Usagi Jima: An Island Ruled by Rabbits? - Historic Mysteries (2022)

Imagine a land where bunnies are free to hop around freely as they desire, where they live alone and safe. How would such an existence come to be a reality for a thousand feral bunny rabbits? Off the shores of mainland Japan lies Usagi Jima, also known as “Rabbit Island” and a herd of rabbits has claimed the island as their home. But where did the big eared, fluffy primitives come from?

In 2014 a video surfaced on the internet of a woman being stampeded by a colony of rabbits, which quickly became a viral sensation. The video was shot on Okunoshuma Island, two miles (3.2 km) off Takehara’s coast and 30 miles (48 km)east of Hiroshima, Japan in the Seto Inland Sea.

However the island’s history contains a far scarier truth than its present-day primary focus of providing accommodations for visitors, including hot springs, a golf course, and campgrounds. A “Poison Museum” was built by the Japanese in 1988, retelling the island’s terrible, secret history for the first time to an uninformed Japanese populace.

Poison Gas Island

The island itself is small, only twenty-five-mile (40 km) radius of the island, and can be traversed on foot in just over an hour and a half. Three fishing families lived here, alongside the ten forts that the Japanese military erected to protect the island during the Russo-Japanese war.

However, this peaceful place had caught the eye of the central powers, as a useful location for scientific research. The Imperial Japanese Army Institute of Science and Technology sought to repurpose the island in 1925 in order to advance their covert work on chemical warfare.

Oddly though, the Japanese made great efforts to safeguard their secret experimentation by redacting maps of the Seto Inland Sea and removing any trace of the island. The reason this was odd is that in the same year Japan was one of the signatories of the 1925 Geneva Protocol, which prohibited them from using chemical warfare, although not from developing or housing such chemical weapons.

(Video) The Dark, Twisted Truth About Rabbit Island Japan

So why did they go so far as to remove the island and keep the residents in the dark as to the goings-on inside the newly constructed factories? It certainly seemed like the government were up to no good on the island, and its isolation and distance from Tokyo made it a perfect site outside of the city, reducing any potential liability in the event of a disaster.

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All and all it’s believed that six kilotons of mustard and tear gas were created in the ultra-secret plant, and the deadly weapons created with this poison are thought to have killed over 80,000 Chinese soldiers and residents. A very high number of victims, but it’s the other victims of the experimentation process who are still around that provide a reminder of the island’s dark past.

These victims aren’t humans but rabbits.

Rabbit Island: the Cruelty of Warfare?

Rabbits were the chosen animal for the chemical weapons testing on Usagi Jima. Even though it was a terrible practice at the time, it was not unheard of, and many businesses still use animals to test the safety of their products today.

What remained of the rabbits after the testing site was demolished in the 1940s was a topic of much conjecture. The rabbits that did not die from exposure, according to the Japanese authorities, were exterminated. Obviously the clean up teams did not do a thorough job.

Professor of Japanese politics Ellis Krauss at the University of California commented in a 2014 interview, “The test rabbits were all euthanized by the Americans when they came to the island during the Occupation… about 200 of the poor things were being [used] in experiments by the Japanese”

(Video) The Mystery of Rabbit Island

But how can they explain the near thousand rabbits who now roam the island? Some people thought the warren began when sympathetic biologists let a few of the European-bred rabbits into the wild. It should be emphasized that this theory is contested by many professionals.

Another popular theory asserts that in 1971 eighty rabbits were released by a group of visiting school children and that over the years these rabbits bred quickly. Living in an environment free from hunters and animal predators could have possibly led to their exponential growth over the years. Since they are renowned for their quick reproduction, many people think that this is conceivable.

Too Much of a Good Thing?

Sadly, the life of rabbits on the island is not as idyllic as it might seem. When the sun shines and visitors are present, the tourists feed the rabbits, and they gorge themselves on the food; nevertheless, when the weather is bad and visitors are scarce, the rabbits go without food. The problem is that natural herbivores demand a fiber-rich, balanced diet.

The rabbits struggle to maintain a balanced diet because their primary food source, the keen tourists, are seasonal visitors. Their alternative food source, the island’s foliage, is barren after years of rabbit grazing.

Unfortunately, a lot of people have the misconception that these cuddly animals consume cabbage. Tourists that feed these little mammals cabbage end up doing a lot of harm to the bunnies because the common vegetable causes severe bloating and is challenging for their delicate digestive systems to break down.

(Video) Guy Gets Smothered by Bunnies on Japan's Rabbit Island!

