With an 11.5 kilometers shore line and population of around 86 people, there are around 100 cats. Welcome to Tashirojima Island.
Some estimate say the cats outnumber the human population by 6 to 1, that means if there are 100 people living on the island, there are 600 cats also living on the island. The island population is old. Nearly 83% of the population on the island is classified as elderly therefore sSome people also call it a “Terminal Village). Nearly 50% or more of the population is above 65 years old. In the past there were as many as a 1000 people were living on the island but they have left the island because of various reasons. The local people consider cats as being lucky. They believe that feeding cats will bring prosperity, good luck and wealth.
Tashirojima Island is in the Pacific Ocean off the Oshika Peninsula. It is a small island in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, Japan. The island has an area of 3.4 km². The highest point is 96.2 m or 315.6 ft. The highest point is called Shojima Mountain. The other name of the island is Manga Island. The island has two villages called Oodomari and Nitoda. They are also on the shoreline and act as a port as well for the island.
Local Elementary school was closed in Tashirojima Island in 1989. The island has tourist facility which was built in 2000. In 2007 a 6 kilometer and 10 kilometer race was held here to promote tourism activities.
The purpose of cats on Tashirojima Island was to eat mice as mice are natural hunter of silkworms. The mice were a problem in the period between 1603 and 1868 when silk worm business was booming and mice used to eat their precious silk worm.Over a period of time the population of cats grew and now there are as many as 550 cats on the island. There are no dogs on the island rightly for the large cat population.
Tourist who visit the island never mind the growing number of cat population on the island. In Japanese culture cats are a sign of good fortune and if a cat cross the path it is considered as a good luck sign. Some extreme view also claim that cats were responsible for protecting the island from the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami in 2011.
There is a cat shrine on the island but it is a small shrine in the middle of the island called Neko-jinja. There is a story behind that shrine. Fixed-net fishing was popular among the people on the island and the visitor fishermen. Cats used to go to these people for scrap fish and whatever was left behind for the cats to eat. Over a period of time fishermen developed a love and affection for these cats. They observed the cats closely and started to understand their behavior for weather and fish patterns. One day a stone fell and kill one of the cats. The people and the fishermen felt sorry for the cat and started building a monument for the remembrance of that cat. They curried the cat and over a period of time a shrine came into existence. Now people know this place as a cat shrine.
The main source of income for local people is fishing or hospitality. There are manga style hotel or accommodation for the tourist. These lodges resemble cats in their architectural design. People also come from mainland Japan for fishing in waters around the Tashirojima Island and they stay overnight in the local inns. There are 10 cat shrines in Miyagi Prefecture and 51 cat shaped stone monuments. Therefore the numbers are high as compared to other prefectures in Japan.
How to Get in?
There is a ferry to the island. Ajishima Line takes 40 minutes from the mainland. Tashirojima Island is 15 kilometers from Ishinomaki.
In conclusion Tashirojima Island is a fun place. People do visit the island in their spare time and they stay overnight. In the crowded place and cities like Tokyo, Tashirojima Island offers international tourist a totally different environment away from city centers. In 2012 BBC presented a short TV series on cat behavior and they also featured cats on this island in one of the programs. Landon Donoho made a documentary named “Cat Heaven Island” featuring Tashirojima Island cats.