Located on Japan’s Pacific coast off of the Oshika Penisula, the island of Tashirojima is a magical, truly unique place. Part of the Miyagi Prefecture, it is known as “Cat Island.”
In the 1950s, it had a population of around 1000, but today only 16 people live there(as of 2016), most of them over the age of 65. Several hundred felines live on the island, where they outnumbering the humans.
Tashirojima’s large cat population has its origins in Japan’s Edo period, which lasted from the middle of the eighteenth century to the middle of the nineteenth.
Though the island was primarily a fishing village at that time (and still is today), during the Edo period, residents also raised silkworms, and the cats were brought in as pest control. Kindly fishermen would give them scraps of food, and the cat population rose steadily.
There is an iconic cat shrine on the island, said to be the burial site of a cat who was killed by a falling rock. Today, the shrine is adorned with Hello Kitty figurines and other memorials. In all, there are 51 cat statues and monuments, most concentrated on the southern tip of the island.
Cats are adored by all residents and visitors, who believe that the cats bring good luck and wealth to the island. The cats are even credited with saving Tashirojima from major damage in the March 2011 tsunami. While some buildings at the shoreline were damaged, the majority of houses and buildings inland survived intact.
Ootoda Port and Nitoda Port are Tashirojima’s two ports. Most of the cats live near the Nitoda Port, on the southeastern side of Tashirojima.
“Cat Island” has become so popular with visitors that locals have built cabins and other facilities, open for tourists during the summer months. Most of these are on “Manga Island,” which is located on top of a hill in Tashirojima.
These manga-themed lodges were made in the early 2000s and are all designed to look like cats. Apart from cabins, toilets, and one store, there are no restaurants or other tourist facilities on Tashirojima. Visitors are recommended to bring their own food and drinks and are requested to take all of their garbage with them when they leave the island.
Tashirojima’s cats are featured in several television programs. In 2012, the cats were featured by the BBC in Pets: Wild at Heart. Nyako: The Movie is a series of four films centered on the adventures of Jack, one of the island’s feline residents.