Okunoshima Island, located some three kilometers (almost two miles) off the Hiroshima Prefectural city of Takehara, has become what the American Coney Island was in the days before it was an amusement park; namely, a place where rabbits roam freely. The word, coney, in fact, is an archaic term for rabbit.
But an amusement park is a far cry from a production site for poison gas that was used by Japan’s Imperial Army, which is how this island was utilized between 1929 and 1945. At one time, for security reasons, the island was erased from maps of Japan.
Some three hundred rabbits inhabit the island, which has a circumference of about four kilometers (2 ½ miles).
Visitors with their cameras come from all around to photograph the rabbits for their new year’s greeting cards because it is slated as the zodiac animal for the coming year.
The site has a terrible legacy as the poison gas produced there claimed the lives of many Chinese, and even former facility workers continue to suffer from health ailments caused by the gas.
Ghosts of the past linger on the uninhabited island as among the myriad of rabbits one can still see the remains of the facility buildings, gas containers and a power plant.
The rabbits were brought to the island in 1971 after an elementary school found it difficult to board the animals. According to the local resort hotel, in those days, most of the visitors to the island were students on study trips and senior tourists.
But as word spread about the island’s adorable and friendly occupants, more and more families came to visit to feed and mingle with the rabbits who are charmers that know how to ask for food in their own darling way.
So…hop on down!