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From the outside, it seems as though these rabbits have a simple, carefree life. But as professor of anthropology and sociology at Central New Mexico Community College Dr. Margo DeMello puts it, “As a population, I think they’re doing fine,”, “Individuals, I think, are doing not-so-fine”.

It was estimated that feral rabbits can expect to survive in their natural environment amongst natural predators for two years. Living without predators should have extended the lifespan of the bunnies living on rabbit island, but they too only have an average lifespan of two years.

An Uncertain Future

DeMello and a group of academics visited rabbit island in March 2015 as a result of the sensational viral video. They learned that the island’s tourism had changed; whereas it had previously been a well-traveled vacation destination for older Japanese visitors, it was now a popular destination for school field trips.

The annual admittance numbers, which skyrocketed from 136,000 in 2005 to 254,000 in 2015, amply demonstrated the shift in the kind of visitor. The poison museum and the 1,000 feral bunnies make up a full day of activities.

The fact that other organizations coexist on the island with the bunnies has become a problem over time. Although the Kyukamura Okunoshima Hotel claims to be hands-off with the rabbits, butthey do acknowledge that they profit from the attraction that the rabbits offer.

Despite appearing to be“hands-off,” the hotel does in fact create a hazardous environment for the rabbits. Many are unfortunate victims of upper respiratory infections and gastrointestinal from the food fed by the hotel guests. Other rabbits are killed by the numerous passing cars.

(Video) It's Always Bunny Rush Hour on This Japanese Island

After visiting rabbit island in 2012 Takashi Seki of the Japanese Ministry of Environment said, “We continue to wrestle aiming at coexistence of the wild animal with organizations”, and “Excessive artificial interventional is undesirable.”

What’s to say the Japanese government didn’t also lie about the abolition of all the rabbits after lying about the chemical weapons plant in 1925? We can see the rabbits are there today: where else could they have come from?

Top Image: Why are there so many rabbits on the island of Usagi Jima? Source: zamojojo / CC BY-SA 2.0.

By Roisin Everard

References

Smithsonian Magazine, 2022. The Dark History of Japan’s Rabbit Island. Available at: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/travel/japan-rabbit-island-dark-history-180962631/

National Geographic, 2022. This Island Is Overrun With Rabbits—Here’s Why It’s a Problem. Available at: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/article/rabbit-island-japan-overrun-tourism-spd

(Video) Exclusive Tour of Rabbit Island Japan by a Bunny Expert

Rabbit Island, 2022. What is rabbit island? Available at: http://rabbit-island.info/en/

FAQs

What island is overrun with rabbits? ›

OFF THE COAST OF HIROSHIMA, JAPAN. Located in eastern Hiroshima, Rabbit Island is a small enclave occupied by hundreds of wild rabbits that roam the forests and fields, chasing tourists for food. Only a 15-minute ferry ride from the mainland, the island is a popular destination for tourists from around the world.

What happened to the rabbits on Rabbit Island? ›

Rabbits were brought to the island as test subjects for the chemical weapons, and some people speculate the animals there now are descendants of the originals. But experts say the test rabbits were euthanized after operations shut down.

What happened to Rabbit Island Japan? ›

There may be an unfortunate side effect of the newfound popularity of Rabbit Island. According to researchers who spoke with takepart.com, all the visitors feeding the feral bunnies has led to an unsustainable population boom that has destroyed the island's ecosystem.

What island has the most rabbits? ›

Just south of Takehara City, Hiroshima Prefecture stands Okunoshima Island. This small island with a circumference of only 4.3km has grown a reputation as "rabbit island" over the years. This is because of the island's population of over 900 rabbits, all eager to greet their visitors.

Why is it called Rabbit Island? ›

In the Hawaiian language, mānana means "buoyant". The islet is commonly referred to as Rabbit Island, because its shape as seen from the nearby Oʻahu shore looks something like a rabbit's head and because it was once inhabited by introduced rabbits.

Why does Rabbit Island exist? ›

It all started in 1971 when an elementary school released just eight rabbits on Ōkunoshima. Rabbits did what rabbits do, and the rest is history. That means they're not technically wild rabbits, but they're certainly a huge colony of feral, domesticated rabbits who have populated the island for well over 40 years.

Can I take a rabbit from Rabbit Island? ›

All the rabbits have grown up in the wild on Okunoshima, so while they don't like being held, they do like being fed and gently petted, and will even calmly approach people. Being protected by Japan, it is forbidden to take the rabbits home or hunt them, and predators such as dogs are not allowed on the island.

