Japan’s Cat Island

Outnumbering the human population 8-to-1, cat’s have all but taken over this small pacific island.

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Tashirojima, is a small island in Miyagi Prefecture, Japan.  It is better known as Cat Island which describes the surreal aspect to be found there.  Once a bustling island of about a thousand people during the 1950’s, today the population stands at roughly one hundred people, 83% of which are elderly.  Flourishing on the island is a population of stray cats which number around 800.  In fact, the presence of so many furry citizens has caused the island to be nicknamed Cat Heaven Island.

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Originally, it is said that cats were brought to the island to help fight off the mouse population.  The island used to be a producer of silk, but mice, a natural predator of silkworms were running amok.  Another popular trade of the island has been fishing, and it is reported that the fishermen grew a fondness for the cats.  Allegedly, the fishermen would interpret the cats’ actions for predicting the weather and fish patterns.  Combine this with the popular belief in Japanese folklore of cats bringing good luck, and it is not so hard to see how this island went to the dogs, cats.

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In the middle of the island is Nekojinja, (Cat Shrine), where many years ago a cat was struck and killed by a stray rock.  The fishermen who were collecting rocks at the time to use with their fixed nets felt sorry for the accidental death, so they buried it and enshrined it at the location of today’s shrine.  With ten cat shrines and 51 monuments in the shape of cats, Miyagi Prefecture is a bit of a cat paradise.  The shrines and monuments tend to overlap areas where silkworms were raised, which reinforces the legend of the origin for the island.

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Cat Island has become a somewhat popular tourist destination for cat lovers and oddity seekers alike.  There is also a strong connection with manga culture as it also bears the name Manga Island, after notable artist Shotaro Ishinomori (known for Cyborg 009 and Kamen Rider,) built several manga-style cat-themed buildings on the island.

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In 2014, an international documentary film crew went to Tashirojima to capture the strange reality existing there.  Photographer Christopher Michael Wong and filmmaker Landon Donoho are expected to soon release an hour-long documentary about this curious place, the people and the cats living there.  Here is a ten minute preview of the film:

Besides being fodder for cat meme enthusiasts, the island is interesting for anyone exploring history and sociology, at least.  The villages on the island are threatened to disappear like many others in Japan due to graying society from Japan’s low birthrate and migration to city hubs.  Will humans one day all but disappear from the island, leaving a large population of cats to evolve into some sort of cat-men?  OK, less conjecture and more cats!

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By the way, dogs are pretty much banned from the island, in case you were wondering, or thinking of traveling there with your favorite pooch.  Also, Japan has another island devoted to some furry creatures, but they are not cats…  Take a look at this photo from Okunoshima, Hiroshima Prefecture:

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