Travels: The Bunny Island (Usagishima) – A Cuteness Overdose!
By Skywing Knights // February 26, 2020
Hello my dears!
Today, we’re diving into one of my past travels in the land of the Rising Sun back in May of 2018 to the island of Okunoshima (大久野島), better known as “Usagishima” (うさぎ島) or the Bunny Island! People know Usagishima for the thousands of wild rabbits roaming the island. It has made its rounds on social media. Often with various insane videos of hundreds of rabbits coming up to visitors for food. So naturally, I was curious and wanted to go! The result was a wonderful trip and also many new photos that I am uploading to my gallery this coming month, so keep your eyes peeled for those. For now, let’s get down into talking about this absolutely sweet island with an overdose of cuteness!
After a lovely, peaceful morning in Hiroshima (広島), I was set to leave and make my way to Kyoto (京都), but a one short bit of a train ride is kinda boring, no? (Even if it was on the marvelous Japanese Bullet Train 😉 ). So I decided to spice it up a bit with a detour to this little island off the coast of Takehara (竹原) in the Hiroshima prefecture in the Seto Island Sea (瀬戸内海).
To get to Usagishima from Hiroshima city center, I took the Shinkansen (新幹線). I started from Hiroshima Station towards Osaka (大阪) / Kyoto or more specifically, going towards Mihara (三原) Station. I took the Kodama Shinkansen to do this, but could have taken the Sakura Shinkansen as well. As I had a JR pass – my pass covered this trip!
There are plenty of ways to go. By going this way, I would end up backtracking a bit by hopping onto the Kure train line (呉線) and heading towards the Tadanoumi (忠海) station. I did this though because according to google maps, backtracking would still get me there faster than taking the local train all the way there from Hiroshima.
Despite my best efforts though, I missed the train that would have dropped me off at Tadanoumi station. This would have place me just outside of the ferry dock that takes you directly to Okunoshima. So instead, I ended up getting a light lunch before catching the Mihara-Tadanoumi-Takehara-sen (三原～忠海～竹原線) bus. This got me almost exactly to Tadanoumi station a little earlier than the next train would have. Not to mention, it was still faster than going the local train route from Hiroshima to Tadanoumi. (For those wondering, the train on the Kure line was only running once every 40 minutes to an hour or so. Just goes to show that this was a long way from Tokyo!)
As I said before, I had purchased a JR Rail Pass before getting to Japan, which covered the majority of my fares for the first week I would be in Japan, however it didn’t cover the bus. But when you’re trying to make the most of your time, sometimes paying a little more. In this case, I ended up paying 720 yen for a one way trip on the bus. Not bad and totally worth it! Though the train would have been free with the pass, normally the train would have been 330 yen. So it wasn’t much of a price difference. And of course, time is precious when you’re in Japan!
Upon arriving at Tadanoumi station (I walked a short way from the final bus stop to get there), I walked around towards the docks. There, visitors can find this adorable little shop where you can purchase ferry tickets to and from the island. Not to mention, they had plenty of little souvenirs, or omiyage (お土産). So cute, no? If you were interested in feeding the rabbits while on the island, you could also purchase rabbit feed here! (Or bring your own!)
Another great tip for those interested in going, at this shop, you can also leave your suitcases with the store attendants. This allows travelers, like myself, who are there for a short visit on their way to their next location to be able to easily wander around the island without lugging their stuff everywhere. So needless to say, I quickly did this and relieved myself of the extra load. I also purchased bunny feed here at the same time! By the time I did that, I was able to look out and see the ferry arriving! It was time to line up!
The Ferry Ride
Upon departure from the docks, the ferry ride to get to Usagishima was a short 10-15 minute journey. The ocean completely cuts off Usagishima from the mainland. Thus going via boat is the only way to access the island. During the ride, you can either stand outside or ride inside and sit down. Announcements in both Japanese and English play during the ride. All informed guests about the island. Inside, guests can find posters in multiple languages with more information regarding the rabbits as well. Everyone is warned to not pick up the rabbits and to take care while feeding them. (They have sharp teeth and bad eyes.) Other warnings include to not take any of the rabbits home or drop off your pet rabbit on the island. Though hopefully if you’re from overseas, this isn’t something you were planning on doing.
The Origin of the Bunnies
No one is quite certain where the first of these many bunnies came from. But the other major attraction of the island has quite the interesting history. That attraction? A shut down Poison Gas Factory. Back in the 1940’s, Okunoshima was home to a Poison Gas Factory to produce gasses to be used during World War II. Upon the war’s end, the factory was shut down and left in disrepair. Today, a small poison gas museum operates on the island and guests can visit the factory’s ruins all across the island. For the especially interested (in both the poison gas factory and the bunnies), there’s also a hotel for people to stay at overnight.
One theory as to where the rabbits came from relates to this factory as it’s speculated that the rabbits could be descendants from lab rabbits that the gasses were tested on. Upon the factories being shut down, those bunny ancestors could have been released into the wild. The other theory is that a family went to the island and released their two pet rabbits there years ago and they, well, multiplied like rabbits. What do you think is the more likely story? Maybe it was both? I haven’t the faintest idea really. But I’m happy that the rabbits can thrive here on the island today, free of major predators. (And not to mention, also not being used to test poisons on.)