What Japanese name means bunny? ›

The Japanese word for "Bunny" is usagi 兎.
...
Translation.
RomajiHiragana
u
sa
gi
3 more columns

Do people live on Rabbit Island? ›

Can you live on Okunoshima Rabbit Island? No, the only people who live on the island are those who work at the island's resort.

Who owns bunny island? ›

Rabbit Island (Moturoa) is the largest of a group of sandy islands lying in the Waimea Estuary at the head of Tasman Bay only 15 minutes drive from Richmond. Covered in pine plantations owned by the Tasman District Council and set up as a public reserve.

How much does it cost to go to Rabbit Island? ›

There is no entrance fee to visit Rabbit Island. The only costs are the ferry ticket, rabbit food (of you want to buy some) and ¥100 ticket for the poison gas museum.

Is there an island full of cats? ›

Aoshima might be the most famous cat island in Japan. Its nickname “Cat Island” is no exaggeration because there are only 15-20 residents on the island but more than 120 cats, about 6 times the human population! Aoshima is a 1.6 km long island located in the Ehime Prefecture of southern Japan.

Who brought the first rabbits to America? ›

Although the European rabbit arrived in America with european settlers, and established a large wild population, rabbits were mostly hunted in the wild until the late 19th century.

What is the name of Rabbit Island? ›

It is often called Usagi Shima (うさぎ島, "Rabbit Island") because of the numerous rabbits that roam the island. The rabbits are rather tame and will approach humans. A view of Ōkunoshima from Kurotaki-yama.

What animal island is Japan? ›

— -- For animal lovers, heaven might just be a place in Japan. The country is home to a fox village, bunny island and cat island where you can find yourself delightfully swarmed by hundreds of these free-roaming, furry animals.

Can you swim to Rabbit Island? ›

About Rabbit Island Main Beach

The main recreational activity is swimming. The beach is usable at all tides. The beach is popular with school groups with plenty of space for games at low tide.

Can I bring my rabbit to Hawaii? ›

Rabbits: Require a Certificate of Veterinary Inspection (CVI), also known as a health certificate. The CVI must be issued and signed by a State, Federal, or accredited veterinarian within 72 hours prior to arrival in Hawaii.

Can you visit Rabbit Island Hawaii? ›

Unfortunately, you cannot visit Rabbit Island, Oahu, Hawaii without permission from the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources.

What place has most rabbits? ›

Breeding The Most Rabbits.
RankCountry1000 Head
1China, mainland230,139
2Democratic People's Republic of Korea32,009
3Italy6,109
4Egypt5,600
6 more rows

Are rabbits popular in Japan? ›

Rabbits. Lastly, rabbits are another very popular animal for pets in Japan. The price is different for each kind, but the cheapest one is about 3,000 yen. It usually costs about 5,000 yen to take care of them per month.

Is Peacebunny island real? ›

This private island at Mile 832 on Mississippi River is owned by Caleb Smith, who trains rabbits to become comfort animals and emotional support rabbits. With wooded forest and sandy beaches, the island is an amazing play ground for his rabbits.

How do I get to Rabbit Beach? ›

Before reaching rabbit beach, you must reach Conigli Island, the beach is the piece of land connected to the islet. It is very easy to get to the beach from the downtown of Lampedusa. From there, you must ride the street that arrives in Capo Ponente, by car, scooter or local bus.

Where is the island of cats? ›

Just off the coast of Japan there is an island called Aoshima, which is also known as "Cat Island." The tiny fishing village is home to more than 140 cats, which roam around napping, playing, and snagging snacks from residents and tourists. They outnumber humans 8 to 1.

What is a cute Japanese name for a girl? ›

Popular Baby Names, origin japanese
NameMeaningGender
Aikalove songFemale
Aikobeloved one, little loveFemale
Aimilove beautyFemale
Aiyabeautiful silkFemale
63 more rows

Is rabbit shutting down? ›

Rabbit offered text and video chat alongside this functionality. Unlike other popular streaming websites such as YouTube and Netflix, Rabbit did not host the content viewed on it.
...
Rabb.it.
Type of siteContent-sharing
Launched2013
Current statusDefunct as of July 31, 2019
4 more rows

Do rabbits like to be in the dark? ›

Rabbits need a contrast of light and darkness. A rabbit that lives in constant light can experience stress. In addition, their eyes can be damaged, and they'll gain weight. Provide a dark area for your bunny to sleep and relax within.

