The tiny island where cats outnumber humans – and made it a tourist destination

There is even a shrine to cats on the Japanese island of Tashirojima

Hiro Komae
Tuesday 28 May 2024 14:43 BST
The “Neko Jinja,” or cat shrine, honours the animals’ presence
The “Neko Jinja,” or cat shrine, honours the animals’ presence (AP Photo/Hiro Komae)

On a small island off Japan’s northeastern coast, there is an unlikely guardian angel: cats.

The animals outnumber humans on the island of Tashirojima, and there is even a “Neko Jinja,” or cat shrine, to honour their presence.

Legend says the island used to be famous for sericulture and farmers would keep cats because they would chase away rats, protecting the silkworm cocoons from the rodents.

Over 100 cats inhabit Tashirojima
Over 100 cats inhabit Tashirojima ( The Associated Press)

Fishermen on the island have also traditionally believed that cats bring good luck, including large hauls of fish.

Another legend says fishermen used to watch the cats’ behavior for tips on the coming weather before heading to sea.

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The islanders have long coexisted with the cats. One day, however, a fisherman accidentally injured a cat while working. Feeling sorry for the injury, the islanders built the shrine for cats.

Tashirojima is part of the city of Ishinomaki in Miyagi prefecture in the Tohoku region, which became well known after a tsunami devastated the area following a massive magnitude 9 earthquake on 11 March 2011.

Tourists watch cats getting fed at a cafe on Tashirojima
Tourists watch cats getting fed at a cafe on Tashirojima (The Associated Press)

Over 100 cats inhabit Tashirojima, along with about 50 humans, according to the city's website.

Along a paved road running about 2 kilometres (1.2 miles) between the island's two ports, cats groom themselves and mingle with other cats.

There are a few cafes and inns, but no car rental shops, gas stations or public transportation. Tourists are expected to walk up and down the island's hills while visiting.

Most of the cats are used to tourists, who can be seen petting the friendly animals throughout the island.

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