Aoshima Island spans less than a mile in length, about .3 mile in width, and is located in Ozu, Ehime Prefecture of Japan. It is called the “Island of Cats,” because the feline population exceeds that of humans by five times. More than 100 cats live on Aoshima, and there are only 15 people.
There are a number of ‘cat islands’ around Japan that draw cat lovers from all over the world; in late September, Aoshima became a focus of attention on the Internet, drawing a number of visitors from all over Japan, according to The Japan News.
On a sunny autumn day, dozens of cats were lounging behind and on top of walls. When people come around, the cats approach them for food. Pictures were taken, posted on the Internet and re-posted on blogs.
Since then, the Ozu city government’s Nagahama branch states it has not stopped receiving phone calls from cat lovers who are eager to visit the island.
Aoshima doesn’t have accommodations, restaurants or even vending machines, but it has become a paradise not only for cats, but also for cat lovers.
Sayumi Nagamori, 23, who traveled from Sanuki said, “I can observe their natural life here.”
Currently, a ferry—the only means of transportation—connects Aoshima and Shikoku twice a day. Ferry Captain Nobuyuki Ninomiya told The Japan News, “I seldom carried tourists before, but now I carry tourists every week, even though the only thing we have to offer is cats.
During World War II, the island’s population increased due to an inflow of evacuees. It peaked at 655 in 1960. Since then, the majority have left the island to find jobs. The 15 remaining non-feline residents range in age from their 50s to their 80s. Four of them are fishermen, and most of the others are pensioners.
THE CAT EXPLOSION
According to the islanders, about a decade ago, the number of islanders fell below 50, and the number of cats began to increase due to abandoned cats breeding unchecked.
There are many vacant houses left that serve as comfy, safe hideouts. They are also free from traffic accidents as there are no cars on the island.
Fisherman Hidenori Kamimoto, 63, says, “They bother me because they sometimes sneak into my house. But there’s nothing we can do about the increasing number of cats."
In October on a ferry, I saw eight visitors, including a woman on a solo trip and a couple. They spent their day on the island photographing or feeding the cats.
Kafumi Munehira, 50, from Mihara, Hiroshima Prefecture, had spent the night in the city of Ozu to catch a ferry at the Iyo-Nagahama Port the following morning to Aoshima. She stayed on the island for nine hours until the evening.
“I’m overwhelmed by how many cats there are! There are nothing but cats here, and I don’t mind that at all,” she said.
There is no mention on any of the islands of plans to attempt to curtail the exploding feline population.
MORE “CAT ISLANDS”
“Cat islands” exist in and outside Japan and help support the tourism industry. Tashirojima is home to 86 people and about 100 cats, and is called “Cat Heaven Island."
Cats were first brought to the island to keep mice at bay from the silkworm farms. But when industry left the island, so did the human population, states Mail Online.com. Fishermen there regard cats as the gods of a good catch. There is even a cat shrine.
On the island of Malta, cats, which were aboard a ship to ward off rats, began breeding, and currently there are about 800,000 cats—double the population of islanders.
Every year, about 20,000 Japanese visit the Mediterranean island, many just to see the cats. Visitors can reportedly feed cats within a conservation area managed by a volunteer group.
No dogs are allowed on the “cat islands” and it is made clear that they are not welcome. It is likely most dogs are smart enough to not want to be on an island ruled by semi-feral cats.