🐈 The Cat Island in Northern Japan
Tashirojima is a small rural island in Sendai Bay, 17 kilometers off Ishinomaki at the southernmost end of the Sanriku Kaigan Coast. This tiny 3.14 km² land has a thriving cat population whose number surpasses the human inhabitants’, and made its fame of cat island in Japan.
First used as a penal colony during the Edo period (1603 – 1868), Tashirojima became a silk production site in the beginning of the Meiji Era (1868 - 1912). The first cats where consequently brought from the mainland at the same time as a pest control measure against mice, the natural predators of silkworms. Over time, coastal fishing and aquaculture became the main activities of this island that does not seem to have changed very much: it is still rural, with only few urban amenities and a timeless appearance.
A majority of feline inhabitants
Cats in Tashiro-jima are stray and live together with the island’s human inhabitants, who take care of them and feed them. There are currently about 150 cats, that is to say twice the number of human residents. Indeed, while a thousand people lived here in the 1950s, in 2020 there were only 61 permanent dwellers, most of them rather elderly.
Visitors are asked to not feed the cats, in order to preserve the felines’ habits and health. However, it is highly recommended to play with the animals and to bring toys, such as cat 🐈 teasers, to attract and entertain them. Note that the place is off-limits for dogs.
Boat ride from Ishinomaki
A ferry ⛴️ departing from Ishinomaki port at the mouth of the Kyukitakami River and bound for the neighboring Ajishima island in Sendai Bay serves the island. During the trip, the boat stops at the 2 ports of Tashirojima:
- Odomari (大泊) in the north of the island, and,
- Nitoda (仁斗田) in the south.
The trip between Tashiro island and Ishinomaki lasts about 1 hour. The ferry has 3 to 4 departures a day, therefore a one-day trip is completely feasible, all the more interesting if combined with the visit of the Ishinomaki Mangattan Museum, located just in front of the pier. The museum is dedicated to the works of Shotaro Ishinomori (1938 - 1998), a famous Japanese manga artist, and movies and series director for the tokusatsu (special effects) genre.
In summer, stay overnight in one of the seasonal accommodation facilities: either in a minshuku guesthouse, or a campsite with the renting of fully-fitted cottages. There is no restaurant on the island, but small cafes, drinks vending machines and a kind of konbini that sells simple food. The local specialties are the oyster soup and the sea urchin onigiri 🍙.
Make sure to carry enough cash, wear good walking shoes and bring a bag for your garbage to bring back with you in Ishinomaki city.
Walking between Nitoda Port and Odomari Port
The main itinerary is a 2,5km long hike between Tashirojima’s two villages can be treaded at the shortest in half a day. Just land in one of the 2 ports and walk toward the other.
Nitoda port in the south is the most interesting to visit, being the biggest and most equipped of the island. It is also the area where you will find the larger number of cats, basking in the sunshine near the fishing facilities. Walk up the little road where cars 🚙 are scarce and go towards north and Odomari Port.
Several interesting places await along the trail:
- The Manga Island camping ground with absolutely kawaii cat-shaped cottages. The outdoor spaces are nicely laid out and ideal for a picnic, providing an elevated view on the ocean and the nearby Aji island all year round.
- Shima no Eki, a place that is both a cafe and a shop installed in a former school and that attracts cats and travelers. In this welcoming place, you can eat a snack, buy local souvenirs and relax surrounded by cats.
- The small Miyori Daimyojin shrine, dedicated to the island’s kami (Nekokamisama), the god of the bounteous fishing. According to the legend, a cat accidentally killed by a falling stone was buried here and worshiped by the inhabitants. It is said that Tashiro-jima’s cats have brought good fortune to fishermen ever since.
- Kashima-jinja vermilion shrine, standing on a little hill and dedicated to the deity Kashima no Kami.
Tashirojima is mainly a destination for cat lovers, amateurs of picturesque nature and unusual places in Japan.
Many houses are left empty due to the gradual depopulation and the tsunami of March 11, 2011, a temptation for visitors fond of urbex, especially during the low season when summer resorts are closed. Exploring abandoned houses is an activity remaining under the responsibility of those performing it. Be aware that even if some houses are wide open and invaded by nature, there is still a risk of trespassing onto a private property, as well as of an accident if the building is too derelict.