I think we can all admit that we’ve seen some weird pop culture from Japan, whether it be maiden cafe, underwear vending machines, or robot sex shows. However, these are not anomalies, as strange as they seem. Japan’s pop culture is a result of unique social and cultural dynamics unlike those seen in the Western world, hence a pop culture unlike the Western world.

One of those strange examples of Japan’s pop culture is actually a result of a biological/social system: Okunoshima, better known as Rabbit Island. Its name isn’t because of a vaguely rabbit-looking geography. It is actually full of rabbits.

Bunnies Attract Tourists To A Japanese Islet Okunoshima
INFESTED WITH RABBITS!!                              (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

During World War II, Okunoshima Island was host to poison gas development and testing for Japan. It was taken off of maps and non-government officials forbidden from visiting to keep it secret. At the end of the war, the island was once again open, but its long-term secrecy meant it wasn’t ever repopulated by humans. Additionally, the poison gas testing ensured that large animals couldn’t survive, whether due to strict security protocol or, well, poison gas. This is one important element in the system that allowed this infestation to begin: no predators for any cute lil’ bunnies.

Two other elements played a role. Obviously, there have to be bunnies on the island in the first place for them to thrive without predators. It’s generally believed that rabbits were on the island for the sake of testing the poison gas, with at least a couple strays left after World War II. Finally, I think we all know the power of bunnies’ reproduction systems.

Now, we have Okunoshima. It turns out, people love islands filled with animals, especially bunnies. Cue tourists flooding into Okunoshima (aka resulting element of rabbit-infested island).

When people care about their bunnies, they want to protect those bunnies. What might normally have been considered an annoying, or at least useless, trait of an island became a tourism center. Those lucky bunnies gained economic and social protection from these tourists, basically ensuring that they would never face a predator on Okunoshima again. (It’s probably pretty fair considering their ancestors faced the trauma of being poison gas testers.)

This protection means that the bunnies will keep being their bunny-loving selves, reproducing like maniacs, and Okunoshima, at least for the near future, will continue to be bunny and bunny-loving human central.

A side element that has emerged from this system is the growth of other animal-infested islands in Japan, including both foxes and cats.

What those poor island bunnies would have to do if not part of a feedback loop of bunny-loving tourism, surely.


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