Caturday Reader: Tashirojima – “Cat Island”

cat island

Tashirojima (田代島) is a small island in Ishinomaki, Miyagi, Japan. It has become known as “Cat Island” due to the large stray cat population that thrives as a result of the local belief that feeding cats will bring wealth and good fortune.

It’s raining cats and tourists on a Japanese island. An army of feral cats rules a remote island in southern Japan, curling up in abandoned houses or strutting about in a fishing village that is overrun with felines outnumbering humans six to one.

cat from cat islandOriginally introduced to the mile-long island of Aoshima to deal with mice that plagued fishermen’s boats, the cats stayed on – and multiplied. More than 120 cats swarm the island with only a handful of humans for company, mostly pensioners who didn’t join the waves of migrants seeking work in the cities after World War Two.

Aoshima, a 30-minute ferry ride off the coast of Ehime prefecture, had been home to 900 people in 1945. The only sign of human activity now is the boatload of day-trippers from the mainland, visiting what is locally known as Cat Island.

With no restaurants, cars, shops or kiosks selling snacks, Aoshima is no tourist haven. But cat lovers are not complaining.

View of Tashirojima from the west side.

View of Tashirojima from the west side.

“There is a ton of cats here, then there was this sort of cat witch who came out to feed the cats which was quite fun,” said 27-year-old Makiko Yamasaki. “So I’d want to come again.”

The allure of cats is not surprising in a country that gave the world Hello Kitty, a cartoon character considered the epitome of cuteness. Cat cafes have long been popular in Tokyo, catering to fans who can’t keep the animals at home because of strict housing regulations that often forbid pets.

The cats of Aoshima are not too picky, surviving on the rice balls, energy bars or potatoes they cadge off tourists. In the absence of natural predators, they roam the island without fear.

Not all the residents are admirers, though. One elderly woman shooed the animals away with a stick when they dug up her back garden. Locals are trying to keep the feline population in check – at least 10 cats have been neutered.

Residents haven’t taken too kindly to the tourists either. They don’t mind them coming, but want to be left in peace.

cat from cat island2“If people coming to the island find the cats healing, then I think it’s a good thing,” said 65-year-old Hidenori Kamimoto, who ekes out a living as a fisherman. “I just hope that it’s done in a way that doesn’t become a burden on the people who live here.”

Photographer Fubirai has spent the last five years documenting the lives of the semi-wild cats that roam the island in Fukuoka, Japan. The cats are fed by local fishermen and wander freely through the streets, boatyards, porches, and houses of the city.

Here are his photos…

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On the Web: Cats Rule These Japanese Islands – Kotaku

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