Camping, Rabbits, and Poison Gas
Posted by Heliocentrism on November 21, 2014
Saturday, July 19-21, 2014
We were all packed and ready to go. I closed all the windows downstairs of our new apartment in Hiroshima prefecture and was about to turn off the computer. Mark asked me if he should bring the box of games. It’s a box containing games like Citadel and 7 Wonders among other nerdy delights.
“Of course,” I told Mark, “They will be expecting you too. In fact, they probably expect us to have a new game for us to play.” What kind of nerds would be if we showed up to a camping trip sans board games? “I do have a new game,” Mark said sheepishly, “I made it myself.” He started explaining his game. “I haven’t printed it out or laminating it,” he said, “Do we have time?”
I’m not going to say, “no” to a new game! So I gave Mark another hour to get his game made. I made myself a lemonade and watched China Uncensored and Crash Course while I waited. I had to turn up the volume to drown out Mark’s yelling at the laminator. (Yes, we own a laminator…)
Mark’s game turned out to be a bit complicated. We played one round in the basic non-capture the flag mode, but there were so many rules. Mark will work on his game some more, maybe even give the game an official name. We’ll try it out again on our next camping trip.
Mark initiated this trip. He read an article about an island filled with feral rabbits. Since Mark likes petting and feeding animals, he had to see it. He planned the trip. …I mean he called up, Roland, a South African friend of ours and asked him to make reservations at a campsite. (Mark’s Japanese is not very good.)
Four of the other campers from our trip live on Kyushu. They woke up really early Saturday morning to catch a 4:00 am ferry from Beppu to Shikoku. Then they drove from the port to the campsite which took a few more hours. Mark and I had a 2.5 hour drive and we still managed to get there after they had set up their tents. They were waiting for us.
Four of them came in the South Africans’ k-car. So all of them had to pack very light; there isn’t much trunk space in most k-cars. Kane’s tent was very small and gave him just enough space for him to lay down. He plans to bike from Beppu to Kobe later on this year and this trip gave him an opportunity to test out his gear.
We spent the rest of the day exploring the campsite. With this being a 3-day weekend and the area having lots of tourist attractions, the camp grounds was the most crowded I have ever seen a Japanese campsite. We walked around to see all the best spots that were taken by the time the Kyushuians got there. We still got a decent space, but people who showed up even later than we did had to set up their tents near the bathroom.
A Meal From All
The South Africans and us used to cook our own meals then we would share the food potluck style. But this ended in lots of wasted food, double portions of meat, and mountains of dirty dishes, not to mention all the extra packing. So now when we go camping everyone gets assigned one meal.
I chose to make BLT for lunch since we would be gone for the day. I made the BLTs while everyone ate Freda’s “burritos sandwiches”. (In her determination to pack light, Freda forgot to bring the tortillas…) I put everyone’s BLT in zip-lock bags and handed them out before we leave that morning. We would find a nice place on the island infected with rabbits to have lunch.
The boat ride was surprisingly cheap, for Japan. It only cost ￥310 per person one-way. We were so happy to find the seating area of the boat had air conditioning. I’m not sure what the people in their cars did. They stayed in their vehicles with the engines off and did not come up to the seated area. It must have been super hot.
Buy your own food
Mark read online that there would be rabbit food for sale on the island. There are boxes on the island for you to pay ￥100 and take a cup of rabbit pellets. Mark thought that the price was too expensive. So the day before we left Mark stopped by a pet store in our town and bought a 1kg bag of rabbit food for ￥300. (Even with everyone taking liberal amounts to feed the rabbits, the bag was still about 2/3rds full when we left.)
Once on the island we all took fists-full of pellets to lured rabbits out of hiding. In the area where more tourist were, the rabbits waited for us to walk over to them. In the area where less tourist were, the rabbits would hear us talking and come hopping out of the bushes like kids chasing the ice cream van.
They were just furry balls of cuteness and would eat right out of your hand. They did not, however, liked to be pet or picked up. If you held out a carrot for them to eat, one of them would eventually bite down on the carrot, snatch it out of your hand, and run off into the bush to not have to share the carrot with fellow bunnies.
For none carrot foods, they prefer to eat out the palm of a person’s hand. Any food dropped on the ground was no longer thought of as food. Sometimes we left food on the ground for a rabbit because we wanted to move on, only to have that rabbit disregard the food and hop along behind us in hopes of more pellets.
There are caretakers on the island who drive around and put on bowls of water for the rabbits. I don’t think they feed the rabbits though; they leave that to the tourists. There are plenty of tourists. Near the hotel where most of the tourist gathered around noon, I saw rabbits flat out refuse carrots and other treats, preferring to nap.
How did you guys get here?
In 1929 the Secondary Tokyo Military Arsenal built a factory on Okunoshima to make poisonous gasses. There is a Poison Gas Museum on the island. The plaques on the walls say that the facilities were a secret. So much of a secret that most people, even in Japan, has no idea that Japan ever used poison gas on their enemies.
The museum states that little is known about how the gases were used in the war. They only know the effect the gasses had on the people hired to work in the factory. There were many type of poison gases made here and even though the workers used rubber uniforms to keep themselves safe, gas still linked through their suits. They had problems with their eyes and skin. Many got conjunctivitis, wet pleurisy, pneumonia, and bronchopneumonia.
The museum was built by locals for, and in the memory of, the factory workers and other people harmed by the gas made on the island. It is also a reminder that “war is meaningless“. The government wanted to keep secret the fact that chemicals weapons were made and used by Japan, but the people of Hiroshima prefecture wanted everyone to know the truth so that they type of thing would never happen again.
