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The Cat Island Conundrum

When I took my first trip to Japan more than a decade ago, I was under the impression that it would be my only trip to the country. As a result, I incorporated some…quirky destinations into my itinerary, including two of its various “animal islands.”

Both in the case of Hiroshima’s Rabbit Island and Cat Island near Sendai, I found myself disappointed. Why had social media made it seem like there were so many more critters present than there actually were? Maybe, I thought, I just got unlucky. 

I decided to return to cat island in Japan this year (it’s 2024 as I write this) and…well, I hope you’ll continue reading for the conclusions I’m about to draw.

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The Truth About Japan’s Cat Island

I’m not sure when I first started seeing posts about the Japan cat island on social media. It was obviously before I went there myself—otherwise, why would I have included it in the trip? I also can’t remember which of the cat islands I saw. Although I decided to visit Tashirojima, near Sendai, I now suspect I might’ve seen photos from Aoshima, which I haven’t yet visited and which is off the coast of Shikoku.

On the other hand, while I can’t for sure comment as to whether the Shikoku cat island is as sparsely feline-populated as its Sanriku counterpart, I suspect there might’ve been similar smoke and mirrors involved in making it go viral. After all, my experience on Okunoshima (the “rabbit island” near Hiroshima) seems to suggest this might be the case.

What to Do in Tashirojima

Explore Nitoda Town


For my money, Nitoda (the main village on Tashirojima) is its highlight, with or without cats. Think anime-looking Japanese rural architecture set beneath palm trees along a sparkling sea. Interestingly, a lot of these buildings look quite old, which is curious when you consider that the island was directly in the path of the tsunami.

Sit down for lunch


There aren’t many places that serve food on cat island Sendai, though they do exist. This was not the case when I first visited in 2014, so it’s notable (and great). For my money, the most comfortable place is Nankyo Kyowakoku Shimanoeki, a cafe near the cat shrine I’ll be talking about shortly, which serves cut udon soup with cat-shaped tofu. However, there’s also Kuronekodo, a small cafe in Nitoda.

Visit the Cat Shrine


As luck would have it, I did end up spotting a couple of felines when I stopped this time at Miyori Shrine, which otherwise online features manmade objects with cat decorations. Back when I visited in 2014, on the other hand, none were present, which made the excursion there from Nitoda seem anti-climactic, to say the least.

Walk all the way to Odomari


If you have more than a couple of hours in cat island Japan (and you will, if you take the first ferry from Ishinomaki), I’d recommend walking all the way to Odomari, the “other” port, located about 30 minutes on foot from Nitoda and about 15 minutes from Miyori Shrine. It’s even quieter than Nitoda, but provides a different look and feel, albeit with no cats that I could.

Camp at Manga Island—or don’t


Just as the declaration that there’s nowhere to eat on Tashirojima isn’t accurate, so too is it false to say there’s nowhere to sleep. With this being said, the so-called Manga Island campground is spartan, even if the cat-shaped accommodations are better than the tents you might be expecting. I haven’t stayed here yet, but will report back if I do.

Japan’s Other Cat Island

Although I may very well have seen pictures of it, I never heard the word “Aoshima” until many years after my first trip to Japan. And frankly, by that time, I considered it so unlikely that I would ever want to visit any “cat island” again that it wasn’t even relevant. Now, however, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t at least a little bit curious.

Reaching cat island Shikoku requires a trek, which seems stressful even for people like me—I don’t mind a trek. Specifically, you need to get to Matsuyama (probably by plane from Tokyo) and then ride the JR Yosan Line to Iyo-Nagahama. From here, somewhat frequent ferries can take you to and from the island, where there may or may not be more cats than you find on Tashirojima.


Other FAQ About Japan’s Cat Islands

How many cats are on cat island in Japan?

Although it’s said that cats are at least equal in population to humans on Tashirojima, digging deeper reveals that this is not significant. Only 100 people reside permanently on the island, and while 100 cats is no small number, they are rather spread out.

Does anyone live on cat island Japan?

About 100 people are said to reside permanently on Tashirojima “cat island” near Ishinomaki, while just a few humans remain on Aoshima off the coast of Shikoku. On any given day, it’s likely that there will be more tourists than (human) locals.

Why does cat island have so many cats?

The relatively large population of cats on Japan’s at island is down to two factors. First, a certain number of humans who lived on the island chose not to spay or neuter their pets. Secondly, they took relatively good car of them in spite of this, which allowed them to proliferate as they’ve done.

The Bottom Line

If you’re a big feline fan, you might find cat island in Japan disappointing. While it’s true that there are some cats present, social media greatly overstates both the concentration of the animals, as well as their overall numbers. If you simply want to be around a bunch of cats, a cat café in Tokyo or Osaka might be a more worthwhile pursuit. On the other hand, if you’re going to be in Sendai or Ishinomaki anyway, Tashirojima (the island’s real name) is definitely worth a day trip, if only because of how beautiful and serene it is. Need more expert advice as you plan your Japan adventure? Consider hiring me to help!


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