Aoshima might be the most famous cat island in Japan. Its nickname “Cat Island” is no exaggeration because there are only 15-20 residents on the island but more than 120 cats, about 6 times the human population!
Aoshima is a 1.6 km long island located in the Ehime Prefecture of southern Japan. Cats were originally introduced on ships because the fisherman had to deal with a rodent problem. But the cats then remained on the island and reproduced, thus the population increasing almost exponentially.
However, Aoshima Island is not a tourist spot. There’re no cars, hotels, restaurants, or even vending machines on the island. Residents there are mostly elders. They won’t turn away the visitors who want to get close to the cats, but make sure not to disturb the residents if you visit the island, and do not feed the cats because they are fed by the residents every day. It’s not a spot with convenient transportation as only two rounds of ferries go to the island per day. However, it might be a destination to try and visit for the extremely keen cat lovers.
Tashiro-jima or Tashirojima is another famous cat island in Japan. It is a small island off the mainland of Japan in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture.
The population in the island is quite small (around 100 people) but there are more than 100 cats on the island. The island used to raise silkworms for their silk which naturally attracted mice, and the introduction of cats helped this production as the cats kept the mice population to a minimum.
It is also believed by the local people who have been doing fishery for years that feeding cats will bring wealth and good fortune. Most people there take care of cats very well, and the cats have become a sort of mascot for the island. Because of this, no pet dogs are allowed on this island, so the island literally is a "cat island."
In the center of the island, there is a cat shrine called Neko-jinja, situated between two villages, devoted to cats that died due to falling rocks. You really get the sense that the cats are loved here by locals and by visitors to the island.
Compared with Aoshima Island and Tashiro-jima Island, Manabeshima is a much smaller island located in Kasaoka City of the Okayama Prefecture. Manabeshima is about a two-hour trip from Kasaoka Station, and about 19 miles off the coast of Honshu. It requires getting on a train as well as a ferry to access the island.
Originally a small island with a population of fewer than 300 people, it became a bit more noticed when a famous French artist featured the island through a book. Manabeshima or Manabe Island, however, continues to be more known as an island inhabited by cats. A peaceful, residential island creates quite a peaceful life for the cats. Visitors are sure to be greeted by cats wherever they go, in fact, there may be more cats than people! Most of the cats are friendly, but each has its own personality so be careful should you approach them.