As for the rabbits… Some think that they are the offspring of rabbits used to test the gas. Others think they were left on the island by visiting school kids. I could not find anything prove either theory. But, the whole thing was a big secret until 1984, so who knows? Personally, I think it is very unlikely that school kids would just leave a couple of bunnies here on the island.
We walked around the island feeding rabbits and looking at old relics of war. It was very hot and after a few hours in the sun walking became a chore. We timed our walk to end a few minutes before the next ferry came. We would head back to camp and go swimming.
One the way back from rabbit island we stopped at a convenience store. We planned to swim and then head to an onsen before grilling tonight’s dinner, so I wanted some snacks. I found a pack of Doritos and just grabbed it. I forgot that Japan has no normally flavored Doritos. One should always inspect one’s potential Doritos, reading the label carefully and consult with a Japanese/English dictionary if needed. I picked up butter and soy sauce Doritos. It was awful.
When it was time to fire up the grill Mark noticed that there was no more fire starter left. I remembered reading somewhere that Doritos make good fire starters, so I handed Mark my degraded bag of chips. He said that it was better than nothing, but he would never actually buy Doritos to start fires in the future.
This was Roland’s meal. Freda prefaced the meal with a statement saying that the meat was not from South Africa, but from the Meat Guy, who is Australian. The Boerewors was labeled “untraditional”. She said that meant that the meat was thinner than usual. It didn’t matter to me; it was delicious!
The South Africans love to braa and Mark and I benefit from their braaing every time we camp with them. They bring a bag of South African species to cook their meats. They also marinate meats in South African sauces then grill them and serve them with potato salad. They know the way to my American heart; meat and potato salad!
The next morning the Kyushuians had to leave around 9:oo am so they could drive across Shikoku again and make it in time for their ferry. We promised that for the next camping trip Mark and I would drive down to where they are. They could just pick a spot and we would meet them there. We said our goodbyes and they were gone.
On our way back we found a KOA campsite. It was closed, but it was definitely a KOA. It had Kabins and a lodge. It looked like it closed down within the past 6-12 months. I email KOA and asked about their Japanese campsite, but I was told that right now there are no KOAs in Japan.
That would have been nice…
How to get there:
You can enter Japan by plane or boat. Though, the number of boats going to Japan from other countries has gone down significantly. Americans get 90-day visas to Japan at the port of entry. Check with your nearest Japanese embassy or consulate for visa information.
- Emergency Numbers:
- Police 110
- Ambulance and Fire 119
- Important phone numbers to know while in Japan
- Comfort Woman
- The Commoner
- Empire of the Sun
- Flyboys: A True Story of Courage
- Geisha, a Life
- Ghost Soldiers: The Forgotten Epic Story of World War II’s Most Dramatic Mission
- The Last Concubine
- Memoirs of a Geisha
- Tears in the Darkness: The Story of the Bataan Death March and Its Aftermath
- Tokyo Vice: An American Reporter on the Police Beat in Japan
- What I Talk About When I Talk About Running
- Be careful what over the counter drugs you bring into Japan. Actifed, Sudafed, Vicks inhalers, and Codeine are prohibited.
- InternationalATMs are really hard to find; more so if you aren’t in a big city. Many places in Japan do not use credit cards. Take cash and call your bank toaskwhatATMs or banks in Japan will work with your cash card.
- ATMs have opening hours. Usually 9:00-18:00 (They have better work hours than most business men and women here.)
- The Post Office bank seems to work with most cards.
- You can get a Japan Railway, pass which saves you a lot of money on the trains, but you can only buy it before you get to Japan and you cannot be a resident of Japan. (I don’t have more information about it because I’ve only ever lived in Japan. I’ve never been a tourist.)
How to get there:
- Coordinates 34°15’28.2″N 133°03’08.5″E
Ehime-ken, Imabari-shi, Kamiurachō Inokuchi, ７５２３
- Japanese only 0897-87-3855
- ￥1,000 tent plus:
- ￥300 per Adult
- ￥150 per child
- ￥6,000 for cabin (4-5 people)
- Check in 15:00
- Check out 12:00
- Hot Shower – ￥200 for 5 minutes
- Kitchen areas
- You can rent BBQ equipment
- There is a Circle K within a 3 minute walk of the campsite.
- There areafewOnsens within walking distance, more within biking distance, and even more within the distance of a short drive.
- The silver dome onsen (しまなみドーム/Shimanami dome) is a 10 minute walk from the campsite.
- Bring your own towel, soap, shampoo, and conditioner or buy them at the onsen.
- There is also a gym at this onsen.
How to get there:
- Coordinates 34° 18′ 31″ N, 132° 59′ 35″ E
Okunoshima Visitor Center
Okunoshima, Tadanoumi-cho, Takehara City,
- (0846) 26-0100 (English maybe)
- The Poison Gas has a ￥100 entry fee.
- Ferry From Omishima (the island we camped on):
- Adult round trip – ￥620
- Kid round trip – ￥320
- The ferries to and from the island start around 7:00 and stop around 19:00.
- This island is part of Setonaikai National Park (瀬戸内海国立公園).
- There is a hotel on the island.
- There is also a campsite.
- There is free assigned parking.
- Check in 13:00 and check out 11:00
- Cost: ￥1,030 per tent plus ￥410 per person. (You must bring your own tent.)
- Showers cost ￥400. (I don’t know what kind of shower it is.)
- There are vending machines on the island, but no stores. The hotel does have a restaurant though.