About eight miles off the coast of Ozu City in Japan’s Ehime Prefecture, there lies a tiny landmass, less than a mile wide, which is completely overrun by cats! This little island is home to only 15 human residents, all of retirement age, but houses more than 100 kitties! These frisky felines have been multiplying like mad over the past 10 years or so, but only in the past couple weeks has the island caught the attention of the Internet, immediately becoming a hit tourist attraction, in spite of not having any hotels, restaurants, or even vending machines! Keep reading to see what locals and visitors alike have to say about the island’s “catty” conditions.
The island of Aoshima wasn’t always occupied by an abundance of cats. Around the time of World War II, the land was used as a refuge for evacuees. People brought their pets with them and established happy homes, allowing the island to reach a peak population of 655 people in 1960. However, as more and more people abandoned the secluded island for work on the mainland, they deserted their homes and their pets, allowing hoards of house cats to fend for themselves amongst the vacant houses and empty streets. Needless to say, the cats flourished and filled the island with their own furry families.
Now, there are only 15 people sharing space with these former house pets. All are between the ages of 50 and 80, and most of them are pensioners. When asked how they felt about the cats, one of the island’s four fishermen, a 63-year-old man, responded, “It’s troublesome when they get inside, but the fact that they’ve multiplied really can’t be helped.”
Honestly, if not for a collection of Twitter pictures taken on the island at the tail end of September, life on this little stretch of land might have continued uninhibited and completely unnoticed. Instead, the popularity of these photos has sparked a great deal of interest in the island, and the city council of Ozu has received a massive influx of inquiries asking how to reach this “Irresistible Paradise for Cat Lovers.” People from all over the nation, from Hiroshima to Yamaguchi, Nara, and Kanagawa are all planning pilgrimages to see this island infested with cats.
The only way to actually reach this island is by a single ocean liner, which travels back and forth from Ozu to Aoshima throughout the course of the day. The ship’s captain seems absolutely astonished by the number of people suddenly taking an interest in what he considered an uninteresting sight. “Every week, tourists come, even though the island has nothing but cats,” he told reporters over at Yahoo! News. What he doesn’t seem to realize is that cats are exactly what the tourists are hoping to see.
One 50-year-old housewife from Hiroshima, after spending a good nine hours on the island, said, “The number of cats exceeded my expectations. I couldn’t ask for more.” She and others like her are simply excited by the opportunity to feed and take pictures of the cats. These tourists don’t require any fancy lodging or stellar shrines, just the company of happy kitties.
Still, there are some things that need to be taken into consideration if the island continues to draw in a sightseeing crowd. The chief clerk of the region’s promotional sector elaborates, “In case the number of visitors increases any more, we need to think about how to support the island as a cat-themed tourist attraction. We want to ensure that social order is upheld, that there is no littering, the cats are not overfed, and so on.”
Perhaps Aoshima should take a good look at how some of the world’s other “cat islands” are maintained. Tashirojima, off the coast of Ishinomaki in Miyagi Prefecture, boasts a population of 86 people and about 100 cats. This island encourages tourists to come for the kitties and holds a regular contest for cat photos. There’s also the Republic of Malta in the Mediterranean Sea. Cats that were kept for catching mice aboard boats were abandoned there and inevitably multiplied, creating a colony of cats that attracts approximately 20,000 Japanese tourists every year!
If you’re a cat lover in and around Japan, think about planning your own pilgrimage to one of the country’s “cat islands.” Aoshima might not yet be suited to take in many more human inhabitants, but it you’re in it for the cats, this island is positively purrfect.