11 Cat Islands in Japan Worth Visiting

Cat-lovers rejoice! There is heaven on Earth for you out in the seas surrounding the island nation of Japan. That would be the famed “cat islands,” also called “nekojima” in Japanese. Though the Internet has long been aware of one island where cats outnumber humans 6 to 1, Japan actually has eleven cat islands in total where cats rule. These places are placid getaways from a dog eat dog world and might just be the ultimate stop for anyone who seeks to be surrounded by nature and feline friends.

1 Aoshima

The most well-known island of cats is Aoshima, a tiny plot of land within Ehime prefecture on Shikoku. Ever since the first photographs of this sleepy village were uploaded on Twitter a few years ago, there has been an increase in tourism on Aoshima.

However, the new wave of humans on the island have done little to fluster the furry residents and the elderly humans who care for them. The cats were first introduced as protectors of silkworm that the fishermen used for bait. Now, the human population has decreased overtime to about only 20 people (15 are permanent residents), but over 120 cats remain.

The best way to reach the island is by taking the 30 minute boat ride. Because the age of the residents on the island, do not expect to make this more than a day trip. There are no hotels and a disturbing absence of vending machines on Aoshima.

2 Muzukijima

Also in Ehime Prefecture, you will find this fishing community up to the ears in cats. And oranges. Muzukijima’s citrus grove produce some of the juiciest oranges in the entire nation. The village at the port where you’d be docking should you visit has a plethora of tradition houses and elegantly sloping walkways that lead to wonderful hiking spots.

Oritateyama and Takamatsuyama are two mountains framed by the Muzuki Skyline, a walkway that totals 15 kilometers. Maybe you can make some feline acquaintances or have them play tour guide?

3 Tashirojima

Farther up north in the vicinity of Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture is Tashirojima, the most famous of the cat islands. In a 2009 article in Japan, it was announced that dogs were forbidden on the island, because the locals did not want to upset the local stray cat population.

There are two parts of Tashirojima – Oodomari and Nitoda. 83% of the human population is elderly, the island has been listed as “terminal.” In other words, the village is in risk of vanishing.

Although Tashirojima is located quite close to where the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami had hit, it was mainly unscathed. The villagers believe that it was the auspicious abilities of their feline friends who kept them safe.

If you find yourself visiting Tashirojima, do take the journey to the cat shrine called neko-jinja. It might look dilapidated, but it is a popular spot of sight-seeing. The shrine has been around since the Edo period.

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4,5. Aijima and Aishima

This island is part of Fukuoka prefecture. To reach it, you need to ride a boat from Kokura port. But if you are short on time, you are in luck. A shinkansen (bullet train) line actually stops at Kokura’s station. Though the island is small and quiet, you will find yourself welcomed by a horde of cats who want nothing but rubs and fish. Aishima, the other island within Fukuoka prefecture is closest to Shingu port.

6 Genkaishima

Noted for being on the easiest to access, Genkaishima is reached from Hakata Port, Fukuoka-shi’s dominant port. Before an earthquake in 2005, the cat population on this island was second to none. The numbers took a hit, but now the cats have begun to replenish their island. Photo-bloggers have found this island to be quite photogenic.

7 Enoshima

Though not overwhelmed with felines, Enoshima of Kanagawa Prefecture within the limits of Tokyo does have a lot of them. Having experienced this “cat island” personally, I can say that one moment you’ll be walking along what seems to be an uninhabited road then make a turn, landing yourself in the middle of a cat-swarm.

You can often find cats wandering around the beaches, making friends with the swimmers and sunbathers, or among the rocky cliffs of this beautiful island. You can get to Enoshima from Shinjuku in about an hour. Get off at Katase Enoshima station then walk the bridge to the island.

8-11. Honorable mentions

Remember I said there were 11 cat islands in total? The others with smaller populations and less repute or accessibility are as follows:

  • Okishima, Shiga Prefecture
  • Sanagishima, Kagawa Prefecture
  • Manabeshima, Okayama Prefecture
  • Iwaishima, Yamaguchi Prefecture
  • Kadarashima, Saga Prefecture

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The love of cats in Japan is real. Since ancient times, the culture has seen cats as bringers of good fortune and wealth, so they see no harm in larger populations of them. Should you find yourself dreaming of dwelling with these awesome animals, perhaps it is time to consider taking a trip to one of the many nekojima surrounding the Japanese mainland.