For cat lovers, Oshima is a must. The small Japanese island is better known by another name – Cat Island. It’s not Japan’s only Cat Island (there are nearly 10 in all), but it’s arguably the most famous.
Decades ago, fishermen brought cats to the island to reduce the numbers of rodents that were infesting fishermen’s boats. But with no natural predators on the island, the cats multiplied rapidly and now roam the wild in staggering populations. Conversely, the population declined as Aaoshima was no longer a major fishing center.
Today, Cat Island is a sleepy, small island in Japan that has captured the world’s attention thanks to its varied coverage and social media. It has seen an influx in visitors in recent years who are eager to see cats roaming unhindered, but there are a few things guests should know before traveling to Cat Island. Below, we look at the top ten things about this unique island that potential visitors should be aware of beforehand. Respecting the unspoken rules of the island and, most importantly, not interfering with wild cats is of the utmost importance. Here’s what visitors should know.
10/10 Visitors must take the ferry
Obviously, guests need some kind of boat to visit Cat Island, considering it’s an island. Fortunately, there is a direct ferry that takes visitors from the mainland to the island in 20 minutes.
“I rarely carried tourists before,” said ferry captain Nobuyuki Ninomiya, who frequently makes way. “Now I get tourists every week, even though the only thing we have to offer are cats.”
9/10 Only six people live on the island
Cat Island may get a lot of visitors, but it’s not home to many long-term residents. In 2019, it was reported that only six people still live on the island full time. It was once a thriving fishing village, and about 900 people called it home during the mid-1940s. However, many people moved after World War II, which led to a sharp decline.
8/10 Remember – this is someone’s home
There may only be a few residents on Cat Island, but visitors need to remember that this was not designed to be a tourist spot. Its popularity has grown over the years, but Cat Island is not meant for tourists. It belongs to a few humans as well as countless cats that have roamed freely for generations.
Visitors should treat the island with the utmost respect, which includes cleaning up after oneself and respecting others.
7/10 But there are hundreds of cats
What the island does not lack are cats. There are over 100 felines that call Cat Island quite a large population. Cats roam the island freely. So, while they are accustomed to human interaction thanks to frequent tourism, they are not domesticated.
6/10 Visitors can play and feed the cats
The cats are considered semi-feral, but many will happily interact with visitors. The island has a dedicated dining area near the community center, which is the best place for guests who want to wake up and socialize with the feline residents.
5/10 There are no shops and restaurants
Cat Island may be a huge tourist hub, but there aren’t any shops or restaurants on the island. They literally only cater to the cats, not the needs of the human visitors. Guests must pack accordingly, including food and water, as they will not be able to access once they board the ferry.
4/10 Cats are fed by donations
With so many cats, there is a lot of competition for food. Nowadays, many visitors bring cat food (it should only be safe cat food). But there was a time when Cat Island was running out of food.
In 2016, local Kazuyuki Ono, 59, made a plea on Twitter when he noticed a shortage of food for cats. Suddenly, donations started pouring in from all over the country. Social media has also made international headlines, helping to boost Aaoshima’s popularity and tourism.
3/10 Winter is particularly harsh
Cat Island needs more visitors in the winter as food supplies run short in the colder months. Cats from before are more desperate, making donations and food from visitors all the more important.
However, if the weather conditions are bad, the ferry cannot make the journey safely.
“In the spring and summer, tourists bring food to feed the cats, but when it cools down, the sea is rough and no one comes. Sometimes the boats can’t cross in the rough seas,” Ono explained.
2/10 Visitors can bring cat toys
Food isn’t the only thing Cat Island visitors like. Some people also bring cat toys to interact with the feline residents. For visitors who do, it is important to ensure that the toy is intended for cats and not harmed. Don’t leave anything behind either to maintain respect.
1/10 Cat Island is controversial
An entire island to roam freely may seem like a cat’s paradise, but it’s a far cry from the leisurely living of domestic cats, some experts say. There has been debate about the quality of life cats lead on Cat Island.
Some researchers who have studied Aaoshima have discovered that cats organize themselves into a hierarchy. Males secure the territory, while females are responsible for food. But that makes for tough conditions and a lot of competition. Many cats do not survive as kittens, and death from starvation, disease, or infanticide is common.
However, there are others who say the island is a cat’s dream. Ono continued, “It’s a cat’s paradise here. They love nothing more than to lie on the street basking in the sun all day.”