Meet Japan's Amazing Cat Islands: Purr-Fect for Cat Lovers
Japan is known for things like sushi, Nintendo and tea ceremonies. However, it’s also renowned for its love of cats. The country not only has cat cafés, but also several islands populated entirely by felines.
These amazing islands sometimes have boat docks and other manmade structures, but they always have tons of cats. If you’ve ever been to an animal shelter to visit cats and thought, "I want this, but more," then these cat islands are for you.
There Are Eleven Cat Islands
While westerners often talk as if Japan only has one cat island, there are actually more than 10 spread throughout the country. Japan itself is an archipelago made up of 6,852 islands of various sizes, so islands for cats aren’t in short supply.
Aoshima: The Most Famous Cat Island
When it comes to Cat Island, most people think of Aoshima. This island was the first to be called Cat Island and today still lives up to the name with over 120 cats but only 15 to 20 human residents.
Aoshima: Not Made for Tourists
Due to the advanced age of the residents, Aoshima is not a tourist-friendly destination. There are no hotels, restaurants, or even vending machines to provide tourists with food, lodging or souvenirs.
Aoshima: Why There Are So Few Humans
380 years ago, people from nearby Hyogo Prefecture were attracted to Aoshima for its abundance of sardines. More fled to the island after World War II. So why do so few people live on Aoshima today?
Aoshima: Internet Charity
At one point, the island of Aoshima was struggling to provide enough food for its cats. The people there posted an open cry for help on the internet. One of the cat caretakers took to Twitter to voice the need for supplies and goods to care for the cats.
Aoshima: The Cat Witch
Some tourists to Aoshima have described a cat witch taking care of the cats there. Before you get too excited, however, this woman doesn’t seem to practice adorable cat sorcery — she simply feeds the cats.
Because the cats of Aoshima and many other cat islands face no natural predators, overpopulation and the starvation and disease that come with it are a real problem. The only real solution is to lower the number of cats on the island.
Tashiro-Jima: The Second Biggest Cat Island
The second-largest cat island in Japan is called Tashiro-Jima. Located in Miyagi Prefecture, the human population is around 100, while there’s a bit over that number in cats. The original business on the island was raising silkworms to produce silk.
Tashiro-Jima: The Cat Shrine
Part of the reason why Tashiro-Jima’s population was able to grow so big was the fishermen who fed and protected the cats for good luck. They even built a shrine to one poor cat that was killed by a falling stone. It lies between the villages of Odomari and Nitoda.
Enoshima: The Cat Island Closest to Tokyo
For those who are visiting Tokyo and want a chance to visit an island full of cats, Enoshima is your best bet. This small island is only 4 kilometers in circumference and is located right offshore of southwest Tokyo in Kanagawa Prefecture.
Manabeshima: An Isolated Cat Island
Manabeshima ("-shima" meaning island, in case you didn’t notice) is another cat island. However, this island is smaller than either Aoshima or Tashiro-Jima. It’s located in Kasaoka City in the Okayama Prefecture. This island is a bit more isolated than the other cat islands and requires both train and ferry to reach it.
Okishima: Freshwater Cat Island
While most of the cat islands are on the ocean, there are several in the middle of freshwater lakes. Okishima is in the middle of Lake Biwa, which is Japan’s largest freshwater depository. The residents supposedly descend from seven samurai families who were exiled there centuries ago.
Okishima: Land of Cat Plenty
Unlike Aoshima, Enoshima has plenty of people for cats to mooch from as well as natural food sources. There are plenty of birds on the island, and the human population no doubt sustains at least some rodents.
Sanagishima: Paradise For Cats
Sanagishima is one of several cat islands in the Inland Sea, the area between the three main islands of Honshu, Shikoku and Kyushu. This part of Japan is scattered with small island fishing settlements which help provide fresh seafood for the multitude of cats. The island is located off the coast of Kagawa, the smallest prefecture in Japan.
