Can You Really Pet the Cats on Japan’s Cat Island?

Introduction to Cat Island

Cat Island, known as Aoshima in Japanese, is a small island located in the Ehime prefecture of southern Japan. It sits in the Seto Inland Sea, just a 15 minute ferry ride from the port city of Mihara on the island of Shikoku. Though only around 1.5 square miles (3.8 square km) in size, this tiny island has become famous across Japan and internationally as a haven for cats.

The history of Cat Island dates back to the Edo period of Japan when the island was a thriving fishing community. Local fishermen kept cats on their boats to combat mouse infestations. Over time, as fishermen retired from their trade, they brought their working cats ashore to the island. With no natural predators, the cat population grew rapidly over generations. Today, only a handful of human residents remain on Cat Island, but the feline residents number in the hundreds. With its scenic coastal views and sheer abundance of cats happily roaming free, Cat Island has become a popular tourist destination – especially for cat lovers from around the world.

While not the only “cat island” in Japan, Aoshima is one of the most well-known and accessible to visitors. Its serene setting and sheer number of cats create a one-of-a-kind experience that draws feline fans eager for a chance to interact with these unique island cats.

The Cats of Cat Island

The cats on Cat Island are known for their friendliness and abundance. There are over 100 cats currently living on the small island, which outnumbers the human population of around 20 people (Source 1). The high cat to human ratio has earned the island the nickname “Cat Island.”

The majority of cats on Cat Island are a special breed called Kurilian Bobtails. They have a naturally occurring genetic mutation that results in a bobbed or shortened tail (Source 2). This bobtail trait gives them a distinctive appearance. While cats normally avoid water, the Kurilian Bobtails don’t seem to mind it and even enjoy swimming.

The cats on Cat Island are well cared for by the local fishermen who appreciate their mousing skills. The cats are quite friendly and will readily approach visitors, looking for attention and treats. Petting and playing with the adorable cats has become one of the main tourist activities on the small island.

Visiting Cat Island

Cat Island, also known as Tashirojima, is a small island in Miyagi Prefecture that is famous for its friendly feline inhabitants. To get to Cat Island, you can take a ferry from Ishinomaki Port in Ishinomaki City, which takes about an hour. Ferries run several times a day. You can view the ferry schedule and book tickets online.

Once on the island, there are several cat-filled attractions and activities to enjoy. Walk around the island’s perimeter on the Cat Road, which runs alongside the coastline. This scenic walkway takes you through the island’s cat colonies where you’ll find cats lounging about or playing. Stop at the Cat Shrine, where a bronze cat statue honors the feline residents. You can also visit the Cat Museum to learn about the history of the cats on Cat Island.

In terms of accommodations, there are a few minshuku guest houses where you can stay overnight on Cat Island. Alternatively, you can make Cat Island a day trip from Ishinomaki City, where there are more hotel options. Keep in mind that many facilities on the island have limited hours in the off-season between November and March.

Interacting with the Cats

When visiting Cat Island, it’s important to be respectful and gentle when interacting with the cats. According to one Reddit user who visited Cat Island, the key is to “stroke them in the direction of their fur, scratch their chin if they offer it to you, and if they lay down and show their belly, give them a gentle belly rub” (

Some additional tips for properly interacting with the cats on Cat Island:

  • Approach cats slowly and let them sniff you first before petting.
  • Pet the cats gently, especially on the head, chin, cheeks and back. Avoid sensitive areas like the tail, stomach or paws.
  • Watch the cat’s body language. If they pull away, shake their head or twitch their tail, stop petting.
  • Do not chase cats or pick them up. Allow them to approach you.
  • Do not shout, clap or make loud noises which could frighten them.
  • Do not try to attract cats with food. Feed them only if given explicit permission.

By being calm, patient and letting the cats set the pace, you’re likely to have many furry companions during your visit to Cat Island. Just be sure to follow these tips to ensure safe, responsible interactions.

Responsible Conduct with the Cats

When visiting Cat Island, it’s important to interact responsibly with the cats to avoid disrupting their home and daily routines. The key is being respectful of their space and needs. While the cats are accustomed to tourists, it’s best not to chase, crowd, or pick up the cats unless they approach you first. Let them dictate the interaction.

Cats on the island have learned to co-exist peacefully with each other, the human residents, and tourists. Avoid overly stimulating the cats or getting them riled up through rough play. The island has rules against feeding the cats, so be sure to follow guidelines to prevent altering their diet. The cats find their own food sources on the island and additional feeding can be unhealthy.

Overall, apply common sense and treat the cats as you would a domestic house cat. Approach slowly, offer gentle pets if welcomed, and avoid overly disturbing their daily rhythm across the island. With mindful and considerate conduct, tourists can interact with the charming cats while maintaining the tranquil environment the cats call home.

The Future of the Cat Island Cats

The future of the cats on Cat Island depends greatly on conservation efforts to protect their habitat. Cat Island is located within the Cat Island National Wildlife Refuge, which was established in 2002 to conserve and restore the island’s native wetland habitats (1). However, years of shoreline erosion and loss of vegetation have threatened the stability and biodiversity of the island.

In recent years, major restoration efforts have been underway to help stabilize Cat Island and provide improved habitat for its feline residents. A key project involves rebuilding the 2.5 mile barrier shoreline to protect the island’s interior wetlands (2). While these conservation initiatives aim to preserve Cat Island for future generations, securing funding and resources remains an ongoing challenge.

