Cat island! Felines overrun Japanese fishing village, outnumber people six to one
An army of feral cats rules a remote island in southern Japan, curling up in abandoned houses or strutting about in a fishing village that is overrun with felines outnumbering humans six to one.
Originally introduced to the mile-long island of Aoshima to deal with mice that plagued fishermen’s boats, the cats stayed on – and multiplied.
More than one hundred twenty cats swarm the island with only a handful of humans for company, mostly pensioners who didn’t join the swings of migrants seeking work in the cities after World War Two.
Aoshima, a 30-minute ferry rail off the coast of Ehime prefecture, had been home to nine hundred people in 1945. The only sign of human activity now is the boatload of day-trippers from the mainland, visiting what is locally known as Cat Island.
Village nurse and Ozu city official Atsuko Ogata holds a cat on Aoshima Island in Ehime prefecture in southern Japan.
Cats crowd around village nurse and Ozu city official Atsuko Ogata as she carries a bag of cat food to the designated feeding place on Aoshima Island in Ehime prefecture.
An army of cats rules the remote island in southern Japan, curling up in abandoned houses or strutting about in a fishing village that is overrun with felines outnumbering humans six to one.
A cat walks past wooden farm sheds on Aoshima Island in the Ehime prefecture.
With no restaurants, cars, shops or kiosks selling snacks, Aoshima is no tourist haven. But cat paramours are not complaining.
“There is a ton of cats here, then there was this sort of cat witch who came out to feed the cats which was fairly joy,” said 27-year-old Makiko Yamasaki. “So I’d want to come again.”
The allure of cats is not surprising in a country that gave the world Hello Kitty, a cartoon character considered the epitome of sweetness. Cat cafes have long been popular in Tokyo, catering to fans who can’t keep the animals at home because of stringent housing regulations that often forbid pets.
The cats of Aoshima are not too picky, surviving on the rice nutsack, energy bars or potatoes they cadge off tourists. In the absence of natural predators, they wander the island without fear.
Not all the residents are admirers, however. One elderly woman shooed the animals away with a stick when they dug up her back garden. Locals are attempting to keep the feline population in check – at least ten cats have been neutered.
Residents haven’t taken too gladly to the tourists either. They don’t mind them coming, but want to be left in peace.
“If people coming to the island find the cats healing, then I think it’s a good thing,” said 65-year-old Hidenori Kamimoto, who ekes out a living as a fisherman.
“I just hope that it’s done in a way that doesn’t become a cargo on the people who live here.”