Located in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, Japan is an island that has far more cats than human residents. The small island of Tashirojima (田代島) is now home to around 80 mostly elderly residents, down from a population of about 1,000 in the 1950s.
The cat population on Tashirojima is believed to be around several hundred cats, outnumbering the residents by 4 to 1. Cats are the most popular pet in Japan, with an estimated 2020 cat population of around 9 million.
There are two main population centers on Tashirojiima: Oodomari and Nitoda. Most of the feral cat population are found on the southeaster side of the island around the port in Nitoda.
Bringing Cats to Tashirojima
The history of cats on Tashirojima dates back to Japan’s Edo period when cats were brought onto the island to help control the rodent population. Silkworm cultivation was attracting mice and the cats were used in the mid 18th to mid 19th centuries to help protect the larva.
Textiles wasn’t the only industry on the island. Fishing was, and continues to be, another important industry. Cats would arrive at the docks to beg for fish.
Cats Represent Good Luck in Japan
The fisherman came to believe that the cats represented good luck and built a shrine to them, called Neko-jinja (猫神社), in the middle of the island. The shrine is dedicated to a stray cat that had been killed by a falling rock.
The island has become a tourist destination where visitors come daily to feed the cats. The cats, in return, are believed to have the ability to bestow good luck and fortune to those whose paths they cross.
Arriving to the island is an hour-long ferry ride from central Ishinomaki. Despite being a draw for tourists, the island has few facilities with one store and no restaurants. Tourists are asked to bring back any garbage with them.
Cat Islands in Japan
Tashirojima isn’t the only cat island in Japan. There are about a dozen cat islands in Japan and multiple cat shrines on the mainland, mostly in the southern portion of the country where the silkworm trade flourished.
Another well known cat islands in Japan is Aoshima Island. Aoshima island (青島) is also home to more cats than human residents. Located in Ehime Prefecture, the island has a cat to human ratio of 36:1.
As the elderly populated has diminished over time, the one-mile-long island is currently home to six residents, down from about 900 in the 1940s.
In October of 2018, the Japanese government engaged in TNR to help control the burgeoning cat population and to control fighting among the tomcats. 210 cats were sterilized but it was discovered after the fact that villagers had hidden about a dozen cats under the belief that removing the cats’ right to reproduce was inhumane.
Access to Aoshima is a 30-minute ferry ride from Port Nagahama.
Setouchi (瀬戸内みなみ), M. (2019, February 22). 愛媛県・青島「猫の楽園」の未来 昨年の不妊・去勢手術後もトラブルがたえず…〈dot.〉. AERA dot. (アエラドット). https://dot.asahi.com/dot/photoarticle/2019022100058.html
Tashiro island. (2021, February 4). japan-guide.com – Japan Travel and Living Guide. https://www.japan-guide.com/e/e5031.html
Taylor, A. (2015, March 3). A visit to Aoshima, a Japanese ‘Cat Island’. The Atlantic. https://www.theatlantic.com/photo/2015/03/a-visit-to-aoshima-a-cat-island-in-japan/386647/