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The Cat Islands of Japan 2024 – A Destination for Ailurophiles

The Cat Islands of Japan 2024 – A Destination for Ailurophiles

Japan’s cat islands offer travelers a unique and enchanting experience, especially those who adore felines. Across the country, several islands have become sanctuaries for cats, where they roam freely, outnumbering human residents. These islands have provided a haven for cats and attracted tourists from around the globe, drawn by the allure of interacting with the friendly feline inhabitants in a picturesque setting. This guide explores Japan’s most notable Cat Islands, providing insights into each destination’s unique charm, how to maximize your visit and practical advice for planning your trip.

1. Tashirojima, Miyagi Prefecture

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Tashirojima, often referred to as “Cat Island,” is perhaps the most famous of Japan’s cat sanctuaries. The island’s cat population began to increase when local fishermen believed the cats brought good luck, helping to protect the silkworms they farmed and bringing prosperity to their catches. Today, cats freely roam the island, living in harmony with the human inhabitants. The island features cat-shaped lodges for visitors, making it a unique stay for cat lovers.

Insider’s Tip: Stay overnight in one of the cat-shaped lodges to fully experience the island’s peaceful atmosphere once the day-trippers have left.

When to Travel: Spring (March to May) and autumn (September to November) offer pleasant weather, making it ideal for exploring the island.

How to Get There: Tashirojima is accessible by ferry from Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture. The ferry ride offers scenic views of the surrounding area.

2. Aoshima, Ehime Prefecture

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Aoshima, a small island in the Seto Inland Sea, has become another haven for cat enthusiasts. With a tiny human population, the cats on Aoshima live largely undisturbed, except by the visitors who come to admire them. The island offers a tranquil escape from the hustle and bustle of city life, with its winding paths, abandoned houses, and numerous feline residents.

Insider’s Tip: Bring cat food or treats to make friends with the locals, but be mindful not to overfeed them or disrupt their natural behavior.

When to Travel: The mild temperatures in spring and autumn make these seasons the best times to visit Aoshima.

How to Get There: Aoshima is accessible by a small boat from Nagahama Port, Ehime Prefecture. The boat service is limited, so check the schedule in advance.

3. Okishima, Shiga Prefecture

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Okishima, located on Lake Biwa, Japan’s largest freshwater lake, offers a unique setting as the only inhabited lake island in the country. The cats of Okishima live alongside the local fishing community, adding to the island’s charm. Unlike other cat islands, Okishima has a more integrated community where cats are part of daily life and culture, reflecting the island’s long history and traditions.

Insider’s Tip: Explore the island by foot to discover hidden spots where cats like to gather, especially near the waterfront.

When to Travel: Visit in late spring to early summer (May to July) to enjoy the lush greenery and comfortable weather.

How to Get There: Access to Okishima is via boat from Hikone or Imazu in Shiga Prefecture. The journey offers beautiful views of Lake Biwa.

4. Enoshima, Kanagawa Prefecture

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While not exclusively a “cat island,” Enoshima in Kanagawa Prefecture is known for its friendly feline inhabitants that add to the island’s magic. Enoshima combines natural beauty with historical and cultural sites, including shrines, parks, and caves, making it a more diverse destination. The cats here are accustomed to visitors and can often be found lounging in the sun near the island’s many attractions.

Insider’s Tip: Visit the Enoshima Shrine and its surrounding gardens early in the morning to enjoy a peaceful walk accompanied by the local cats before the crowds arrive.

When to Travel: The island is a year-round destination, but visiting in the off-peak seasons of spring and autumn allows for a more relaxed experience.

How to Get There: Enoshima is easily accessible by train and then by foot via a bridge from the mainland, making it a convenient day trip from Tokyo.

5. Manabeshima, Okayama Prefecture

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Manabeshima in Okayama Prefecture is another picturesque island where cats outnumber people. This small fishing island offers a glimpse into traditional Japanese island life, with its narrow lanes, traditional houses, and the ever-present cats that have become part of the community. The island’s relaxed pace of life, beautiful beaches, and clear waters make it an ideal spot for those looking to unwind and enjoy nature.

Insider’s Tip: Rent a bicycle to explore the island’s hidden corners and beaches where you can enjoy quiet moments with the cats and stunning sea views.

When to Travel: Summer (June to August) is perfect for enjoying Manabeshima’s beaches, though be prepared for the Japanese summer heat.

How to Get There: Manabeshima can be reached by ferry from Kasaoka Port in Okayama Prefecture. The journey is a scenic introduction to the beauty of the Seto Inland Sea.

