Iwakuni residents make trip to Rabbit Island

Iwakuni residents make trip to Rabbit Island

by Lance Cpl. Carlos Jimenez
MCAS Iwakuni

OKUNOSHIMA, Japan -- Service members from Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan, took a free bus ride courtesy of the Single Marine Program, to a small island with a unique tourist attraction and a dark past.

Located within the Seto Inland Sea in Hiroshima Prefecture, and accessible only by ferry, Okunoshima is visited by thousands of tourists a year for a unique reason. It is home to hundreds of wild and friendly bunnies.

The station residents could see rabbits the moment they stepped off the ferry. They approached the little creatures with bags of food and fed them as the rabbits gathered in groups for more.

While most of the trip participants went just for the rabbits, some went to see the dark history that lies in ruins on the island.

“I heard about this bunny island, and I was curious about the poison gas stuff they have over there,” said U.S. Navy Chief Petty Officer Farzana Kham, aviation machinist mate temporarily assigned to Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron (VAW) 125, referring to the fact that the island once served as a production site for chemical weapons during World War II.

Before it became Usagi Shima, or Rabbit Island, Okunoshima was a top secret location used by the Japanese Imperial Army to create poison gases used against Chinese soldiers and civilians, killing approximately 80,000 people.

The trip participants were able to see traces of that history scattered throughout the island in the standing remains of the buildings that once served as poison gas storehouses, batteries and the power plant.

Okunoshima’s bunny population and deadly history make the island a unique place for service members to visit.

“I came to learn more about the history of the island and hang out with all the bunnies,” said U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Mallory Mullins, aviation supply specialist with Marine Air Control Squadron (MACS) 4. “I think it’s kind of beautiful that Japan took something that was ruined and destroyed and turned it into something that people enjoy.”

How the rabbits came to dominate the island isn’t exactly known, but some believe their origins are tied to the island’s past.

According to The Guardian, an international news publication, rabbits were brought to the island to test the effects of the poison gases but many experts believe those test rabbits were killed after allied occupation of the island at the end of the war.

All in all, the program participants said visiting the island was a fun and interesting.

“My experience was very good,” said Khan. “It was very relaxing and super cheap. I think it’s the perfect trip for [everybody].”

The SMP offers station residents similar trips to famous tourist sites across Japan. For upcoming events or more information call 253-3585 or 253-5368.

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