Aoshima (青島), which is incorporated into Ozu City, Ehime Prefecture, is a small, unpretentious island in the Seto Inland Sea of Japan (which one of our English-language correspondents has covered extensively). However, the 0.5 km² island does have one unique claim to fame–it’s known as a paradise for cats and cat lovers.
We actually featured Aoshima on our list of the 11 top cat islands in Japan back in April. After one Japanese Twitter user shared photos of the island’s hordes of cats online, Aoshima has experienced an unprecedented influx of tourists, leaving the local residents baffled and unprepared to deal with the flood of people streaming in.
Cat lovers will think they’ve died and gone to heaven when they set foot on Aoshima. After all, the island is home to over 100 cats of all different breeds, which can be found lounging around and acting generally lazy in true feline fashion. That’s pretty impressive, considering the island itself has only 17 permanent human residents, who range in age from their 50s-80s and either make their living through fishing or receive a pension. One nurse is stationed full-time on the island, but residents must board a ferry to Nagahama Port (near JR Iyonagahama Station) in Ozu City to do all of their shopping.
The sleepy island wasn’t always so deserted, nor was it known as being a “cat paradise.” Inhabitants of what is now Hyogo Prefecture first migrated to Aoshima approximately 380 years ago to fish the enormous numbers of sardines in the surrounding waters. Cats were initially introduced to the island to stop mice from chewing through fishing nets. The island experienced a peak population of 798 in 1955, but the number of people dwindled just as the population of cats multiplied.
▼Here’s one YouTuber’s video of some of those cats:
But now, thanks in large part to the internet, a typical scene on the island includes a crowd of tourists petting, playing with, and taking photos of the numerous cats. A typical weekday sees 20 visitors, while weekends and holidays see over 3o.
One 41-year-old visitor from Kobe told Yahoo! Japan News, “I learned about this island online. I’ve never seen so many cats in one place. There are also many breeds of cats, so cat lovers will rejoice!” Another man traveling from Fukuoka shared, “I just love the fickle nature of cats. I always wanted to come here.”
While many small communities would welcome the sudden flood of tourists to boost the local economy, the permanent residents of Aoshima are having a hard time drawing a fine line between promoting exchange with people from other prefectures and keeping their original quiet lifestyles. Quite simply, the island is not currently equipped to handle more than a handful of people in this modern age–there are no restaurants, no hotels, no cars, almost no bikes, and not even a single vending machine to be found! Furthermore, because the island is so small, many tourists inadvertently end up wandering onto the residents’ private properties.
There are other concerns to the situation, as well. The sole ferry to the island arrives at 8am in the morning and doesn’t return to mainland Ehime Prefecture again until after 4pm, meaning that tourists are stuck in a small space with virtually no resources for the majority of the day. A 61-year-old man visiting from Hiroshima put it succinctly: “I love cats, and my main reason for coming here was to take pictures of them. I was able to see plenty of them, but being stuck here for so long is a bit tiring.”
A proposal to turn the local village meeting space into a rest area for tourists was shot down by several of the older residents, who cited that they’re content with their lives as they are and that no one would be available to man such a facility.
While it’s no secret that we love cats here at RocketNews24, we also believe that the residents of Aoshima have a right to their privacy from the sometimes uncouth manners of tourists. We’ll keep you updated if we hear any more about how the islanders decide to move forward in this delicate situation.