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Aoshima, The Japanese ‘Cat Island’

Where is Aoshima Island?

Aoshima is a 1-mile-long island located in the Ehime Prefecture of southern Japan, also known as “Cat Island.”  On this island, the feline population actually outnumbers the human population by more than 10 to 1! With so many cats inhabiting this island, Aoshima has become a popular tourist destination.

How did a busy fishing village transform into a hamlet overrun by cats with very few human inhabitants?

The history of Aoshima Island

Aoshima was originally settled as a fishing village. The tiny island’s community was supported by the sardine trade, and by 1945 the population had grown to around 900.

During this time, the fishermen were plagued by rodents on their boats. They began adopting stray cats found at their ports of call to use as rat catchers aboard their vessels. When the cats came ashore in Aoshima, they were treated attentively by people because they were useful as well as cute. The animals became friendly and semi-tame due to being fed and cared for.

But as the sardine supply was depleted, the residents were forced to leave the island in search of jobs. Only a few of the old-timers elected to remain. As of 2019, the population was only six people.

However, the majority of the cats stayed behind and continued to multiply. In 2018, officials decided to have the cats spayed and neutered to halt the ever-increasing growth of the feline population. But at least one of the human residents disagreed with this decision and hid some of the cats. As a result, new litters of kittens continue to appear. 

What are the cats like on Aoshima Island?

Many cat lovers might list this destination at the top of their bucket list. If you choose to visit cat island, you will find that the cats are not afraid of humans but not tame enough for you to pick them up and carry them around. They will glide around and between your feet as all cats do, and will most likely follow you to see if you have any treats.

If you do decide to bring treats with you, keep in mind that they may only be fed in designated feeding areas. The few permanent human residents will appreciate you following this local custom. 

Can you visit Aoshima?

Aoshima is not a tourist spot in the traditional sense. Yes, it is an interesting location and people do go there, but the number of tourists on the island at any given time is limited by the capacity of the ferry boat used to transport people there and back. The ferry makes only two round trips per day, and the stay is only for an hour or two.

But cat island is not a destination you can travel to and stay for a few days. There are no overnight accommodations and no restaurants, not even snack machines. You are allowed to bring food and drinks with you but you must take all trash back with you when you depart.

There is also no public transportation, no rental cars, no bikes. Comfortable walking shoes are essential!

What to expect once you enter Aoshima

So, what can you expect when you make your way to this unique cat inhabited island? 

  • Be prepared for the large number of cats you’ll see roaming the streets. Only a few human residents live on the island itself, and any other people you see will be tourists.
  • The cats on Aoshima Island are not picky eaters. They eat rice balls, potatoes, or any other item they can get their paws on.
  • Even though the residents are welcoming, they prefer to be left alone. There are no public buildings so be aware that if you open a door, you will be entering someone’s home.
  • Although you may be a cat lover, try not to overwhelm them. Give them space to move around.
  • You can get as close to the cats as you want as long as you don't try to feed them. The residents have taken on the responsibility for feeding the cats.
  • But if you simply must feed the cats, be sure to do so in the designated feeding areas and only give them a small treat.
  • The ferries that come to the island bring important supplies, letters, and documents, along with tourists. Try not to be in the way hanging around the port, but move on into the rest of the island.
  • Remember to clean up after yourself. Don't leave behind any trash or used items. Carry a bag in which to store your trash and bring it back with you.
  • The ferries only make two round trips each day. Do not miss your return trip!

Can you live on Aoshima Island?

Over time, Aoshima has become more and more popular. Its appeal is not limited only to Japanese citizens; people from all over the world have heard of the island, and plan their trips to experience what only Aoshima can provide.

As Aoshima Island is not an official tourist designation, the island’s small number of residents can sometimes find it difficult to deal with all the attention from the visitors. Although the elderly residents are not rude visitors, there are a few requests that they have made and would like visitors to follow. If you do plan on visiting Aoshima in the future, make sure you keep the following points in mind:

Important tips for people visiting Aoshima

  • Make sure you are physically fit and enjoy walking. Since there are no cars or bikes on the island, you will be using your feet to get around. 
  • Remember that there are no vending machines or restaurants. You must bring your own food and snacks with you.
  • The cats of Aoshima are used to seeing humans and are not afraid. They love to get close to people to receive affection and attention. Make sure you walk slowly and carefully so that you don't accidentally step on any of them.
  • If you are travelling during the summer, you may want to bring an umbrella with you for shade, as well as a cool drink. Be prepared!

Final thoughts

A visit to cat island can be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for any serious cat lover. If you are planning to visit Japan, Aoshima is only a short excursion by boat and a delightful way to spend a few hours.