Muzukijima: Cats and Orange Groves
Muzukijima is in the southern part of Japan in the Ehime prefecture. While many cat islands have fishing villages, Muzukijima is unique because it’s covered all over with citrus groves rather than boats. This island is also known for Japan’s best oranges.
Iwaishima: The Almost Nuclear Island
Back in 1982, the Japanese government chose Iwaishima as the location of a new nuclear plant. The people of the island, of course, were adamantly against the proposition. The strong public outcry caused the proposal to be rejected following the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011.
Aijima: Easiest Cat Island to Visit
Aijima is part of Fukuoka prefecture and lies in the Sea of Japan. It also happens to be one of the most accessible cat islands in Japan. The bullet train stops just a few minutes’ walk from the boat dock at Kokura Port. From there, busy travelers make their way across the water and enter kitty paradise.
Kadarashima: No Dogs Allowed
This cat island is bound up in the legend of a dog. Supposedly, one unfortunate mutt drew the wrath of the deity of the Kadarashima’s Yasakajina Shrine. As punishment, the dog and all its kind were driven from the island.
Manabeshima: For Film Crews And Cats
About 19 miles off the coast of Japan’s main island of Honshu is an isolated island that’s preserved its beauty over the centuries. Because of the island’s unspoiled nature, film crews often venture there. However, they’re not the only ones who like it there: many tabbies also call the island home.
Genkaishima: The Once Devastated Cat Island
Genkaishima can be reached from the Hakata port of Fukuoka City, the largest city in the region and also the capital of Fukuoka Prefecture. That makes it a convenient destination for tourists looking for a quick cat excursion.
Ogijima: Quaint Cat Island
Visitors to Ogijima will feel like they’ve stepped back in time. The village is composed almost entirely of wooden houses and is sparsely populated. Of course, one detail that might not be so historically accurate is the number of cats on the island.
One Company Is Buying an Island and Making a Country for Cats
Perhaps the greatest example of Japan’s love for cats is the fact that one group of people called the Neco Republic is in the process of founding its own country for cats. They’re an animal welfare organization that operates a chain of rescue cat cafes across Japan.
The Cats Boost Tourism
In case it wasn’t obvious already, the cats on these islands help boost tourism. Admittedly, some of the islands aren’t well-prepared for visitors, but others boast a range of historical and cultural sites, and the cats only draw in more people.
There Are Limits On Daily Visitors To Some Islands
Because some of the islands are not designed to support thousands — or even hundreds — of tourists descending upon these kitty paradises, there have been limits placed on the number of visitors per day some of them can have. Aoshima, for instance, has a limit of only 34 visitors each day.
Please Feed The Cats!
While overcrowding on some islands has led to an obesity problem, even these fat cats often depend on tourists and residents to feed them. If you visit one of the cat islands of Japan, be sure to bring some snacks along that are safe to feed to cats.
Not All Residents Love the Felines
While most of the residents adore the cats, not everyone is thrilled to share an island with potentially hundreds of felines. If you can think of all the cute things a cat can do, imagine all the trouble they can get up to, except magnified by a hundred or more. All at once.
The Cats Need Vets and Healthcare
While it’s easy to imagine how great it is to visit an island filled with cats, it’s easy to skip over the hardships that the cats face. Because of the explosive population growth on some islands, there are too many cats for local residents to care for.
The Cats Love Fishing From the Islands
Cats are notoriously lazy, so they’re more than happy to live on the treats and cat food that humans lavish on them in homes and public places. But some kitties do also like to maintain some of their natural hunter instincts by catching fish.
There Are No More Issues With Pesky Rodents
When you live on an island with at least as many cats as there are humans, the likelihood of rodent problems cropping up is pretty slim. Before they were brought over, many of these islands didn’t just have mice. They were infested.
One of the reasons why the cat islands have become so popular is the concept of "kawaii" in Japanese culture — cuteness. In a country where even the roadblocks are adorable, it’s not that surprising that the public would be fascinated by cats and kittens.