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Easter on Okunoshima: Day and Year of Rabbits

As you may or may not know, the Year of the Rabbit began on the 1st of January (the 22nd of January if going by the Chinese-derived “Old New Year”) in Japan, and Easter has recently been increasingly celebrated in the country as well. However, like Christmas, Easter is seen mostly as an “Egg and Rabbit Day” that increases candy sales (surprise, surprise), and only Christians focus on the religious significance of the holiday. With that being said, the Day of the Rabbit in the Year of the Rabbit only happens once every twelve years, and if one is in Hiroshima on that exact weekend with nothing else to do, there is absolutely no excuse not to visit Okunoshima, the infamous “Rabbit Island” that is such a perfect fit for Easter!

Multiple ports on the mainland sail to Okunoshima, but the most popular for tourists, domestic and international, is Tadanoumi Port, located just three minutes on foot away from Tadanoumi Station on the JR Kure Line. There are two options for getting to Tadanoumi from Hiroshima Station: one way would be to take the JR Green Sanyo Line to Mihara and transfer to the Kure Line down to the coast, or you can simply board a train on the JR Kure Line and mosey on down directly to Tadanoumi Station. The latter may be slower depending on the time of day and timing of one’s arrival at Hiroshima Station, but the Kure Line is renowned for its view as it cruises along the Seto Inland Sea, which is why I recommend that option.

Hopping Between Vehicles

Before riding the ferry to Okunoshima, I had to first buy a ticket from a vending machine inside the gift shop. Since there was still ample time before the next ferry departure, I aimlessly wandered around the store, perusing the rabbit-themed wares and debating whether to get some ice cream here before or after my journey. While I was killing time and buying nothing, something interesting on the walls caught my attention: there were two posters asking visitors how far they traveled to come see the bunnies. The bottom poster asked Japanese tourists what part of Japan they were from and fellow Hiroshimarians what part of the prefecture they lived in, whereas the top poster inquired overseas tourists on their country of origin. I could have asked for a gold sticker to slap onto the sea of gold already covering Hiroshima Prefecture, but decided against it because it would make no difference and it was high time for me to get in line for the ferry.

After a suspenseful wait, the ferry that was to take everybody to Okunoshima called at Tadanoumi Port, and, carrying our tickets to show the crew prior to boarding, we all walked single file onto the boat. The majority of the passengers chose to sit inside the cabin to avoid the chilly wind, but I opted to stay outside for the warm sunshine, fewer people, and breathtaking view of the Seto Inland Sea. I was expecting more people to be lined up against the rail, itching to stare at Okunoshima in the distance getting closer and larger, but I suppose I should be glad to be mistaken, as that meant more peaceful seascape views for me!

As we approached the pier, I was greeted by a version of Okunoshima I had never before seen: painted pink with petals of cherry blossoms all over the port, as if they bloomed to welcome us to the island. Everyone on board got off as soon as the crew gave permission and made a beeline for the sakura in the park. I thought about taking my sweet time amongst the trees until I saw a silver van shuttling visitors between this port and Kyukamura Okunoshima, the island’s only resort hotel. Since I was hungry and needed to fuel up with food before seriously adventuring, I bolted for the shuttle bus and made it on time.

Kyukamura Lunch Break

The shuttle bus dropped us off right in front of the resort building, and the driver announced when the next bus would depart for the harbor where he picked us up. That information may prove useful for those who primarily wish to hang out around the resort area before going straight back to Tadanoumi, but I planned on circumnavigating the island on foot. Before that, however, I entered the building to find the café and gift shop to my left. The food in the café wasn’t anything home to write about; the most significant thing that day was an omelet rice plate offered exclusively during Easter, but at the end of the day, it was only omelet rice. The adjacent gift shop, on the other hand, was filled with more interesting products that warranted photographing. Besides the usual souvenir foods like momiji manju that domestic tourists would buy and take back to the office to share, there was also an array of rabbit plushies that can be won from the lottery machine, and every ticket is a winner!

Once I was done looking, I made my way to the restaurant on the other side of the lobby, next to the concierge. The restaurant was apparently at full capacity and I signed my name on a waitlist, but my timing must have been flawless because I was seated not too long after two parties left. I lucked out on top of that, as my table was close to the entrance and by a window with this view of the entrance and the Seto Inland Sea off in the distance.

I took one look at the specials on the menu and instantaneously decided on the “Gyohan (魚飯 – ぎょはん),” a purported Takehara specialty that was prepared in limited quantities, only 20 batches per day! Gyohan is essentially a tub of rice accompanied by various toppings such as shrimp, dried fish floss, mushrooms, pickled vegetables, shredded seaweed, wasabi, green onions, and sesame seeds. The diner is supposed to scoop some rice from the tub into the bowl, pile on the desired combination of toppings, pour some tea from the kettle into the bowl, mix and eat the porridge-like concoction, and repeat until all the rice and toppings are gone. All that came with a side of octopus tempura; octopus cuisine is something I usually associate with Mihara first, but geographically, Mihara and Takehara are close enough. Making my own rice bowls was especially entertaining, and while the Easter décor inside the restaurant left more to be desired, I appreciated the gesture and hurriedly scarfed down my Easter Sunday lunch.

