An Island With More Cats Than People

Move Over Gilligan’s Island … Hello Cat Island!

photo: Business Insider

In Japanese folk tales, cats have shielding power and are symbols of good luck. It is claimed that a feline lured a feudal lord to come pet his soft fur. Of course, the Lord did so and was saved from being stuck by lightning. Today you will see maneki neko {a beckoning cat statue} in front of shops, on counter tops in restaurants, and in commercial venues all over Japan.

Japan is obsessed with cats. There are cat countenances on tons of products, and Hello Kitty is one of Japan’s most well-known exports. Travel Japan and you will see kitty hats, feline petting zoos, cat cafes, restaurants and pizza parlors with cat themes.

Japan has a specific island called cat island or Aoshima Island. Here reside 120+ cats and only 20 people on this island off the southern coast of Japan.

photo: Thomas Peter

In the 1940s, the fishing village on Aoshima had a plethora of mice. Fishermen brought cats to their island to combat the mice and, as a result, cats proliferated and stayed. In the 1940s, the village was home to over 900 people, but most of these inhabitants left the island after World War II to work on mainland Japan. The cats remained, multiplied, and now massively outnumber their human companions.

photo: Tourism Japan

Cats curl up in abandoned houses or just run through the fishing village. The mile-long island of Aoshima is home to cats of every hue and color who greet boatloads of day-trippers from the Japanese mainland. Now the Island is known as Cat Island, and there are no restaurants, cars, shops or kiosks selling anything. Cats are the draw to this island – that’s all, just cats. Oh, and abandoned buildings that house the cats and the 20 people who stayed on Aoshima because they did not want to leave their homes.

Don’t worry that the cats are going hungry. They beg from the tourists that come on a daily basis. Although it is not suggested you give food to the cats; tourists do hand out rice balls or sandwiches to the kitty residents. After all, who can resist a hoard of cats curling around your legs and adorably mewing? Cats also survive off the occasional catch of fish or from the gardens of the residents.

photo: Business Insider

The human residents of Aoshima Island relish their solidarity. They do not take too kindly to the tourists who come to see the cats. What they really mind is the noise, the litter and the “begging” that comes from the tourists. “The cats,” they say, “are harmless unless they are digging up potatoes from gardens.” The residents do say that if coming to the island and petting the cats is healing, then it is a good thing. However, 65-year old Hidenori Kamimoto  says, “I just hope that it’s done in a way that doesn’t become a burden on the people who live here.”

The human citizens here are not all cat admirers. They often need to shoo the animals away from their front doors and gardens and have started a plan to neuter the cats.

Cat Island or Aoshima Island is actually one of 12 “cat islands” in Japan. Cats came to Japan nearly 400 years ago on ships that had cats to control the mice population.  Tashirojima – The Cat Island of Japan is a small island in Ishinomaki City that is also inhabited by more cats than people.

photo: Kiochi

The huge stray cat population thrives because of the belief that feeding cats will bring health and good fortune. As on Aoshima Island, Tashirojima has few human residents – about 100 people to hundreds of cats.

photo: Kiochi

There are cat shrines on Tashirojima, and local architects have built buildings in the shape of cats. The Island is starting a marketing campaign to bring more people to live here. Most of the current residents are over 70 years old which limits the longevity of the Island. The cats on Tashirojima are very well taken care of. Dogs are prohibited on the island, many people feed the felines, and vets check up on them periodically to make sure they stay healthy.

photo: Tourism Japan

Tashirojima’s story is much like Aoshima’s. Fisherman kept cats to kill mice that would eat the silkworms needed to make fishing nets. There are restaurants and gift shops on Tashirojima, and you can rent fishing poles and bicycles to tour around the island. Perhaps a crazy cat lady (or two) would like to live here in comfort and surrounded by thousands of cats.

Hmmmm…perhaps there is a business opportunity here for an outdoor cat cafe?



  1. Rita September 12, 2015
  2. Ms Maam' May 4, 2016

Leave a Reply