What You Didn't Know About Japan's Cat Island

Fans of all things cat might want to list Japan's Tashirojima Island (also known as Tashiro Island) as an itinerary must-see. (Watch this YouTube video for a preview). This place features about 100 people and several hundred feral cats.

About an hour ferry ride from Ishinomaki (hometown of manga artist Ishinomori Shotaro, writes Japan Guide), the less than two-mile-long island allows cats to ramble freely throughout it. "The cats are free to come and go as they please anywhere on the island, be it the roads, grassy lawns, or any other place," according to Live Japan

A free pamphlet, the Tashirojima Map, is available on the Nitodakō Pier, said the website. It details all the area's tourism spots, including a shrine to kitties that sits in the middle of the island, and suggested sites to see the feline inhabitants. "Long ago this shrine was built to remember a cat that had died because of the carelessness of man and laid to rest there out of pity," reported Live Japan. After the cat shrine was erected, local fishermen began experiencing large catches. The fisherfolk have a traditional deity in the form of a cat, and the island residents regularly leave offerings at the sanctuary.

Cats provide good luck and weather predictions

Tourists can even find cat-shaped cabins for their slumber, decorated with — what else? Lots of kitty-cats.

In the late Edo Period — mid 18th- to mid-19th centuries, according to Slate – cats became valuable because they deterred mice from threatening the silkworms used to create textiles. Tashirojima also supported an avid fishing industry, and the felines begged the fisherman for a bit of the tasty treats they reeled in. As more kitties came to the piers, "a mythology arose around the Tashirojima cats," reported the website. "The fisherman came to regard them as good luck" — another reason the shrine was constructed.

The respect for cats hold to this day, and while most are strays, the community ensures that the animals have food and attention. Dogs are banned from the island, reported Atlas Obscura, "to protect the well-being of the cats."

When the 2011 Tohoku earthquake hit the area, and a tsunami followed, Tashirojima sustained damage, but the hillside homes remained standing. It is said the island's felines sensed something wrong in the air beforehand. (There's video on YouTube of the cats' "warning.")