The future welfare of the Cat Island cats also depends on responsible human conduct. It is crucial that visitors respect the cats’ habitat and refrain from feeding or interfering with them. With careful environmental stewardship and community awareness, the unique cats of Cat Island can thrive for years to come.

Caring for the Cats from Afar

Even if you can’t visit Cat Island in person, there are ways you can help care for the cats from afar. The main organization that provides support and care for the cats on Cat Island is the Cat Island Humane Society.

The Cat Island Humane Society accepts donations directly to their charitable account to help provide food, medical care, and population control for the cats on Cat Island. According to their website, “For those of you who are visitors to Cat Island, or are overseas, you may deposit directly to the Cat Island Humane Society charitable account to help us help the kitties.” Donations can be made via their website here:

In 2016, a tweet from Aoshima island in Japan asking for cat food donations went viral, resulting in an influx of supplies. While this demonstrates the power of social media to gather support, the island later asked people to stop sending supplies as they were inundated. As quoted here:, “Please stop sending supplies (cat food) to Aoshima, we have received too many of them.”

The best way to provide meaningful support is by directly donating funds to reputable organizations like the Cat Island Humane Society. They understand the cats’ needs best and can make the most impactful use of financial contributions.

Other Cat Islands Around the World

Cat islands can be found across the globe, from Japan to the Mediterranean. While Aoshima in Ehime Prefecture may be the most famous, there are numerous other islands where cats roam freely and tourists come to interact with them.

Some other popular cat island destinations include:

  • Enoshima Island in Japan – Just off the coast from Tokyo, this small tidal island is home to dozens of friendly cats that wander the island’s shrines and gardens.
  • Cyprus Cat Sanctuary Island in Cyprus – With thousands of rescued cats across the island, this sanctuary provides a safe haven for felines.
  • Largo di Torre Argentina in Rome, Italy – Also known as “cat forum,” hundreds of stray cats find refuge among these Roman ruins.
  • Isola Bella in Sicily – Located off Italy’s southern coast, this tiny island has only a handful of residents but lots of free-roaming cats.

While not technically islands, cities like Istanbul, Turkey and Dalyan, Turkey also have large populations of street cats that visitors can interact with.

For cat lovers, a trip to a cat island promises memorable encounters with the island’s feline residents. With responsible conduct, visitors can enjoy playful interactions with these unique island cats.

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some common questions about visiting and interacting with the cats on Cat Island:

How do I get to Cat Island?

Cat Island is accessible by ferry from the Japanese mainland. The main ports with ferry access are Ishinomaki Port and Oshika Port. You can take a ferry from either location and the trip takes 30-60 minutes depending on departure point. Tickets can be purchased at the ferry terminal on the day of travel.

When is the best time to visit Cat Island?

Spring, summer, and fall are ideal times to visit. Winters can be very cold and ferry service is sometimes suspended due to weather. April-October tends to be peak season with the most pleasant weather and accessibility.

Can I pet and play with the cats?

Yes, you can interact with the friendly cats! However, it’s important to let them approach you first and be respectful if a cat does not want attention. Pet gently and do not pick up cats unless they climb into your lap first. Keeping some cat treats handy is a good way to make feline friends.

Are there any rules for interacting with the cats?

Do not feed the cats anything besides cat food and treats. Human food can upset their digestive systems. Also be cautious about waking sleeping cats – let them rest if they are napping. Never chase cats or kittens. Finally, be watchful of mothers with litters and give them space.

Where do the cats on the island come from?

The cats of Cat Island are descendants of pet cats that fishermen and island residents kept for companionship. When the human population declined, the cats remained and multiplied over generations while living freely on the island.

Are the cats friendly and safe?

The cats are very accustomed to humans and most are quite friendly and docile. However, be aware of your surroundings, wash hands frequently, and monitor children closely when interacting with the cats.

Can I bring my own pet cat?

No, for safety and health reasons of both the local and visiting cats, pets from outside Cat Island are prohibited.

The Appeal of Cat Islands

Cat islands attract tourists for a variety of reasons. Many people are simply drawn to the idea of an island filled with adorable felines. According to the Japan Travel article on Cat Island, “In terms of must-visit animal destinations in Japan, Tashiro Island (Cat Island) is arguably one of the best” (Japan Travel). The sheer density of cute kitties in one place is a huge appeal. Cat lovers and photographers flock to these islands to get an up close look at the island cats and snap photos of the furry residents.

There is also an appeal in interacting with the semi-wild island cats. On many cat islands, the cats are accustomed to human visitors but are not pets. As The Fact Site explains, in Japan cat islands arose in fishing communities where cats originally had a job to do catching mice and rats on the fishing boats. The cats are now fed by the local residents and visiting tourists. However, they still roam freely. Visitors can pet the friendly cats but also observe their natural behaviors as semi-feral colony cats. This makes for a more exciting and authentic experience than simply visiting a cat cafe. Feeding and interacting with the colony cats is a one-of-a-kind experience.

Additionally, according to The Fact Site, cat islands have become popular in Japan as part of a broader trend of “healing travel” or “therapeutic travel” (The Fact Site). Many tourists see interacting with the cats as a way to relieve stress. Petting furry animals releases oxytocin which makes people feel calm and happy. In Japan, cat islands are seen as relaxing getaways where people can soothe their minds by cuddling dozens of purring kitties. The therapeutic aspects enhance the islands’ draw for tourists looking for a calming escaped.

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