunoshima is an island in the Seto Inland Sea. It’s 12 to 13 minutes away by ferry from Tadanoumi Port in Hiroshima Prefecture or Sakari Port in Omishima, Ehime Prefecture. The island has several hotels, hot springs, and various leisure facilities including tennis courts and swimming pools. You can also enjoy bathing in the sea, fishing and sea firefly viewing. There is a camp site as well, where camping supplies are available for rent.
Until the end of World War II, there was a Japanese military facility producing poison gas on Ohkunoshima. In addition to the Poison Gas Museum, remains of gun batteries and factories from those days can still be found on the island. This makes Ohkunoshima a good place to learn about the importance of peace and about the history of the war.
The main means of transportation on Ohkunoshima are free buses that run very slowly or rental bicycles. You are not allowed to drive your own car on the island. Tourists who have driven there have to park their cars in the parking lot at the port or in parking spaces on the island. With the exception of service dogs, it’s forbidden to bring animals onto the island. In an environment with no traffic and few predators, rabbits live peacefully.
The rabbit that inhabits Ohkunoshima is a species native to Northern Africa and Europe called the European rabbit. They were brought into Japan as pets, livestock, and experimental subjects. It’s unknown why there are so many of them on Ohkunoshima now, but the prevailing theory is that eight rabbits kept as pets at a local elementary school were set free in 1971, went feral and multiplied.
A number of people visit Ohkunoshima several times a year just to see the rabbits. Some can be seen enthusiastically taking pictures of them. Pictures and videos of the Ohkunoshima rabbits have been much discussed in other countries as well, so the island also attracts foreign tourists.
KADOWAKI Hirokazu of Kyuukamura Ohkunoshima (National Park Resort Ohkunoshima) says: “Rabbits are weak animals. They tend to get stressed easily, so please do not chase them around or pick them up. If they get sick or injured, they won’t be able to live in the wild. Also, rabbits that have been kept in captivity can’t survive in the harsh natural environment. Please refrain from leaving rabbits and other animals on the island.”
Text: SAZAKI Ryo