The Mysterious Cat Island of Japan. Discover its Furry Feline Secrets

Introduction to Cat Island

Cat Island, also known as Aoshima, is a small island located in Ehime Prefecture in western Japan. It lies in the Seto Inland Sea, about 1.5 km off the coast of Ozu City on Shikoku island (1). The tiny island, which is only about 1 km in circumference, is part of a cluster of islands known as The Geiyo Islands or The Ine Island (2).

While Cat Island is now known around the world for its large feline population, it has a long history as a fishing community. The island used to be home to a prosperous fishing village, as its location in the Seto Inland Sea provided plentiful access to marine resources. Fishermen lived on the island with their families, and cats were kept to help control the rodent population and protect the fish catch. Over time, as the fishing industry declined, many human inhabitants left the island while the cats remained behind.

Today, the island is home to only a handful of human residents but hundreds of cats. With its unique status as a haven for free-roaming cats, Cat Island has become a popular tourist destination, especially among cat lovers from around the world. While the human population has dwindled, the cats continue to thrive on the island’s bounty of seafood. With its rich history and distinctive feline culture, Cat Island provides a one-of-a-kind experience for visitors (3).

Getting to Cat Island

Cat Island, also known as Tashirojima, is located in Miyagi Prefecture in northern Japan. It is about 3 km off the coast of Ishinomaki City in the Oshika Peninsula. The island is only accessible by ferry, as there are no airports or bridges connecting it to the mainland.

The most common route to get to Cat Island is to first travel to Ishinomaki City. The city can be reached by bullet train from Tokyo to Sendai, taking around 4 hours, and then transferring to a local train to Ishinomaki, which takes about 1 hour (Source).

From Ishinomaki Station, travelers can take a taxi or local bus to the Ajishima Line Miyatojima ferry terminal. Ferries depart 2-3 times a day and take about 45 minutes to reach Cat Island (Source). Roundtrip ferry tickets cost around 3,000 yen.

Travelers can also reach Cat Island from other ports such as Oshika Port and Ayukawa Port, but ferries are less frequent. Coming from Ishinomaki is usually the most convenient transportation option.

The Island’s Feline Roots

Tashirojima has a long history as a fishing island, and cats first came to the island over 200 years ago. Fishermen believed that having cats on their ships brought good luck, so they brought cats along to the island. Over time, the cat population grew as the feline residents reproduced. Today, there are over 100 cats living on the small 3.14 km2 island.

According to Wikipedia, the fishermen fed the stray cats well in the belief that this would bring them wealth. The cats were allowed to roam freely and their population increased rapidly. The islanders came to see the cats as lucky charms, and today the island has more cats than people. The cats hold a special place in the island’s culture.

Day-to-Day Life with Cats

Living on Cat Island means cats are an integral part of daily life. The island is home to over 120 cats that roam freely and mingle with residents. The felines follow islanders as they go about their day, popping in and out of homes, stores, and the island’s one school. Locals have grown accustomed to their furry companions always being underfoot.

The cats each have their own distinct personality. Some are quite friendly and outgoing, eagerly approaching visitors looking for pets and treats. Others are more aloof or skittish around newcomers. Over time, residents come to know all the cats by name and quirks. There are playful kittens chasing bugs, lazy cats napping in the sun, and protective mother cats caring for litters. At the end of the day, the cats gather expectantly as fishermen return with the daily catch, hoping for a tasty fish head or two.

While the sheer number of cats is startling at first, most residents can’t imagine life without them. The cats have become an integral part of the island’s character. Their antics and companionship have brightened many residents’ days over the years. For cat lovers, living on Cat Island is a dream come true.

Tourism on Cat Island

Cat Island has become a popular tourist destination, especially for cat lovers. According to the Japan National Tourism Organization, over 50,000 visitors come to the island every year. Many visitors come just for the day via ferry from Ishinomaki Port, while some opt to stay overnight at one of the island’s guest houses or ryokans.

Upon arriving on Cat Island, visitors are greeted by cats lounging around the port area. As you explore the island, cats can be found napping in flower beds, strolling down village paths, and begging for treats. While cats are the main attraction, there are also scenic coastal walks, shrines, a small museum, and restaurants to enjoy. Swimming and fishing are popular activities during the summer months.

The main village area has several souvenir shops where visitors can purchase cat-themed memorabilia and snacks to feed the feline residents. Guest houses offer cat-viewing areas where dozens of cats lazily recline. For travelers who want a true immersive cat experience, accommodations are available where guests sleep in cottages swarming with cats.