6. Sanagishima, Kagawa Prefecture

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Sanagishima in Kagawa Prefecture is one of the lesser-known cat islands, offering a more secluded experience. The island’s cats live peacefully among the small human population, often greeting visitors at the port. Sanagishima’s untouched nature, terraced fields, and traditional architecture provide a tranquil backdrop for cat-watching and leisurely walks.

Insider’s Tip: Pack a picnic and enjoy lunch at one of the island’s scenic spots, where you’re likely to be joined by some furry companions.

When to Travel: The mild weather of spring (March to May) and autumn (September to November) makes these seasons ideal for visiting Sanagishima.

How to Get There: Access to Sanagishima is via ferry from Tadotsu Port in Kagawa Prefecture. The island’s remote location ensures a quiet visit.

7. Muzukijima, Ehime Prefecture

Image Credit: Shutterstock / Thanu Garapakdee

Muzukijima is unique among Japan’s cat islands for its citrus groves, which fill the air with the scent of oranges. The island’s cats often roam these groves, adding a whimsical element to the rural landscape. Muzukijima combines agricultural beauty with the charm of its feline inhabitants, offering a different perspective on the cat island experience.

Insider’s Tip: Visit during the citrus harvest season to see the island’s most vibrant and enjoy fresh citrus fruits directly from the source.

When to Travel: The citrus harvest season in late autumn to winter (November to January) is a fantastic time to experience Muzukijima’s dual attractions of cats and citrus.

How to Get There: Muzukijima is accessible by ferry from Matsuyama, Ehime Prefecture. The journey is an opportunity to experience the scenic beauty of the Seto Inland Sea.

8. Iwaishima, Yamaguchi Prefecture

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Iwaishima, a small island in the Seto Inland Sea, is known for its strong sense of community and activism, in addition to its cat population. The island’s cats are just one aspect of its rich cultural tapestry, which includes traditional festivals and a vibrant community life. Visitors to Iwaishima can experience the warmth of island hospitality alongside the company of its feline residents.

Insider’s Tip: Participate in a local festival or community event to fully immerse yourself in Iwaishima’s unique culture and community spirit.

When to Travel: Festival periods, particularly in the summer, offer a chance to fully display Iwaishima’s cultural richness.

How to Get There: Iwaishima is reachable by ferry from Yanai City in Yamaguchi Prefecture, offering a direct route to experiencing the island’s community and cats.

9. Ainoshima, Fukuoka Prefecture

Image Credit: Shutterstock / K. Nakao

Ainoshima, in Fukuoka Prefecture, provides visitors with a blend of historical intrigue and feline charm. The island is home to a large population of cats and features ancient megaliths and archaeological sites. Ainoshima’s cats, often found lounging around the island’s historical sites, add a layer of living history to the experience of exploring Japan’s past.

Insider’s Tip: Explore the island’s archaeological sites early in the day to enjoy uninterrupted time with the cats and the island’s historical treasures.

When to Travel: Spring (March to May) and autumn (September to November) offer comfortable weather for exploring Ainoshima’s outdoor attractions.

How to Get There: Ainoshima is accessible by a short ferry ride from Shingu Port in Fukuoka Prefecture, making it an easy day trip from Fukuoka City.

10. Kadarashima, Saga Prefecture

Image Credit: Shutterstock / es3n

Kadarashima is a serene island where cats roam among terraced rice fields and traditional Japanese rural landscapes. The island offers a peaceful retreat from modern life, with its slow pace and natural beauty providing the perfect backdrop for relaxation and cat appreciation. Kadarashima’s small size allows for intimate encounters with the island’s human and feline inhabitants, offering a glimpse into a harmonious way of life.

Insider’s Tip: Take a leisurely walk through the island’s rice fields at dusk to witness the cats in their element against the stunning backdrop of the setting sun.

When to Travel: The planting season in late spring and the harvest season in early autumn provide beautiful scenery and pleasant weather for visiting Kadarashima.

How to Get There: Kadarashima can be reached by ferry from several ports in Saga Prefecture, offering a scenic introduction to rural Japan.

The Bottom Line

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Japan’s Cat Islands offer a unique fusion of natural beauty, cultural depth, and an abundance of feline friends. Each island presents a different facet of Japan’s diverse landscapes and communities, united by their love for cats. Whether you’re seeking tranquility among citrus groves, exploring ancient archaeological sites, or immersing yourself in traditional island life, the Cat Islands provide a perfect escape into a world where cats reign supreme. As you plan your journey to these enchanting destinations, remember to approach with respect for both the natural environment and the local communities that make these islands so special.

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The post The Cat Islands of Japan – A Destination for Ailurophiles first appeared on The Green Voyage.

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For transparency, this content was partly developed with AI assistance and carefully curated by an experienced editor to be informative and ensure accuracy.

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