When someone told me that Japan has an island in the inland sea that is completely dominated by a large population of bunnies, I thought they were messing with me. Yes, I understand that Japan is かわいい (kawaii, or “cute,” usually squealed in the highest possible tone human vocal cords can produce) in the most extreme sense. Even I, who prior to coming to this country had probably described something as “cute” a maximum of ten times throughout my 20-ish years of verbal communication, have noticed a disturbing increase in my usage. But, seriously, an island of bunnies? That couldn’t be a real thing.
And it even has a dark and twisted past!
Back in 1929 or so, Okunoshima Island didn’t exist. Well, it existed just fine; it just wasn’t posted on any map. The reason for this is that very simple – There were several buildings on the island where people were researching and creating chemical weapons. Even after being part of the Geneva Convention that said this was a big no-no for humanity, the island’s isolation and distance from any major cities made it easy to quietly keep crankin’ out mustard gas. For an added pinch of horrible, residents and incoming employees were not exactly informed about the secret goings-on on the small island. After the war, they burned several incriminating documents, buried or dumped the compounds, and let a bunch of chemically tested bunnies loose on the island. Why? For all I know, to distract people from what had actually been going on for the past few years.
The bunnies that live on the island now supposedly are supposedly in no way related to their glowing, super-hero bunny forefathers. But they are plentiful. And they aren’t exactly shy.
Our ragtag group of bunny-seekers started the journey from Kure and picked up a few other people on the very long train ride to get to the ferry. Sometimes I forget that, even though Japan is a very small country in terms of size (Google tells me it is closest in size to the state of Montana. I thought it was California, but no. Japan is smaller than California. Unless you count vertical mountainous inclines of doom.) Sometimes those mountains, rivers, coastlines and oceans get in the way of direct travel. It took us about an hour and a half or so from Kure to get to the ferry that would take us down to Bunny Town. And then we waited for the ferry.
I like ferries. It’s nice to stand on a boat and stare at the ocean, breathing ocean-y air and soaking up some sun while you amble slowly toward your destination. It beats sitting on a train for an hour and a half, anyways. It also can get interesting when you know that you’re approaching your destination island because you can see the haunted, grotesque shell of a former gas plant looming on amongst the tree line.
Oh, excuse me. I guess the sign called it the “Poison Gas Pavilion.” That sounds much more vacation-worthy.
Immediately stepping off the ferry, we encountered the first of many cat-sized bunnies. It was hiding under a bench, quietly stealing cabbage from the eager hand of a Japanese child. There were a LOT of people on the island this Sunday, not just us crazy foreigners, because the following Monday was a national holiday. We were not the only bunny-seekers. We had also come prepared with cabbage, carrots, bananas, and beers – for the humans, obviously. Although, I guess that could have been another interesting incident for the history Bunny Island.
We wandered around the outside path of the island, found some silly bunny-related picture opportunities, and stopped in a non-poison-gas pavilion to ask about renting bikes. The island was popular that day, and we were a large group, so that wasn’t going to happen. We proceeded on foot…Which was better for the people with the beers and likely better for the bunnies, too. The island really isn’t big, after all. But just like Japan, what it lacks in distance, it makes up for in verticality. There was a lot of hiking. Which is fine for normal people, but about half of the young Japanese women we saw were in 4-inch heels. I have no idea how they managed, but they get mad props for not breaking an ankle and becoming bunny food.
The island is naturally very pretty. Lots of trees, flowers, ocean views, the whole deal…but there was something very Silent Hill with a twist of That Island from Lost about the whole thing. Once you left the main paths closest to the ferry, it was pretty much the setting for a zombie outbreak. There were deserted tennis courts that had not seen care for some time. We saw basements and foundations that were flooded with water and looked ancient. Weathered and sealed bunkers in which some Scottish man is probably punching in the same set of numbers every 108 minutes. And oh, the buildings. They left several of the chemical compounds and storage areas standing. And when I say “left,” I mean, “left to slowly waste away and look increasingly as disturbing as possible.”
Really, the one thing we decided is that this island would be absolutely killer to play a massive paintball game on.
As for the bunnies, they were indeed cute. Some were spoiled from constant tourist food and would snatch whatever you had and run away. Some were just overly full already and taking naps. Some were perfect camera material and would stand up to get food, posing perfectly. Some looked like victims of a heated bunny civil war conflict, which I am convinced is actually going on.
So, that’s bunny island. We walked around. We saw creepy buildings and pretty weathered shrines. We fed some bunnies. We climbed rocks and towers and mini-mountains. We prepared for zombie invasions. It was cute. It was twisted. It was a good time.