Japan is a fascinating place for more reasons than we could include in one blog, however there is one unique element about the country that likely doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world on the same scale. What are we talking about? The cat islands of Japan; Aoshima, Ehime Prefecture; Tashiro-jima, Miyagi Prefecture; Manabeshima, Okayama Prefecture.
What are Cat Islands?
They are exactly as their name infers; islands full of cats; Islands where the cat populations greatly outnumber the human populations. And there isn’t just one cat island, there are many.
Japan’s cat islands were born of the local fishermen and silk processors’ need to keep rodents in check. Cats were brought aboard ships to these islands, and over time, as the fishing died down and silk businesses moved elsewhere, the cats and only a handful of residents were left behind. Because cats reproduce exponentially when left uninhibited, they did exactly just that.
The local residents of Japan’s cat islands have a reputation for compassion and a history of loving the cats who make their homes so interesting. This involves daily feeding, affection, and a feeling of duty to protect the cats.
So now you know about these islands, the obvious question is: can we visit them? The answer is yes… sort of. Some of these islands are definitely open for tourists to visit and are setup to do so. Others, however, do not have infrastructure for tourists (hotels, resturants, etc.) and are simply small villages populated only by the residents. Aoshima is a good example of a place like this. There are only two ferry visits per day – one in the morning and one at night. If you truly want to visit the island, prepare to be self-sufficient for the entire day.
Some of the islands are better set up for people to visit. Tashiro-jima and Manebeshima are both places used to seeing visitors come through to pet the cats and take pictures. These two would serve better as places to visit versus Aoshima. There are other cat islands in Japan, though some of the populations may not be as high as those mentioned here.
Many of the islands place a lot of importance on the cats and have rules to cater to their comfort, such as no dogs allowed. Tourists making a lot of noise or scaring the cats are not welcome.
At the end of the day, if you are a cat lover visiting Japan, visiting a cat island may just be what the doctor ordered. You will need to do your research first and arrange for proper transportation to these places, but once you have that all figured out, bring a handful of treats and go mingle with hundreds of semi-wild cats!