Upon finishing my meal, I got up to pay and realized that they allegedly only accepted cash payments. However, it was only the English text that said “CASH ONLY,” and the Japanese text stated that those who wish to pay via credit card can do so at the concierge. I politely requested to do just that, so I brought the bill outside to the concierge, swiped my card, provided my signature, and waltzed to the great outdoors.

Round the Island

In the grassy areas just outside Kyukamura, there were already a plethora of bunnies, some of which were itching to be fed, but most of which were already overwhelmed by the smorgasbord of pellets and vegetables brought by tourists. Visitors are urged to buy pellets at the Tadanoumi Port gift shop as rabbit food isn’t sold on the island, but fresh vegetables work just as well (it helps to chop them up at home first) and are more cost-effective as veggies not eaten by the resident rabbits can be taken home and consumed by humans. I picked some bits of uneaten cabbage off the ground to use as feed later, then proceeded to walk almost a full lap around the island. Signs located in front of former poison gas storehouses provide historical context for Okunoshima, and are a sufficient lesson for those who don’t have time to visit the Poison Gas Museum.

If one walks clockwise around the island, one will first encounter folks fishing by the sea. This boy was with his father and seemed eager to catch himself a big one, so I left him be and kept walking clockwise. All along the way, I saw rabbits with more food than they knew what to do with, as well as the tennis courts and other sports facilities not being properly maintained by Kyukamura Okunoshima. I knew that I would have no luck feeding the bunnies here, so I made my way closer to the center of the island.

The trail started to slope up, and the view of the sea on my left was replaced by a wall of trees with pretty flowers. I had the same problem here, with most of the rabbits already fed up with being fed. It wasn’t until I got close to the Central Cannon Battery remnants that I would have some peace and quiet with rabbits that were actually hungry.

Moment of Joy: Baa Baa Black Bunny

Most of the bunnies on Okunoshima are a light brown, so the sight of a more uncommon black rabbit drew my attention, making me want to feed it. I was relieved to know it wanted the cabbage I picked off the ground earlier, but in addition to that, I pulled out a bag of carrots that I chopped at home to see if it wanted those as well. This bugger was more than happy to partake in my carrots chunks as I tossed them close to its face. The quality time spent having this docile creature to myself might possibly be the most fun I or any visitor could have on this island.

Peak of the Action

When more tourists walked by, interrupting my time with the black bunny, I proceeded through a short tunnel to a set of stairs leading to the observation deck at the center of the island. This place was closed when I visited in 2021, but since it was open this time around, I wasted no time in tackling the stairs to see how far I could climb. As I was climbing the hilly staircase, I made out a tower with some power lines in the distance and decided to make that my initial goal.

Once I was at the base of said tower, I took a breather and a photo of the tiny islands littered across the sea. It was a bit difficult to capture the seascape between all the vegetation, but after a bit of sidestepping I managed to find a decent angle. The trail to the summit observation deck continued from here, but since I was ready to leave Okunoshima at this point, I decided to put aside time to catch the next ferry, and thus put a pin in it here.

Of course, there were rabbits up here that charged at me in hopes of grabbing some grub. Naturally, I busted out my carrots, but in addition to the normal chunks, I also offered them the strips of carrot peel that I usually throw away when cooking at home. The carrot peel strips are always a hit with the bunnies, who eat them up like spaghetti and fight each other for every morsel.

It was fast approaching the time of the next ferry’s departure, so I had to huff it down the hill and race the clock to the pier where I first arrived. Just as I was on my way down the stairs, though, the vista below snatched my attention, and for a moment I was frozen in my tracks, engrossed in the landscape right before my eyes. I instinctively pulled out my camera for one last scenic photo, then made tracks for the pier.

From this point on until the power plant ruins, the pedestrian walkway and the cycling road were one, but with an incline so steep, there were bilingual signs asking cyclists to dismount and walk their bicycles until the road was flat again. I had to run if I wanted to make it on time for the ferry, so I jogged at a careful pace whenever I felt safe enough to, and eventually ended up back at the port where the sakura and the shuttle bus greeted me. Sadly, even though I was on time to see the boat arrive, there was an astronomically long line, which meant I wasn’t able to board that ferry and had to await the next one. No problem, I figured, as the cherry blossoms would keep me company until the next boat, which was big enough to let me on and take me back to mainland Takehara.

If you ever want to see both amazing sakura and cute bunnies simultaneously in Hiroshima, Okunoshima over Easter weekend is the place and time to do so. A day trip here is also an ideal way for families to observe the holiday in general, as it can easily fit into an afternoon following Sunday morning church services or brunch. There is definitely potential for a new Easter tradition in Hiroshima, with a day, a year, and a place representing the main animal, and I for one hope to be back on Okunoshima another Easter to see fluffiness on two levels. Hop on over to Okunoshima during sakura season for an egg-cellent Japanese twist on a Western holiday!

Written by the Joy in Hiroshima Team