Japan’s Aoshima Island is tiny: only about 44,000 meters^2 (that’s about 0.017 square miles) in total land area, but it’s a nice enough place. The island, located off Japan’s southern shore, is a subtropical botanical garden enveloped on all sides by a ring of white, sandy beaches. In the center of the jungle is a shrine called the Aoshima Jinja, which is said to bring good luck to married couples. The island is home to a dozen or so people, and it’s easily accessible if you’re in the area — there’s a wide, sturdy-looking foot bridge connecting the island to the mainland. The entire island is only about a mile (1.5 km) in circumference, so if you’re there and want to go for a nice walk, it sounds like a decent enough tourist trap. And in recent years, it’s actually found itself a nice little uptick in visitors.
But those tourists are mostly there for the cats.
According to Design Taxi, Aoshima Island found a lot of people taking up residence there during World War II, apparently as refugees. People build houses, some people bring pets, and in time, Aoshima became a small but vibrant little neighborhood with some really great scenery and beaches. But after the war, many people ended up leaving the island to return to the mainland. Not all the cats made the trip. Before long, the cats on the island greatly outnumbered the people.
(Why this happened isn’t all that clear. Design Taxi chalks it up to abandonment — people simply left their cats behind — but that seems unlikely. Another source, Japan Daily Press, says that strays are more likely the case: “Islanders said that the number of cats began to increase when about a decade ago, the human population decreased and the cats continue to breed unchecked, and with the number of abandoned houses in the village, the cats found safe and comfortable places to live in.” Believe what you want but the latter seems more likely and, in any event, is much more pleasant.)
The end result: a tiny island of about 15 people — and with more than 100 cats. Introduce the cat-picture-friendly Internet to the equation and all of a sudden, you have a tourist attraction. That’s precisely what happened, as visitors flocked to Aoshima Island to take pictures of the cats and probably feed them, too. The cats are checked by vets to make sure they’re healthy and not a danger to visitors, so don’t worry about that.
Incredibly, though, Aoshima isn’t Japan’s only cat island. It may not even be the most notable one. As Slate notes, Tashirojima Island, located a ferry ride off the north Pacific shore of the mainland, is home to more people than Aoshima — roughly 100 humans live on Tashirojima — but it is also home to a lot more cats, numbering in the hundreds. Slate explains that the cats were originally brought to Tashirojima to chase away mice which would otherwise harm the silk-making economy of the island and over time, the people of Tashirojima regarded cats as good luck charms. When the civilian population receded, the cats — who were residents of Tashirojima in their own right by this point — remained.
So whether you’re in Japan’s north or south, there’s a cat island you can visit. But if you just want to see pictures, that’s fine too. Both Slate (here) and Kotaku (here) have plenty.
From the Archives: Kitty City: A town of 500 cats. (It was shut down by the authorities.)
Related: For the cat that has everything.