A unique rural islet where humans are outnumbered 10 to one, Aoshima – the Cat Island of Japan – is a place where kitties roam wild and free.
While the neon lights of Tokyo or the cherry blossoms of Kyoto tend to be the initial drawcards for tourists visiting Japan, it’s the hidden gems found in prefectures further afield that surprise and delight visitors the most. In particular, animal lovers looking for unique wildlife encounters are spoilt for choice in Japan. Travellers can see snow monkeys bathing in hot springs in Nagano, or walk through crowds of rabbits on the island of Ōkunoshima. Wild dolphins dip and dive off the coast of Mikura Island, and ponies graze the grasslands of Yonaguni Island. Meanwhile, hundreds of wild deer roam the grounds of Nara’s Central Park and the island of Kashima. Perhaps the most famous of the animal encounters in Aoshima, Cat Island Japan.
Where is Cat Island Japan?
While Aoshima is not the only Cat Island in Japan, it is the most well-known. Aoshima is located in Ehime Prefecture, a tiny island in the Seto Inland Sea. The nearest major city is Matsuyama.
How to get to Cat Island Japan
From Tokyo, a flight to Matsuyama Airport is around two hours. From Matsuyama Station, take a train on the JR Yosan Line to Iyo-Nagahama Train Station, around a one-hour journey. From here, a 10-minute walk will take you to Nagahama Port, where access to the Cat Island of Aoshima is serviced by boat. The trip from Nagahama Port to Aoshima takes around 35 minutes and there are only two departures each day, and one return – so be sure to check the schedule before departing. The service also may not run in poor weather.
17 things you need to know before visiting Aoshima, Cat Island Japan
- Aoshima is less than 2km wide and has only a couple dozen human residents.
- The cat population is estimated to exceed 200 felines, greatly outnumbering the human residents.
- Cat Island Japan is a tiny rural islet, and as such there are no shops, cafes, restrooms, accommodation or vending machines. Visitors must bring all they require with them. The only public restrooms are found at the ferry dock.
- The kitties in Aoshima are semi-feral but generally very friendly and happy to socialise with visitors.
- Visitors can only feed the cats within designated areas, and only with very small amounts of cat food – although this isn’t encouraged.
- The cats appreciate playing with visitors who bring toys for their encounter.
- The Cat Island Japan of Aoshima is not a tourist attraction. Respect the rules and residents of the island, both human and feline.
- There is no public transport on the island. Wear comfortable walking shoes.
- The cats are strays, so be sure to wash your hands after interacting with them.
- Guests can donate to the residents who care for the cats.
- Cat Islands are also known as ‘neko shima’.
- The cat island of Aoshima is surrounded by the Pacific Ocean, and there are bout tours nearby which sail by Cat Island Japan.
- Winter can be especially tough for the kitties of Aoshima, so if you plan to visit, perhaps prioritise the colder months when food is scarce.
- There are two islands called ‘Aoshima’ in Japan, so be sure to visit the island off the coast of Nagahama in the Seto Inland Sea.
- Some of the cats here suffer from cat flu, so it’s essential to be aware of this if you plan on playing with the cats.
- Given the waning human population on Aoshima, the future of this Cat Island is unclear. The ferry service runs only for locals, and should the island be uninhabited the service will stop. As such, efforts have been made to neuter the cats and it is possible to adopt them.
- There are 11 Cat Islands in Japan, and while Aoshima is the most famous, Tashirojima comes in at a close second and is actually the easiest Cat island to access from Tokyo.
The history of Aoshima, Japan’s most famous Cat Island
During the 1940s, Aoshima was a fishing village with a 900-strong population. Cats were brought to the island to hunt mice that would bother the fisherman and sully supplies. However, as the fishing industry on the island declined, so too did the human residents. While people abandoned Aoshima for the more fruitful prospects of mainland living, only cats remained. As a result, the feline population thrived. Today, only around 20 residents aged over 50 live on the island and care for the cats. Aoshima became famous as the Cat Island Japan due to social media, when visitors shared photos and videos of the meow-sive cat commune. However, the island is slowly rolling out a neutering program for the cats to plan for the future when it is likely there will be no human residents on the island.
The 11 Cat Islands of Japan
Aoshima is not the only island ruled by feline overlords in Japan. In fact, there are several different islands and towns throughout Japan where cats reign supreme and are loved by both locals and visitors alike. We’ve listed a few of these locations below:
- Tashirojima in Miyagi Prefecture is a rural island off the coast of Ishinomaki City and the second most famous cat island in Japan. It’s home to hundreds of cats and accessed via a one-hour-long ferry ride from central Ishinomaki. The cats of Tashirojima are most often found lounging around Nitoda Port.
- Aijima in Fukuoka Prefecture is a cat island in the Sea of Japan and one of the easiest for visitors to access, as the Shinkansen bullet train stops just a short walk from Kokura port, where the boat to the island departs.
- Enoshima in Kanagawa Prefecture is the closest cat island to Tokyo.
- Okishima in Shiga Prefecture is a floating island in the middle of Lake Biwa.
- Sanagishima in Kagawa Prefecture is an island of the Inland Sea.
- Muzukijima in Ehime Prefecture is an island of orange groves – and cats.
- Manabeshima in Okayama Prefecture is located off the coast of Honshu.
- Iwaishima in Yamaguchi Prefecture is also located in the waters of the Inland Sea.
- Aishima in Fukuoka Prefecture is accessed by boat from Shingu Port.
- Genkaishima in Fukuoka Prefecture can be accessed from Hakata Port in Fukuoka City.
- Aoshima in Ehime Prefecture, a tiny island in the Seto Inland Sea.
Why are there Cat Islands in Japan?
Many of Japan’s cat-ruled islands are the result of fishing and agricultural villages introducing cats to combat mice problems. However, some islands contribute their cat colonies to mythical stories and events. In some areas, the concept of a ‘cat island’ brings in much-needed tourism dollars for local businesses.
Get to know Tashirojima, the second most popular Cat Island in Japan
Tashirojima is a small island in the Tohoku region of Japan. Located around an hour from the coastal city of Ishinomaki in Miyagi Prefecture, Tashirojima is the easiest Cat Island Japan to reach from Tokyo. Visitors can take the four-hour Tohoku Shinkansen line from Tokyo to Sendai. From Sendai, take the train to Ishinomaki then take the ferry to Tashirojima from Ishinomaki terminal. The island is serviced by daily boat runs and has a couple of small cafes, a shop and a vending machine, however, these are only open seasonally. The majority of the cats on Tashirojima are tame and can be handled, but always follow the cat’s lead and steer clear of abandoned buildings. The best place to find the cats is Nitoda Village.
Tashirojima is home to just 80 residents, more than 100 cats, and has a history similar to that of Aoshima. In the 17th century, the residents of this island farmed silkworms for textile production. Mice were predators to silkworms, and so cats were introduced to mitigate the problem. As the industry waned, the cats went on to live free lives on the island. Today, their health and wellbeing are seen to by locals and a visiting vet.
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