The 11 cat islands of Japan
IT should come as no surprise that the land of Hello Kitty is filled with cat fanatics – and home to 11 cat islands, or neko shima, where feline occupants outnumber the human inhabitants.
Unlike Japan’s cat cafés, however, the cat islands didn’t start out as tourist attractions. The first batch of cats was brought in to combat the growing rodent problem, and things quickly escalated from there. On the island of Aoshima, fishermen needed cats to catch the mice on their fishing boats, whereas the island of Tashirojima was used for raising silkworms – also targeted by mice. Over the years, the cats have multiplied to such an extent that some islands reportedly have a ratio of 10 cats to every human. Although it has to be said that it’s not as many as you’d think – the human populations have dwindled significantly. Aoshima, for instance, only has about a dozen residents.
While some other islands around Australia and the US have eradicated their feral cat populations using hunting dogs, traps and poison, Japan has no such inclination. According to Japanese folklore, cats have protective powers and symbolise good fortune. These cats are fed and well cared-for; there are no dogs allowed on the islands. On Tashirojima there is even a small cat shrine to commemorate a cat that had been killed by accident.