By Crystal Chung @CrystalKChung
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Animal lovers who frequent Japan’s cat cafes and dog-rental shops have found another place to get their cute fix - known as "Rabbit Island." Okunoshima is home to thousands of bunnies and has now become a tourist hot spot.
Visitors flock to the tiny inland sea destination for its natural beauty and historic significance, but mostly to feed and pet the bunnies that call the island home.
Today, Okunoshima is one big giant petting zoo where hundreds of families visit everyday but it once had a darker past - serving as the base for the Imperial Army’s lethal gas operation.
From 1929 to 1945, more than 6,000 tonnes of poison gas were manufactured on the remote island, and the program was shrouded in secrecy.
Photographer Kei Nomiyama ventured to Rabbit Island, which has a circumference of just 2.5 miles, to capture the fluffy animals up-close and to explore the once dark and secret past of Okunoshima.
He said: “Okunoshima was once a top secret island used to manufacture chemical weapons during the Second World War. Roaming the halls, you can almost sense it's sinister past.
“During World War II it was a laboratory, and the scientists were chemical weapons specialists - experts at human suffering. Today, it is home to more than thousand of friendly rabbits are known to stampede any visitor that brings food.”
According to some sources, the rabbits were brought to Okunoshima to test the effects of the poison and released by workers when World War II ended. Others sources say that a group of schoolchildren on a field trip released eight of the animals in 1971.
Today officials have banned cats and dogs from the island to protect the rabbits, and tourists come from around the world to feed and capture photos of the friendly bunnies.
Although they’re wild, the rabbits are accustomed to humans and will approach tourists in search of a snack, especially during winter months when natural food sources are scarce.
Kei said: “We found the rabbits preferred cabbage leaves and carrots which we had brought from home, and pellets of rabbit food are sold a cup in the hotel lobby. It was fun for all of us to feed the little bunnies.
“Today the island is better known for its wildlife and natural beauty than its military history. Within steps of dry land, little bunnies will greet you without hesitation. The island is no longer a place of misery, but instead, provides enormous joy.”