by Bryce Marley
Long time readers probably have picked up that the Japanese love cats, with countless cat café's and mascots all over the country, these furry little critters are loved by many. However did you know there is a cat island? Today, Japlanning are showing you the little island north of Tokyo where the cats outnumber the humans. For a cat lover, this is a must stop in Japan, for a most unforgettable experience.
Cat island, or Tashirojima, lies off the coast of Ishinomaki in the Miyagi prefecture in northern Japan. The island has a history of silk farming, and originally cats were brought onto the island to keep mice out of the silk farms. However the silk farms are largely gone, but not the expansive cat population.
Tashirojima isn't a large island, in its hay day it had a population of about 1000 however today its less than 100, with most working in hospitality or fishing. The island has become a place of tourist interest in the last several years, thanks to the cats, with many visiting to take a look for themselves of a village where cats are everywhere! Although the cats are strays, they are kept well fed and checked up on to be healthy. Thanks to the locals believing that feeding the cats brings good wealth and fortune. The island's fishermen also believe that the cats can predict the weather patterns coming to the small island.
With 83% of its population being over the age of 65, there is a fear that the villages, and the cats', survival is in jeopardy, so there is a constant hope that younger Japanese will move to the island to continue keeping it inhabited by humans and keeping up the care and feeding of the cats.
We all know that cats and dogs don't have the best track record of being friends, so if you're thinking of visiting with your pet dog, you better be ready to leave the little pup at the dock on the mainland, as dogs are not permitted on the island. In fact, you won't even find any of the locals with pet dogs either!
The island itself is divided into two ports (or villages). Oodomari and Nitoda. With the island being so small its quite easy to get around by bike, or if you're looking to stretch your legs, you can walk or hike around, and there are many trails to follow where you will find Neko-Jima.
Neko-jinja is a small shrine just up form Nitoda. The shrine was built by a fisherman who was collecting stones, when one of the stones dropped and hit and killed a stray kitty. Feeling so bad about it, he buried the cat where Neko-jinja is built up upon. Exploring the small shrine, you will find many stones with cat drawings on it, and also hello kitty and lucky cat statues left as an offering.
Also up from Nitoda, you will find many quirky little buildings built to look like cats too. The island also has the nickname of "manga island", thanks to these quirky cat buildings. Many of them were built by the Shotaro Ishinomori, a famous Japanese anime artist.
Now don't think this is some empty island with no amenities either: there are shops at port, and of course you will find vending machines too.
If you're looking to stay the night on Cat island, there are a few cat shaped vacation homes near the Nitoda Port, however reserving them or contacting them is difficult if you don't speak Japanese.
The Vacation homes are open from April to October each year, and reservations are needed at least two weeks in advance to secure a place to stay.
To get to Tashirojima, you first need to get to the seaside town of Ishinomaki, this is about 4.5 hours from Tokyo, so due to the limited number of ferries to the island, you're best to stay either in the city of Ishinomaki the night prior and after, or stay at a nearby city like Sendai, making the morning trip to the ferry easier.
To get to the Ajishima Line ferry terminal, where your boat departs Ishinomaki, you can either take the bus from Ishinomaki Station to the Ajishima Line-mae bus stop, however the bus is quite infrequent.
Japlanning recommends taking a 10 minute taxi from Ishinomaki Station to the ferry terminal.
The Ajishma ferry leaves for Tashirojima 3 times daily and is a 1 hour trip to the island, stopping at Odomari port first than Nitoda port after and costs 1400¥. Tickets are purchased on the boat, look for the boat with a Mermaid mascot painted on it.
Many have said that if you're making the ferry trip to Tashirojima, and plan on only staying for the day and taking the afternoon ferry back to the mainland, you should stay on the ferry and get off at the Nitoda port stop as there are significantly more cats to see and play with.
If you are planning to be leaving the island on the same day, be sure to be back at the Nitoda port by 3pm for the last ferry back to the mainland, otherwise you'll end up sleeping with the cats until the next day's boat.
To see the ferry's website click here. (note it is all in Japanese and difficult to navigate for any non Japanese speaker)
Please note boat times and costs are correct at time of posting, these can change at anytime. Be sure to confirm departure times at the ferry terminal and before departing the ferry at your destination.
Tashirojima is a cat lover's paradise, with so many cats, all with a placid nature, and the quaintness of the remote island, it's a great escape from the busy big city vibe you can get in Tokyo, Osaka or Sapporo. If you're traveling up this way in Japan, a trip to cat Island is definitely recommended by the Japlanning team.
It's a great place to explore or just relax...