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Okunoshima, Otherwise Known as “Rabbit Island”
Okunoshima is a small island located in the Inland East Sea/Sea of Japan in the city of Takehara, Hiroshima Prefecture. It is accessible by ferry from Tadanoumi and Omishima. The best way of accessing the island from the mainland is to take the Sanyo Shinkansen train to Mihara Station. There are campsites, walking trails and places of historical interest on the island. It is often called Usagi Jima, “Rabbit Island” because of the numerous wild rabbits that roam the island; they are rather tame and will often approach humans. The Huffington Post reports that tourists love to feed the many wild bunnies on the island.
During World War II, the small island of Okunoshima played a key role. It was used as a poison gas factory for much of the chemical warfare that was carried out in China. The island was chosen for its isolation, conducive to security, and because it was far enough from Tokyo and other areas in case of disaster. Under the jurisdiction of the Japanese military, the local fish preservation processor was converted into a toxic gas reactor. Residents and potential employees were not told what the plant was manufacturing and everything was kept secret; working conditions were harsh and many suffered from toxic-exposure related illnesses. Interestingly, this had gone one althought Japan had signed the 1925 Geneva Protocol which banned the use of chemical warfare.
Although the development and storage of chemical weapons was not banned at this time, the country went to great lengths to assure the secrecy of the construction of the chemical munitions plant begun in 1929, even going so far as to remove records of the island from some maps.
With the end of the war, documents concerning the plant were destroyed and allied Occupation Forces disposed of the gas either by dumping, burning, or burying it, and people involved were told to be silent about the project. Several decades later, victims from the plant were given government aid for health related treatment, and in 1988 the Okunoshima Poison Gas Museum was opened.
The island now has a hotel, a six-hole golf course and a camping ground. Visitors are able to swim in the clean water surrounding the island, regardless of the tide. Many rabbits live on the island. When the island was developed as a park after World War II, these rabbits were intentionally set loose. Many rabbits were used in the chemical munitions plant to test the effectiveness of the chemical weapons during World War II; however, those rabbits were reportedly killed when the factory was demolished. According to Murakami, the former director of the poison gas museum, the current rabbits have nothing to do with those that were involved with chemical weapon tests.
Image Credit: www.mascotarios.orgOkunoshima, Otherwise Known as "Rabbit Island" by Jaan