On April 30 we left Matsuyama on Shikoku Island and headed towards Hiroshima via Ōkunoshima – more popularly known as Rabbit Island. Elina wanted to see all the bunnies here, made famous on YouTube.
We weren’t planning to go to Hiroshima, but because of the Golden Week accommodation fiasco , it was the nearest city to Shikoku Island that had a room available.
Getting to Ōkunoshima meant going over at least four bridges and catching a ferry. There wasn’t much information on catching the ferry from Sakari on Omishima Island to Ōkunoshima Island. So we just drove there and hoped that the ferries were running. They were. And it was quiet. We waited about an hour or so before we boarded.
Apparently, there are up to 1,000 rabbits on Rabbit Island. No one knows how they got there. Some say that some nearby school children released a handful of rabbits there in 1971, some say it was a visiting British couple, and others say the rabbits are all descendants of the ones experimented on in 1929 when the Japanese Imperial Army was manufacturing chemical weapons there.
It’s highly unlikely the latter is true as there are reports that these test rabbits were euthanised by the American army during the occupation. What is true is that the secret facility made poison gases, such as mustard gas, which was used against the war with China in the 1930s and 40s.
The facility was so top secret that the island was removed from all Japanese maps. Remnants of the building still stand today and there is a Poison Gas Museum on the island, a common excursion for nearby school children.
Paul’s visit to the poison gas factory
Paul writes: ” Bunnies! And chemical warfare! Guess which I was more interested in.
“The island where the Japanese Imperial Army made poison gas during World War II was so secret it was removed from all Japanese maps. According to the NYT, the poison — mustard gas, phosgene and other types— was used against soldiers and civilians in the 1930s and ’40s during the war in China, killing about 80,000 people.
“Only the ruins are left now, a small museum and a ramshackle hotel for people who are really into bunnies — or chemical warfare — and want to stay overnight. It takes only about half an hour to walk round the entire island and see the sites.”
Onwards to Hiroshima
After a couple of hours, it was time to leave Rabbit Island, but not before making sure that there were no rabbits under our car.
The ferry from Rabbit Island to the main island took just 15 minutes. On the other side, many cars were waiting to get onto the ferry to Ōkunoshima. Lucky we were headed in the opposite direction. From there it was 70km to Hiroshima.
We arrived in Hiroshima in the late afternoon and settled into our Airbnb, which was located in the heart of the shopping district and a 15-minute walk to Peace Memorial Park. We had more than a bit of trouble figuring out where to park and how much it would cost as the Google Translator proved how easy words are lost in translation.
As we wandered out in the evening in search of food, we noticed that there were a lot of neon signs advertising okonomiyaki. We later learned that although the dish originated in the Kansai region, the two most common versions are Osaka style and Hiroshima style. Hiroshima style is more cabbage-y and has many layers while Osaka style sees the ingredients mixed together with the batter before cooking.
Of course, we had to try it … We went to Okonomimura, a building with several floors of food stalls. As we climbed the stairwell, each floor had queues of people spilling out onto the stairwell. It was a tight squeeze. We kept going up till maybe the third floor and saw the shortest queues but, even then, when we pushed passed the clear, plastic door flap, there were queues in front of every stall. And not all of them had okonomiyaki on offer. We opted for one of the shorter queues and waited about 20 minutes to sit down.
Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park
The next morning we walked to Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, which is located on an islet at the mouth of the Ōta River. It was a lovely May day with a slight breeze. We strolled along the river and past shrines.
First, a bit of history. On August 6 and 9, 1945, atomic bombs were dropped on the Japanese cities of Nagasaki and Hiroshima. 2020 marks the 75th anniversary of the bombings. It’s estimated that 214,000 people were killed in the blasts. Thousands more people subsequently died from the radiation emitted from the bombs.
The Memorial Tower commemorates the estimated 6,300 high school students who died in the blast as they worked in the city’s factories aiding the war effort.
The A-bomb Dome was only 160 metres away from the epicentre of the blast and was one of the few structures that remained standing. Hiroshima’s remaining residents left the building as a grim reminder of what happened. It was made a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1996.
The Children’s Peace Monument is memorial for all the children who died when the bomb was dropped. It was inspired by Sasaki Sadako who folded 1,300 paper cranes in the hopes that she would live after contracting leukemia 10 years after surviving the atomic blast at age 2.
“The Peace Bell was built in 1964 as a symbol of the anti-war movement and the campaign against nuclear weapons. The bell features a series of engravings, including a world map without any borders; Japanese symbols that represent the desire to abolish nuclear weapons; and a mirror to reflect those who ring the bell.” (from Culture Trip)
Hiroshima Castle was originally built in 1589. It was completely destroyed by the atomic bomb in 1945 but has been rebuilt. It is surrounded by a moat, presently populated by many hungry koi.
We didn’t go inside the castle as we were pretty tired from walking around all day. So for now, peace out.