An assortment of Asian islands inhabited almost entirely by cats? Surely a dream destination for cat lovers!
In the Your Cat Tourist Guide, we’re introducing our readers to some cat-inspired tourist hotspots around the UK and beyond. In this issue, we head to the other side of the world to Japan, where there are a number of tiny islands in the Ehime Prefecture of southern Japan known as the cat islands!
The most well-known is Aoshima, a tiny fishing island, just one mile long, where there are roughly only 16 elderly human inhabitants on the island — and over 100 cats! The cats were originally brought to the island as pest controllers to keep mice off the fishermen’s boats and the feline population multiplied over the years as the human population dwindled.
Now, the remaining cats have been neutered and although semi-feral, the cats on Aoshima are used to human visitors, who can only access the island via a boat trip from nearby Matsuyama, and are looked after by the elderly residents.
Another of the most well-known cat islands is Tashirojima, just off the mainland of Japan in the Miyagi Prefecture.
There is a slightly higher human-feline ratio here as there are around 100 cats and 100 humans on this island, and, as with Aoshima, they were originally brought to the island as mousers to keep mice away from the island’s silkworm farms.
As the human population dwindled over the years and the average age of those who remained increased, the cats multiplied and now the island almost pays homage to felines, with a large shrine erected in the middle of the village. You can visit Tashirojima via an hour-long ferry ride from central Ishinomaki.
Slightly more unusual is the island of Okishima, which is located in the middle of Lake Biwa, Japan’s largest natural freshwater lake. According to legend, the island’s 400 residents are descended from a group of exiled samurai who fled from a 12th century battle near Kyoto with their families to Okishima and went into hiding on the island.
The majority of the locals earn their living from fishing the lake, and the many feline residents of the village earn their keep by keeping the mouse population down and you can see many of these feline pest controllers all over the island.
There are 11 Japanese ‘cat islands’ altogether and many are only accessible by organised boat trip so you’ll need to plan your visit accordingly, but it’ll be worth it to see so many cats ruling the roost!
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