Tashirojima (田代島) is a small, rural island off the coast of central Ishinomaki City in Miyagi Prefecture.
Informally known as “Cat Island”, It’s just over three kilometers long and It is the paradise of a large colony of felines, which are cared for and worshiped by the island’s human residents.
It is part of a group of about a dozen “islands of cats” in Japan, small places where there are more feline residents than humans.
More than a hundred cats roam the island (about 120), and they are owners of abandoned houses, and also of the quiet fishing village.
The cats were originally brought over to help with pest control around the island’s silkworm farms, but also to hunt mice that infested fishermen’s boats. In the past, the islanders raised silkworms for silk, and cats were kept in order to keep the mouse population down (because mice are a natural predator of silkworms). Fishing has long been an important industry on Tashirojima.
For ages the fishermen who worked on the island cared for and protected the semi-wild cats because they believed that the cats would bring them good luck. Over time, this cat population left un-neutered began to grow immensely while the human population dwindled down to fewer than 80 residents.
Since then their numbers have increased to the point that they now outnumber the island’s human population six to one!
Cat lovers from all around Japan, but not only, come to visit Tashirojima, which requires taking a one hour long ferry ride from Ishinomaki port.
The boats stop at both of the island’s settled areas: a tiny village around Odomari Port in the north and a larger, more developed village around Nitoda Port in the south.
Several narrow roads and walking trails crisscross the forested island’s interior between the two villages.
In Japanese culture, cats are considered to bring good luck, said to bring money and good fortune to all who cross their path. Some even claim that it was the cats who kept the majority of the island from being destroyed during the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami in 2011, which partially flooded both villages and destroyed several buildings around the port towns which were close to the coast. After all, for a few days people all over the world (even in Japan) thought that the whole island was gone (washed away by the tsunami)!
Luckily the island’s location behind a peninsula helped protect it from more severe damage, and the majority of the debris was cleared within a year.
Following the fishing tradition, people built a small Cat Shrine known as Neko-jinja (猫神社), at the center of the island in memory of a cat that was accidentally killed.
Fixed-net fishing was popular on the island after the Edo Period (江戸時代, 1603-1868) and fishermen from other areas would come and stay on the island overnight. The cats would go to the inns where the fishermen were staying and beg for scraps. Over time, the fishermen developed a fondness for the cats and would observe the cats closely, interpreting their actions as predictions of the weather and fish patterns. One day, when the fishermen were collecting rocks to use with the fixed-nets, a stray rock fell and killed one of the cats. The fishermen, feeling sorry for the loss of the cat, buried it and enshrined it at this location on the island, praying that never ever something similar would happen again.
The shrine is located along the road about halfway between Odomari and Nitoda villages. It’s a fairly small shrine, but there are tons of cat related tiny items like those Maneki Neko statues.
The cats on Tashirojima are mostly found around Nitoda Port on the southeastern side of the island. They freely roam the streets and enjoy the attention that they get from the tourists who play with them. The cats sometimes gather around the steps of the island’s lone store, Kamabutsu Shoten, located in the northwestern part of Nitoda village.
Tashirojima does not have many tourist facilities. There are no restaurants, and very few shops or public toilets available on the island. Only a drink vending machine and a public toilet are located along the Nitoda waterfront, but this is a really nice travel destination for all cat-lovers!