Do rabbits sleep at night? ›

Nope! Another question that people often ask is whether rabbits sleep mostly during the day or at night. And the answer is neither. They are crepuscular, meaning that they are most active at dusk and dawn.

Is Rabbit Island open to the public? ›

Access is open.

Currently all reserve areas on Moturoa/Rabbit Island and Rough Island are open. This includes the Front Beach Reserve and Cooper Road to the Totara Picnic area. All other Reserve Roads remain closed to vehicles until flooding subsides.

What is the Maori name for Rabbit Island? ›

It was formed about 7000 years ago as several barrier islands accumulated near the mouth of the Waimea River. There is evidence of Maori occupation for over 800 years.
...
Moturoa / Rabbit Island.
Geography
Area15 km2 (5.8 sq mi)
Length8 km (5 mi)
Administration
New Zealand
5 more rows

Are dogs allowed on Rabbit Island? ›

Dogs are also prohibited at Rabbit Island, but can be taken to nearby Rough Island. Horses are welcome at the eastern end of the front beach, but have been noticed encroaching on to the western part of the beach.

How do you get from Tokyo to Rabbit Island? ›

Tadanoumi is a port town where you can get the ferry to Okunoshima. The ferry takes about 15 minutes and costs around 310 yen. Thanks to the Sanyo Shinkansen, it's possible to visit Rabbit Island from major cities such as Osaka, Kyoto and even Tokyo in a day.

Should I breed my bunny? ›

Why We Shouldn't Breed Rabbits. People who get rabbits as companions tend to forget that nature created rabbits as a prey species. As a prey species, rabbits will keep producing litter after litter, in order to keep their species alive in the face of extremely high predation in the wild.

How can I help Rabbit Island? ›

There are many ways organizations could help. Gardens with lettuce and herbs and fields of grass or hay could be planted. Consistent volunteers or workers are needed to feed them and give them water. The resort and tourist organizations should not advertise the bunnies as an attraction.

Why is Cat Island abandoned? ›

In 2011, the island reportedly suffered extensive damage in some areas when the Tōhoku tsunami hit the shores of Japan. Although the feline population appears to have survived relatively intact, younger people, at least those who still lived there, left the island.

How much does it cost to go to Cat Island? ›

The terminal is located just to the south of the Ishinomaki Genki Market and across the river from the Ishinomori Manga Museum. The ferry ride takes 45-60 minutes and stops at both of Tashirojima's ports — in the villages at the north and south of the island. A one-way ticket costs about 1250 yen.

Can you live on Cat Island Japan? ›

It has become known as "Cat Island" owing to its large stray cat population that thrives as a result of the local belief that feeding cats will bring wealth and good fortune. The cat population is now larger than the human population on the island.
...
Tashirojima.
Native name: 田代島
Japan
PrefectureMiyagi
CityIshinomaki
10 more rows

What is rabbit meat called? ›

Unlike other animals like cows (beef) and pigs (pork) where there are other names to call them, rabbit meat is simply called “rabbit meat” all over the world. This is due to the fact that rabbit meat is uncommon and somewhat rare to be eaten, so there are no culinary terms for it.

What is a female rabbit called? ›

Did You Know? Did You Know? A female rabbit is called a doe. A male rabbit is called a buck.

Who eats rabbit meat? ›

The country with the largest volume of rabbit meat consumption was China (925K tonnes), comprising approximately 62% of the total consumption. Moreover, rabbit meat consumption in China exceeded the figures recorded by the world's second-largest consumer, Democratic People's Republic of Korea (154K tonnes), sixfold.

Are there rabbits on the big island? ›

The Big Island Invasive Species Committee has asked for reports from residents who have seen the wild bunnies, The Hawaii Tribune-Herald reported Monday. Committee Manager Springer Kaye said there are at least three but probably four established feral rabbit populations in Kona and Waimea.

Does Rabbit Island in Hawaii have rabbits? ›

There are no rabbits on the island. When looking at it from the Oahu shoreline, the island looks somewhat like a rabbits head. But rabbits once inhabited the island beginning in the 1880's.

What is the most powerful mythical creature in Japan? ›

The phoenix is a hybrid animal, with a snake's neck, a goose bust, a turtle's back, and its body is covered with scales. In Japan, it is perhaps one of the most powerful deities, symbol of immortality and longevity.

What is Japan's most famous animal? ›

Among Japan's most famous mammals is the Japanese macaque (Macaca fuscata), the world's most northerly monkey. Marine mammals include the dugong (Dugong dugon), finless porpoise (Neophocaena phocaenoides) and Steller's sea lion (Eumetopias jubatus).

