Between 1929 and 1945, Okunoshima Island (located in Takehara, part of the Hiroshima Prefecture) was a chemical warfare production site for the Imperial Japanese Army that produced over six kilotons of mustard gas. Mainichi Daily News reports that Okunoshima was even “once erased from the map of Japan for security reasons. [...] The poison gas produced at the site took the lives of many people in China and other battlefronts, and former facility workers are continuing to suffer from health ailments caused by the gas.” The moldering husks of the Imperial Army’s power plant and other long-abandoned facility buildings remain standing to this day. In 1988, The Poison Gas Museum was established on the island “in order to alert as many people as possible to the dreadful truths about poison gas.”
But now, Okunoshima Island is becoming better known as “Usagi Shima” (meaning Rabbit Island), a “bunny paradise” where robust leporids numbering in the hundreds roam freely and fearlessly. According to the Mainichi paper’s reportage, it’s believed that the rabbits were first introduced to the island in 1971 when an elementary school in Takehara dumped several of the animals there after being overwhelmed by the responsibilities required to keep rabbits at school. However, many other sources state that the rabbits of Usagi Shima island are direct descendants of lab animals (upon which the Imperial Army’s poisonous gases were tested) set loose by factory workers at the end of WWII.
In either case, the original bunnies of Okunoshima and their successive generations of offspring appear to have thrived in their predator-free environment, grazing on wild greens that grow in abundance all over the island, and accepting food from an ever-increasing stream of enchanted human tourists. The Kyukamura Okunoshima resort hotel located on the island has recently seen a steep increase in visitors to the island thanks to the spread of knowledge of the island via the internet “Many visitors [...] are bringing their cameras to take photographs of the rabbits, next year’s zodiac animal, for their New Year’s greeting cards and personal blog sites.”
Photo via aPike.
Blogger Julie in Japan sums up the island’s appeal very well: “Okunoshima has a great message of peace, a chilling history, adorable rabbits, incredible abandoned buildings to take pictures of, and a lot of nature with no crowds. For those reason, I’d recommend going there.” Although, chances are there will be more crowds now, due to the increase in press. Hopefully all of this attention won’t upset the bunny balance!
(Story via my own dear Bunny, natch.)