Japan's Animal Islands Should Probably Be Your Next Travel Destination

TAKEHARA, JAPAN - FEBRUARY 24: Two tourists sit and feed hundreds of rabbits at Okunoshima Island on February 24, 2014 in Takehara, Japan. Okunoshima is a small island located in the Inland Sea of Japan in Hiroshima Prefecture. The Island often called Usagi Jima or 'Rabbit Island' is famous for it's rabbit population that has taken over the island and become a tourist attraction with many people coming to the feed the animals and enjoy the islands tourist facilities which include a resort, six hole golf course and camping grounds. During World War II the island was used as a poison gas facility. From 1929 to 1945, the Japanese Army produced five types of poison gas on Okunoshima Island. The island was so secret that local residents were told to keep away and it was removed from area maps. Today ruins of the old forts and chemical factories can be found all across the island. (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)
Source: Chris McGrath/Getty Images News/Getty Images

In a country that gave us sushi, anime, and the very best photo trends, it may be Japan's animal towns — places where wild or feral animals live in relative harmony with the city’s human residents — that are the coolest thing about the country. While some places have the misfortune of being overrun by chickens like Hawaii's Kauai Island or spiders like Guam (do yourself a favor and don’t look that up) Japan has the benefit of being overrun by animals of the cuddlier variety.

I spent about a week in Japan a few years ago, but it was while I was living in Korea and had visited my share of the country’s dog and cat cafes, so I didn’t think to visit the animal cities in Japan. Unlike animal sanctuaries around the world, the animals in these cities aren’t limited to a certain park that visitors have to pay admittance for; they're everywhere. The most visitors will have to pay for are travel expenses, since these towns are a bit more out of the way, and in two cases they’re on islands. 

So if you’re a traveler who loves cute animals (so, everyone), these three Japanese towns are just the places for you. I missed my chance while I was in Japan, but you can make it up for both of us. Just be careful not the overwhelmed, or overrun, by the cuteness of it all. 

1. Deer in Nara

Nara is the capitol city of Nara Prefecture in Japan. It was the capitol of Japan back in 710 and 794, is the location of the one of the two women’s universities in Japan, and is well known for its deer population. Deer are considered lucky in Japan, and in Nara, tame deer still roam the streets — especially in Nara Park, otherwise known as Deer Park. Visitors to Nara can pay to buy deer biscuits to feed the deer and if you bow to them, the deer will bow back.

2. Rabbits in Ōkunoshima

This Island comes with a bit of a dark past. Ōkunoshima Island was once the location of a poison gas factory during World War II. Not only did the factory manufacture mustard gas, but it also conducted animal testing, particularly on rabbits. It's rumored that after the war and the closing of the factory, the rabbits were released into the wild, where they naturally multiplied. Whether or not the current rabbit inhabitants are descendants of the rabbits from the gas factory, Ōkunoshima’s bunnies have helped shed some positive light on the Island’s dark history. Now the island known as “Rabbit Island” is a popular tourism spot for people who want to pet and feed the wild, but friendly, rabbit population.

3. Cats in Aoshima

In Aoshima, a fishing village off the southern coast of Japan, cats outnumber people six to one. It probably helps that Aoshima doesn’t have a very large human population, boasting only about permanent 20 residents, according to The Independent. Apparently the cats were brought over on fishing boats to control the mice population, but with those critters out of the way, cats have now taken over the small island. Once a fishing village, the island is now popularly known as Cats Island.

Images: Getty (3)

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