Okunoshima is a small island in the Inland Sea. It is known as Rabbit Island because it is home to hundreds of cute little bunny rabbits, and has become a big tourist destination for folks who love to come and commune with the bunnies. But the reason the rabbits are on this idyllic little isle brings us round to the dark side of Rabbit Island.
Between 1929 and 1945, the Japanese Imperial Army conducted a top secret chemical weapons program on the island. It was so secret that Okunoshima was erased from official maps. More than six thousand tons and five different varieties of poison gas were produced in that sixteen-year period, with mustard gas given the highest priority. Dozens of factories were built and thousands of Japanese were hired to produce the gas and put it into shells. Many of the workers suffered severe health problems for the rest of their lives as a result of exposure to the gas.
Rabbits were brought to the island so that the gas could be tested on them. After the war, the surviving rabbits were released and began doing what rabbits do best, which is why the island is now overrun with them.
The deadly gases were used mostly in China in the wars against Chinese nationalists and communists. Chinese historians estimate that ten thousand people were killed in more than two thousand gas attacks by Japanese forces between 1931 and 1945.
Today tourists can see the crumbling death factories and visit the Poison Gas Museum on the island. After completing that depressing tour, a little time spent communing with the bunnies is a welcome relief.