Let’s go to the Japanese island where the only residents are lots and lots of bunnies

This month’s destination: Okunoshima Island in Hiroshima Prefecture

Rabbit sniffing hydrangea flowers on Okunoshima Bunny Island

Remember when you could go to the airport half an hour before your flight and just walk onto the plane, without going through security? Remember when children could play outside until dark, with no supervision? Remember when we could all go to restaurants and bars and shops without wearing masks? If you’re like me, right about now you may be longing for a kinder, simpler, era (even one that existed just four months ago), so I thought that going on a trip to Japan’s Bunny Island might be just what we need right now.

Okunoshima is a picturesque island where the absence of predators has encouraged countless adorable rabbits to flourish, but it also feels like a step back in time, to a world that isn’t gated and ticketed and policed to the point where even natural wonders begin to feel like theme parks.

Going to Okunoshima is as simple as buying a round-trip ferry ticket, hopping on the boat, and going. There’s no entry gate, with tickets that cost twice as much for adults as children, and there’s no waiver form to sign, with a long list of rules. On Okunoshima, they trust that people will be civilized without spelling it out, that visitors will respect the rabbits as the friendly (but still wild) animals that they are, and treat both the animals and their habitat kindly.

Places like Bunny Island and Fox Village and the lemur petting zoo still exist in Japan for two reasons that may seem quaintly (but desirably) nostalgic to the rest of the world: Japanese people are careful not to do anything that would ruin someone else’s enjoyment of a place—i.e. they’re polite to others and don’t pull dangerous or disruptive stunts—and they aren’t a litigious society. Suing for damages if you get hurt in Japan is pretty much a non-starter. Instead of fencing everything off, it’s understood that you’re responsible for your own safety, you’ll use common sense, and will act like a civilized human being who doesn’t destroy the place (or harass the animals) for your own enjoyment or profit.

View of shoreline on Okunoshima Bunny Island
There are no fences, cages or curated habitats on Okunoshima, just a lovely semi-tropical island…
Fern-lined walking path on Okunoshima Bunny Island
criss-crossed with fern-lined walking paths…
Rabbits gathering around visitors on Okunoshima Bunny Island
and populated with thousands of wild rabbits that nevertheless know a snack-toting human when they see one, and come scampering in from all directions to mob anyone with a bag of bunny food
Rabbits in a field on Okunoshima Bunny Island
The rabbits come in all shapes and colors and sizes

I was a little worried before we went, because it’s a wild population, and I feared they might be a little scruffy and sickly. Nope! If the ones in the pix look slightly less fluffy than ideal, it’s because I was there during the rainy season (in June) and it poured off and on all day, so some rabbits (and me) got wet.

Rabbits gathering around to be fed on Okunoshima Bunny Island
Rain or shine, though, their friendliness does not disappoint
Rabbits gathering around visitor on Okunoshima Bunny Island
You can buy bags of bunny food at the terminal while waiting for the ferry, or at the (very basic) hotel that’s the only business on the island
Rabbits gathering around visitor taking selfie on Okunoshima Bunny Island
Photos are absolutely allowed
Small child in red raincoat feeding rabbits on Okunoshima Bunny Island
And children are universally delighted at being so close to so many small animals
Small child petting rabbits on Okunoshima Bunny Island
Japanese children are taught from a very young age how to be gentle with animals, but if your child doesn’t have much experience yet, this is a good opportunity to (carefully) show them the right way to enjoy each other
Rabbits at deserted shrine on Okunoshima Bunny Island
Nobody lives on the island, but there is a shuttered shrine and some ruins around the poison gas plant that operated there during the war
Horse mannequin in protective poncho at Okunoshima poison gas museum
The museum detailing that strange interlude is an interesting––if macabre––counterpoint to all the cuteness
Visitor in white pants with rabbit paw prints on Okunoshima Bunny Island
The only danger on the island is to your clothing––white pants might not be the best wardrobe choice
Cute rabbit on Okunoshima Bunny Island
Going to Bunny Island is a long day trip from Tokyo, but I have to tell you, it’s totally worth it. I’m not a major rabbit fiend, but spending the day outside surrounded by lots of them, in a place that felt so free of being herded around, ended up being surprisingly good for the soul. I highly recommend making this trek the next time you’re in the neighborhood!

Visiting information:

Open: Every day

Hours: The first ferry leaves for the island at 8:30 and the last one departs the island at 16:06 (17:16 in the summer)

Admission: Free (although the ferry costs ¥300 each way for adults and ¥150 each way for children)

Here’s where Okunoshima is:

Okunoshima Bunny Island map
As you can see, it’s pretty close to Hiroshima, and closer to Kyoto than Tokyo. I’m going to show you how to make it in a day trip from Tokyo, but if you’re planning to be in Western Japan, it’s a much shorter and less death-marchy trip to make it to Tada-no-umi Station (where you catch the ferry) from there.

Here’s a visitor map of what’s on the island:

Here’s how to get to Okunoshima from Tokyo Station in Tokyo:

To make a day trip from Tokyo, leave as early as possible in the morning, so you can get there by noon and have a few hours on Bunny Island before the last ferry leaves for the mainland. That’s actually plenty of time to explore the place and take tons of bun photos, so even though you can stay overnight at the (very basic) hotel there, I don’t really think it’s necessary.

I used the Japan Navigation phone app to figure out this route, and you can easily use it too, when your actual date and departure time. it’s also good for finding the easiest way to get to Tokyo Station from where you’re staying. Here’s where to get the app and how to use it. Note: When searching for the station nearest the ferry, the English spelling of Tada-no-umi can also be Tadanomi, Tadanoumi or Tadanōmi, so if it doesn’t come up on your app with one spelling, try a different one. Except for the ferry, the entire route from Tokyo to Tadanomi (as it’s called on Japan Navi) is on JR trains, so if you’re going to be traveling anywhere else in Japan by train during the time you’re there, it might be cheaper to buy a JR Rail Pass. Here’s where you can figure out if that would be a good idea.

Change to the next bullet train at Okayama:

Then change to the local JR Kure Line at Mihara:

From Tada-no-umi Station, you’ll get on the ferry to Okunoshima. The boat leaves from a terminal that’s about a five-minute walk from the Tada-no-umi train station. To get there, go out the exit to the street and turn right. Walk along that street until you see a sign for the ferry terminal (to your right).

The ferry ride takes 12 minutes, and (according to my most recent check) costs ¥300 each way (¥150 for kids). Buy a round trip ticket at the little office near the ferry launch, and I recommend buying bags of bunny food there too. The only place to buy it on the island is at the hotel, and you will be sorry you don’t have food for the mob of bunnies that rush to greet you at the dock, so I advise getting at least one bag per person in advance!

Here’s the local (JR Kure Line) train schedule and the ferry schedule to and from the island:

Public ferry times are in red (the others are cruise boats)

Ferry schedule to Okunoshima Bunny Island

Note: This schedule is pre-COVID, so it might have changed. Be sure to check online for updated info on how often, and what time, the Okunoshima ferries and the Kure Line trains currently depart.

To chart your way back, base your route on getting off Okunoshima Island on the last ferry to leave for the mainland, allow 10-15 minutes for the walk to the train station, then check what time the next Kure Line train will get you to Mihara. At the moment, transportation is so disrupted by virus controls that my app can’t suggest a route, so I apologize for not being able to do that for you here!

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Jonelle Patrick writes mystery novels set in Tokyo, and blogs at Only In Japan and The Tokyo Guide I Wish I’d Had

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