Did tigers exist in Japan? ›

Tigers are found in many countries in Asia, but Japan is not one of them. Larger subspecies of tigers (such as the Siberian tiger) live in parts of northern Asia and can be found in areas of China and Russia.

Who owns Bunny island? ›

Rabbit Island (Moturoa) is the largest of a group of sandy islands lying in the Waimea Estuary at the head of Tasman Bay only 15 minutes drive from Richmond. Covered in pine plantations owned by the Tasman District Council and set up as a public reserve.

Who brought the first rabbits to America? ›

Although the European rabbit arrived in America with european settlers, and established a large wild population, rabbits were mostly hunted in the wild until the late 19th century.

Is Peacebunny island real? ›

This private island at Mile 832 on Mississippi River is owned by Caleb Smith, who trains rabbits to become comfort animals and emotional support rabbits. With wooded forest and sandy beaches, the island is an amazing play ground for his rabbits.

Are there wild rabbits in Japan? ›

The Japanese hare is found across Honshu, Shikoku, and Kyushu, that is, all the main islands of Japan except Hokkaido, where it is replaced by the related mountain hare (Lepus timidus). It occurs up to an altitude of 2700 m. It is mostly found in mountains or hilly areas. It also inhabits forests or brushy areas.

Is Rabbit Island open to the public? ›

Access is open.

Currently all reserve areas on Moturoa/Rabbit Island and Rough Island are open. This includes the Front Beach Reserve and Cooper Road to the Totara Picnic area. All other Reserve Roads remain closed to vehicles until flooding subsides.

Can you swim at Rabbit Island? ›

About Rabbit Island Main Beach

The main recreational activity is swimming. The beach is usable at all tides.

What is the Maori name for Rabbit Island? ›

It was formed about 7000 years ago as several barrier islands accumulated near the mouth of the Waimea River. There is evidence of Maori occupation for over 800 years.
...
Moturoa / Rabbit Island.
Geography
Area15 km2 (5.8 sq mi)
Length8 km (5 mi)
Administration
New Zealand
5 more rows

What is rabbit meat called? ›

Unlike other animals like cows (beef) and pigs (pork) where there are other names to call them, rabbit meat is simply called “rabbit meat” all over the world. This is due to the fact that rabbit meat is uncommon and somewhat rare to be eaten, so there are no culinary terms for it.

What is a female rabbit called? ›

Did You Know? Did You Know? A female rabbit is called a doe. A male rabbit is called a buck.

What country has the most rabbits? ›

Breeding The Most Rabbits.
RankCountry1000 Head
1China, mainland230,139
2Democratic People's Republic of Korea32,009
3Italy6,109
4Egypt5,600
6 more rows

How many babies does a rabbit give birth? ›

The length of pregnancy in the rabbit is 31 days and the doe can produce from 1 to 12 young each time she gives birth. She can become pregnant again within a few days of giving birth.

How can I help Rabbit Island? ›

There are many ways organizations could help. Gardens with lettuce and herbs and fields of grass or hay could be planted. Consistent volunteers or workers are needed to feed them and give them water. The resort and tourist organizations should not advertise the bunnies as an attraction.

Is there an island full of cats? ›

Aoshima might be the most famous cat island in Japan. Its nickname “Cat Island” is no exaggeration because there are only 15-20 residents on the island but more than 120 cats, about 6 times the human population! Aoshima is a 1.6 km long island located in the Ehime Prefecture of southern Japan.

What animal island is Japan? ›

— -- For animal lovers, heaven might just be a place in Japan. The country is home to a fox village, bunny island and cat island where you can find yourself delightfully swarmed by hundreds of these free-roaming, furry animals.

Are rabbits popular in Japan? ›

Rabbits. Lastly, rabbits are another very popular animal for pets in Japan. The price is different for each kind, but the cheapest one is about 3,000 yen. It usually costs about 5,000 yen to take care of them per month.

Videos

1. World's Abandoned Places/OKUNOSHIMA ISLAND, Japan
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2. Japan's Rabbit Island Bunnies DEVOUR Carrot and then Girl's Hand!
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3. Cute bunnies 🐇 on Rabbit island, Hiroshima
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4. Why is this island chock full of rabbits? 🐇🐇🐇 - BBC
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5. An Army of Hungry Bunnies! On Japan's Rabbit Island
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6. Is Rabbit Island Real OR Myth ?
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