There's no better place to embrace your inner 'crazy cat lady' than at Aoshima, Japan's 'Cat Island'
On a tiny speck of rock off the coast of Shikoku, in southeastern Japan, lies the little isle of Aoshima, where cats are reported to outnumber human residents at a ratio of 10:1. The cats in this rural fishing village first arrived by ship, and were introduced to reduce the rat population, but left unchecked they quickly multiplied, leaving a crew of furry friends.
Aoshima has become a sort of oddball tourist attraction in recent years, with even Western media visiting the remote island to report on the high concentration of cats. According to the Washington Post, before the internet picked up the story about Cat Island, few visitors ever went to the island, because it had little to offer in terms of tourist infrastructure. “Now I carry tourists every week, even though the only thing we have to offer is cats,” the Post reported, quoting the ferry captain who runs the route to Aoshima.
To echo the words of Hippolyte Taine: “I have studied many philosophers and many cats. The wisdom of cats is infinitely superior.”
20 The Purrfect Place For Feline Friends
Japan is certainly a nation that excels in a variety of regions, but who would have thought cats would be one of them?
Hardcore cat lovers continue to blog, tweet, and 'gram about Aoshima in increasing numbers, describing it as a 'cat paradise', and a place where they want to 'live and die'. As fellow cat lovers, can we really disagree with that?
Without further ado, let us introduce you to the cute kitties of Aoshima, and a few of Japan's other amazing cat islands.
19 Welcome to Cat Paradise
They're so cute! And so... orange. It is clear to visitors that all the cats on Aoshima are related, because of their distinctive and bright ginger colour. Every day the cats gather at their favourite feeding spots, where fishermen share their extra catch of the day, and elderly ladies put out food.
Tourists who come to the island and want to get up close and personal with the cats only have to shake a bag of cat food to suddenly become the centre of attention. What better way to feel the love?
18 Enjoy the itty bitty kitty welcoming committee
Aoshima can be visited via a 30-minute ferry ride from Port Nagahama, and there are two ferries a day which bring not only passengers but goods and foodstuff. The cats are said to know the sound of the ferry arriving, and wait at the dock for passengers to come and give them a treat. Travel websites recommend visiting Aoshima only as a day trip, because on this tiny, underpopulated island, there are no hotels, restaurants, or amenities.
You may also want to stock up on some bento - takeaway lunch boxes - before taking the ferry, since there is nothing to buy there. And some cat food might be a good gesture too.
17 With fame also comes fortune
Bored Panda reported that a few years ago, when one cat caretaker on the island tweeted that they needed donations to feed the cats since all of the island's food comes by ferry from the mainland and often the service is suspended in rough sea conditions, they were overwhelmed with shipments of cat food.
Animal lovers sent so many donations that within days the caretaker had to tweet again - to ask them to stop! Which just goes to show that cats really can break the internet.
16 Save the population
With more than 100 hungry mouths and counting to feed, the cats seem to look healthy and well-fed, thanks to the locals and visitors who feed them. Veterinarians reportedly visit the island on occasion to check up on the cats and monitor the cat population. But with no dogs on the island, or even cars, the cats have little to no threats, which means that Aoshima should remain a cat island for a long time to come.
15 I think you're being followed...
If you visit Aoshima, there isn't that much to do - according to HIS Go, the island is only about a mile wide, and you can easily walk around the whole island. Most visitors simply stick around the port area playing with the cats, which, to some people, is their idea of heaven.
Visitors from all over the globe have been making the trip to Aoshima specifically to see the cats, much to the amazement of the local residents who never expected all the attention.
14 Feed one, and more magically appear
These cats know which side their bread is buttered - but visitors are asked to only feed the cats at the designated 'feeding areas'. This is to dissuade cats from gathering in large numbers at inconvenient locations, and to keep the cats away from people's homes, where they are tempted to go inside and seek out goodies. According to Japan Hopper there are signs pointing you to these areas, but many tourists give in to the temptation to act like a Pied Piper, feeding a trail of cats wherever they go.
13 So long, and thanks for all the fish
However, if you want to get friendly with these felines, better do it fast. Japan is a country with a rapidly aging population, and this is especially true in rural areas.
According to Wikipedia, today the average age of the human residents on Aoshima is 75, and only up to a few dozen live there full time, as the younger population continues to leave the island for better education and career opportunities in mainland Japan.
12 Serene, and a bit spooky
Because of the island's depopulation of humans, there are a number of old and abandoned buildings, which makes for some very dramatic photo shoots, if you like Japan's style of architecture. Or better yet, the architecture + cats.