Once let off from the ferry, I found the island to be… very brown at first. This was surprising as from a distance, it seems to be very green. But immediately, I found there were hundreds of rabbits. They were just laying about all over the island, many not the least bit perturbed by humans coming and going. It was so easy to find many of them just lounging about!
Deciding to head clockwise around the island using a map I picked up from the visitor’s center to the left of the dock, I soon found many more fluffy rabbits as well as greener areas. I would theorize that most of the ‘brown’ areas of the island are the way they are due to both human foot traffic as well as rabbits simply eating the grass found there as many were just waiting out in those areas for humans to arrive with food. The further down the paths I got, the more green it got though. Crowds thinned and it was easy to enjoy the quiet, unique little island.
Interestingly, some areas seemed to be well maintained while others, such as some tennis courts and parks seemed abandoned as weeds and rusted seats and equipment overtook the areas. Walking further down, I soon came to remnants of the old Poison Gas Factory. Vines and natural overgrowth cover much of the building. It made some beautiful sights and was a cool way for nature to reclaim man-made buildings. Check out some of these places below!
All along the way, I found myself to be the happy recipient of many a curious rabbits and bunnies coming to greet me. I kept the feed I had purchased hidden in my bag for the most part. But many of them were interested in me regardless and immediately ran up to me upon seeing me alone.
These rabbits were very sweet and docile. But I got the sense right away that their home was on this island and that they were not to be playthings. So I made sure to respect that, allowing them to approach me and only petting them if they weren’t afraid of me in the slightest and if it didn’t seem like a bother to them. (And yes, petting was allowed). And honestly, I was surprised by how comfortable they actually were in approaching me. Just look at them! Many were apt to climb right over me!
For the most part, when feeding them, I placed food on the ground and let them come to it, rather than having them feed out of my hand. This prevented them from accidentally biting me in their fervent eating habits. It also allowed me to get wonderful shots of them with my camera! With so many sizes, colors, and ages of bunnies, it was so much fun for me and my Lumix. Check a few of those shots!
The End of a Bunny Island Day
Sooooo cute, no?? Eventually, I made my way close to the docks I had arrived at. Though I had a Bunny Island map, it helped to have a Pocket Wifi on me for my phone to assist me in finding my way around the island (it helped me with getting there too!). I made sure to keep an eye on my time so that I’d make the ferry I had previously planned to go back on.
However, I did get there a little earlier and found I still had a little feed left over. So I sat down and laid out what I had left. It was an instant swarm of bunnies!! I scattered the feed about so that they weren’t all fighting to get to one area. However I was surprised when I found some of them climbing up my sides searching for anything extra. They didn’t climb much and weren’t pushy though, very gentle actually. (Unlike some of the deer in Nara (奈良). Don’t get me started on them.) Mostly, they were just looking.
Even when they found nothing, they were content to climb into and over my lap as they attempted to get across to my right or left sides. Despite their high level of comfort doing this, I still did my best to be as un-invasive as possible. I think it paid off as many of them were very friendly to me. I really do love the relationship that the Japanese have built with their wildlife. So friendly and kind! (Again, save for some of the nosy deer in Nara, who are super pushy for food. 😉 )
Soon enough though, my ferry came to the Bunny Island and I hopped back on to return to the mainland. Once there, I picked up my luggage from the Bunny Island Shop that I had mentioned earlier, The Gateway to Rabbit Island (うさぎの島への玄関口), and returned my empty feed bags (for which I got 3 cute little bunny cards! What a great way to encourage recycling!). I then made my way over to the train station and konbini (コンビニ) for a snack, waited for my train to arrive (I again missed this one by minutes unfortunately, but I was content to sit and wait honestly), and then continued on my way to Kyoto, which I arrived at that same evening.
Looking Back on the Bunny Island
Overall, it was a great way to spend half a day as I traveled to Kyoto from Hiroshima. I would say it would also make for a great stop if you were going to Osaka as well. The nice thing about the Bunny Island, other than all of the rabbits of course, was that it was pretty much on the way and very convenient for travelers to stop at. The shop being willing to store luggage was super helpful. Meanwhile the hours it was open were nicely timed for travelers between the two areas of Japan.
In Kyoto, many places close around 5 or 6. Thus by the time I would have arrived, I would maybe have had a few hours to go anywhere. Not nearly enough time to fully appreciate and experience much of Kyoto’s beautiful locations. (Osaka is slightly better about this, but things still tend to close around 9, sometimes 10.) By stopping at the Bunny Island Usagishima, I got to make more of my day. I saw more overall by stopping along my route and leaving more of my traveling time to the evening.
And I will say this, timing was everything at the Bunny Island. I was happy to have made back up travel plans so that I knew when I had to be at certain places to make certain trains, busses, and ferries. If you go, I would also keep in mind when certain locations, such as the Bunny Island Shop, open and close. All useful things to know. (Particularly if you’re leaving your luggage somewhere. You have to know when you have to retrieve it by!) Giving yourself wiggle room for making trains will also help you out quite a bit. This way you can avoid waiting for trains that only run every so often. (A bit like I had to!)
While I went alone to Usagishima and missed a train or two, I still enjoyed the trip overall. It was a great meditative day. One where I could just enjoy the nature around me. Not to mention, experience something just a little different from your everyday vacation. Truly a very quiet, natural setting. It reminded me of how much I love the beautiful world in which I live. Would highly recommend it if you’ve got the time on your next trip to Japan!