While independent exploration is possible, many visitors join guided cat tours. Knowledgeable local guides share facts about the history of the cats on Cat Island and the best spots to interact with the friendly felines. These tours help support the island’s continuing efforts to care for its famous furry inhabitants.

Caring for the Cat Population

The cats on Cat Island are primarily cared for by the local residents. Feeding the large population of cats can be challenging. The residents leave out food and water at designated areas across the island. Local shops also donate fish scraps and other leftovers to help feed the cats. There are even automated feeders in some areas that dispense dry food

Providing medical care for the cats can also be difficult with limited veterinary services on the remote island. Local volunteers trap cats needing care and take them to the mainland for vet visits when necessary. Spaying and neutering is not commonly practiced to control the population. The residents accept the cycle of life and death as the natural way of things on Cat Island

Some animal welfare advocates have raised concerns about population control, disease management, and quality of life for the cats. However, the residents care for the animals as best they can with the limited resources available. The cats are viewed as part of the culture of Cat Island.

Potential Concerns and Controversies

The large numbers of cats on Cat Island have raised concerns over sustainability and humane treatment. With limited space and resources on the small islands, overpopulation is a major issue. Estimates suggest the cat population ranges from 100-150 cats on Aoshima to over 100,000 cats on Tashirojima (The Guardian, 2019).

Such high densities of cats can lead to the spread of diseases, inadequate food and shelter, inbreeding, and poor health. There have been reports of sick and dying cats on some islands (Metro, 2017). Visitors often bring food to feed the cats, but this can lead to turf wars over resources.

Some animal welfare advocates argue the islands are not a true cat “paradise” and express concerns over population control methods. With increasing tourism, the islands struggle to balance cat welfare with the economic benefits. Ongoing management, neutering programs, adoption schemes, and monitoring will be needed to ensure humane treatment in the future.

The Future of Cat Island

The future of Cat Island remains uncertain as concerns grow over the sustainability of the large cat population. In 2018, Japan Today reported that the island was moving towards a plan to spay and neuter all of its feral cats to control the population growth (source). While many tourists are attracted to the island for its sheer number of cats, experts worry it is an unsustainable model long-term.

Some initiatives are underway to improve conditions on Cat Island. In 2015, an animal welfare organization called Atlas Co. started a crowdfunding campaign to provide food, medical care, and population control for the island’s cats (source). Local residents have also begun working to spay and neuter cats.

Looking ahead, Cat Island will likely need to find a balance between preserving its feline population that draws in tourists, while also making sure the cats are healthy, happy, and at sustainable levels. With ongoing care and population management, the island can hopefully maintain its whimsical charm while protecting its furry residents.

Fun Facts about Cat Island

Cat Island is home to more cats than people! The feline population is estimated to be around 120, while there are only 15 permanent human residents on the island. According to local lore, a cat named Tama served as stationmaster and operated the train station ticket gate on Cat Island, allowing travelers to pay their fare by petting and feeding her. Cats outnumber humans 6 to 1 on Cat Island. The global average is about 1 cat for every 10 humans. The name Cat Island first started being used around 40 years ago. Cats were originally brought to the island to control the rodent population that threatened the silkworm harvests. Local fishermen would have cats on their boats as mousers. When they came ashore on the island, they brought cats with them.


Why Cat Island is So Special

Cat Island, also known as Aoshima, is truly one-of-a-kind. This tiny island located in Ehime Prefecture is known around the world for its feline population that far exceeds the number of human residents. While Japan has several other “cat islands,” Aoshima stands out for having more cats than people in such a concentrated area. With only around 12 human inhabitants but over 120 cats, Aoshima has a truly unique and extraordinary cat-to-human ratio.

The island is especially significant for being home to a rare cat subspecies called the Aoshima cat. This breed is larger than most Japanese cats and has distinct big, round eyes. Aoshima cats are friendly and sociable, often approaching visitors looking to be petted and played with. Nowhere else in the world can you find this special cat breed thriving in its natural habitat.

What makes Aoshima so special is how the human residents live in harmony with the free-roaming cats. The cats have essentially become islanders themselves, joining the fishing activities, lounging around the houses, and being treated like family pets by the local inhabitants. This unique human-feline coexistence has created a one-of-a-kind island culture centered around cats.

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