Not only cat people, but also professional photographers, have been visiting Aoshima specifically to photograph the process of cats slowly taking over the town.
11 It's not only Egyptians who revere cats
Cats hold a special place in Japanese culture - not only the world famous Hello Kitty, but also the iconic Maneki Neko, or 'Beckoning Cat'. You'll see it in restaurants across Asia, the white or golden cat with its paw raised in the air, moving back and forth to beckon people to come inside. There are also numerous cat cafés, where you can pay to sip a latte while stroking a warm, purring fluff ball on your lap.
One of the most popular and long-running manga series from Japan, Doraemon, stars a robotic cat, and has been translated into languages worldwide.
10 But wait - there are more cat islands!
Yes indeed! Other than Aoshima, there are reported to be at least 11 other cat islands, spread out all over Japan. For example, no dogs are allowed on the tiny island of Tashirojima - which has no doubt helped the cat population flourish - and local fishermen believe that the cats bring good luck as they take care of the rats that destroy their fishing nets.
There is even a Cat Shrine at the centre of the island, where devotees leave offerings.
9 Tashirojima is the purrfect place to stay
If you really, really love cats, then you've got the perfect... I mean... purrrfect place to stay (pardon the pun), if visiting Tashirojima. A famous Japanese manga artist built these absolutely adorable cat cabins in the hills of the island, called 'Manga Island', with whiskers and all. Inside the cabins are also decorated with cat themes and feline art. This was truly designed for the hardcore cat lovers.
8 Enoshima - the closest cat island to Tokyo
Not everybody has the time and funds to travel all over remote parts of Japan seeking out cat islands. Enoshima is a cat island quite close to Tokyo, and its easy access to Japan's biggest city is helping it become increasingly popular with cat lovers, though not yet as famous as the extremely remote Aoshima.
Cafes and even hotels have been embracing the presence of the cats, as they bring in some much-needed tourism revenue.
7 The island of samurai - and kitties
Okishima is a unique spot, in that it is an island in the middle of a lake! This is the only inhabited lake island in Japan, with around 400 residents who, according to Japan Travel, are all descended from a group of samurai who had gone into hiding there after losing a battle.
Situated in scenic Lake Biwa, this tiny island is now becoming more popular as a tourist destination, and as a cat island.
6 Don't anger the deity
The island of Kadarashima has an old legend about its large cat population. Once upon a time, a dog angered the deity of the Yasakajinja Shrine, who then banished all canines from the island. Even today there are no dogs, leaving the cats to roam freely, and rule the town. At the shrine you can leave an offering, such as a tiny cat statue.
5 And don't forget the toys!
Ainoshima in Fukuoka prefecture is a beautiful little island with roughly 500 residents, and a large population of cats who hang around the port, waiting for the fishermen to share their daily catch, or the tourists who come to feed and pet them.
But kitties need love, not just food, so taking a simple toy like some string is sure to make them flock to you for fun and games.
4 The fishermen's friends
Sanagishima is another small and mostly unknown little island overrun with cats. The locals here like to decorate the fishermen's buoys with cat's faces, as the cats keep the rat population in check.
Like other cat islands, Sanagishima lacks infrastructure such as vending machines or hotels, so determined visitors should carry their own food and drink to take a day trip here. A bag of treats wouldn't be unappreciated by the locals either.
3 Come for the cats, stay for the scenery
Muzukijima has more to offer than just cut cats lazing about, waiting to be fed and doted on. There's a beautiful beach, a pilgrimage route through the mountains, citrus groves, shrines, and even castle ruins. There is also a small island which is only accessible by foot at low tide, though no cats live there.
If you want to see the kitties, just like on the other islands, stick around by the port area. Where there are fish, there are cats!
2 It's a beautiful life, mon Amis
Manabeshima is said to have more cats than humans, but this quaint island has a lot more to offer than just cats, with a lovely town full of well-preserved traditional architecture, and there are hotels and amenities, making it a great place to visit and stay. Visitors from France, in particular, have been coming to Manabeshima ever since an artist published a book of his paintings depicting Manabeshima's beauty - and cats.
1 Feeling feral? Here are some other options
If cats are not your thing, there are lots of other ways to see and even interact with wildlife in Japan. The snow monkeys of Hokkaido have become world famous, with images of them waiting out the winter in the hot springs. The city of Nara is known for its feral but friendly deer, who are so accustomed to humans that they hang around Nara Park and eat rice crackers from your hands.
But perhaps even stranger than the cat islands is Okunoshima, nicknamed 'Rabbit Island', which according to one blogger, is a 'natural antidepressant'. Seems worth a try!
References: Wikipedia, Washington Post, Meowingtons