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A Trip to the Cat Islands of Japan

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After so long in quarantine, I think I’m starting to lose my social skills. What if lockdown ends and I get stressed out talking to people unless it’s over a video call? What if I’m so out of practice I can’t even to talk to people at all?

Alternatively you might have got used to life without pesky human language and want to keep it that way. If you’re on board with this insane idea we could make plans to take a trip to one of Japan’s famous Cat Islands, where feline friends greatly outnumber the more difficult to talk to human residents.

There are a surprising amount of islands which fit the Cat Island nickname. If you’ve stopped off in Tokyo, the closest spot will be Enoshima in Kanagawa. Further West cat fans can visit Okishima Island in Lake Biwa, or Sanagishima down in Kagawa. My personal recommendations each have something a little more special about them.

Tashiroshima, left behind for felines

Tashiroshima is a compact little island in Japan’s Miyagi Prefecture, where cats easily outnumber the hundred or so inhabitants. One of the reasons behind this unbalanced population is that the island was once a centre of industry for silkworms, kept for the production of delicate silk. Unfortunately for silkworms they make excellent snacks for mice, and locals were happy to encourage the local cats as they kept down rodent numbers. The appreciation for cats has led them to become something of a mascot for the island, and they still represent good fortune to locals. There’s even a ban of sorts on pet dogs, as well as a shrine on the island devoted to the cats.

Cat dominated Aoshima

Aoshima in Ehime is one of the best examples of a Cat Island out there, with reports in the last few years showing a ratio of almost 36 cats to every individual resident. This is due mainly to the aging population, a handful of people still determined to live on the one mile long island. There used to be a thriving fish industry in the area and cats were welcomed onto ships as resident mouse and rat catchers, but now those sardine fisheries are closed down and the locals have left with them. Here you can feel totally outnumbered. There’s not even a hotel, unless the cats have started one.

The mysterious Saga coast

Here’s the weird section. A few of the islands off coast of Saga prefecture can definitely be considered cat islands, but the stories of the pro cat traditions here are surprisingly intense. The tiny island of Karashima is rumoured to have actually chased away residents brave enough to own a dog, and legends talk of a disobedient canine companion that brought a curse upon the area which only affected dogs. While these tales may or may not be true, there’s no denying Saga Prefecture’s history with mysterious cats. The prefecture was the setting for one of the most famous tales of Bakeneko, a type of vengeful magical cat which sits amongst Japan’s ranks of mythical Yokai monsters. Definitely a strange stop on our tour of otherwise relaxed Cat Islands…

Image source: Wikimedia

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