Okunoshima National Park
Okunoshima Island (大久野島) is a small resort and historical park with beautiful beaches and an incredible view of the inland sea from its summit. The entire island (0.7 km2 / 4.2 km circumference) is part of the Seto Inland Sea National Park. It is about a 20 minute ferry ride from Tadanoumi which is a town east of central Takehara City. About the only blemish to the island's natural beauty are the 3 massive power transmission towers, but they are, arguably, just barely impressive enough to qualify as an attraction if you don't mind being irradiated with electromagnetic currents.
The ugly truth about Okunoshima is that it was once the location of a major poison gas factory. In total, 6,616 tons of gas was produced on the island from 1929 until Japan's defeat in 1945. The island was chosen for its distance from major cities and its secluded location. The military went as far as erasing the island from unclassified maps in 1938 to protect its location.
The juxtaposition of this beautiful, calm and peaceful island with its past will likely be its most memorable part for even the most jaded of people.
The island is small enough that just about anyone can fully explore it in a day by strolling around it or even in an afternoon by renting a bike. Bikes can be rented at a building near the hotel and there is a modest discount if you're a guest there.
Numerous interpretive signs and activities are placed all throughout the island. All are quite good, but all are only written in Japanese. Most of the historic sites and other buildings can be seen by going around the perimeter road. There are a couple good viewpoints on the perimeter road. To see the best view of the Seto Inland Sea, you'll have to go to the highest point on the island. The summit can be reached by a road from the campground or a hiking trail on the eastern side of the island.
The displays in the visitor's center are remarkably well done and provide an effective introduction to the island's natural surroundings. The large model of the island, which is under a glass floor, is gorgeous. A number of other displays show off the plants and animals on the island and talk about electricity.
Poison Gas Museum
The museum on Okunoshima details the production of gas on the island for use in the war. It is, of course, one of the major attractions on the island. As many as 10,000 students are sent to here each year as part of their studies.
The museum is closed on Tuesday and December 29 to January 3 at year end.
Electrical Plant Ruins
The ruins of the electrical plant building have been left to be taken over by ivy. All that is left is the outer shell, but this building was used as the major gas production plant on the island until it was dismantled by occupation forces after the war. The warning signs aren't joking that it is dangerous in there.
Okunoshima has a large population of rabbits. Rabbits were originally brought to the island to perform laboratory testing of the chemicals. This lead to the false impression that the current rabbits are descendants. It would be a nice ending if these small victims of the war had been given the run of the island. However, these rabbits were more likely to have been disposed of at the end of the war.
The current rabbits are really just pets. In 1971, 8 rabbits raised at an elementary school were released and they went wild. Their numbers had increased to 700 by 2013. There are no natural predators on the island. To preserve this rabbit paradise, most other pets like dogs and cats are not allowed on the island. Most of them have the demeanor of a true wild rabbit and hop away. Some act more like abandoned pets and hang out near the buildings looking for handouts.
Staying at Okunoshima
The hotel on Okunoshima is run by National Park Resort Villages or Qkamura. This organization runs most of the hotels in national parks in Japan. The hotel is a basic resort and conference venue and has a number of tennis courts and a pool.
There is also a number of campsites at Okunoshima between the hotel and the ferry docks.
The easiest way to reach Okunoshima is by ferry from JR Tadanoumi Station in Takehara City. Tadanoumi Station is a few stops east of Takehara Station on the JR Kure Line. The ferry terminal is a 7 minute walk from the station. It takes the ferry about 20 minutes to reach the island.
Posted: April 4, 2011 Updated: March 15, 2015