Tashirojima: The Japanese Island Ruled by Cats

Atlas Obscura
Your Guide to the World's Hidden Wonders
May 15 2014 2:22 PM

Tashirojima: The Japanese Island Ruled by Cats

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Photo by Kazutaka Sawa/Creative Commons

Atlas Obscura on Slate is a blog about the world's hidden wonders. Like us on Facebook, Tumblr, or follow us on Twitter @atlasobscura.

A 40-minute ferry ride from Ishinomaki, near Sendai, will get you to a small island named Tashirojima. There you will find a population of 100 people and several hundred cats.

The feline domination of Tashirojima dates back to Japan's late Edo Period—from the mid-18th to the mid-19th century. At that time, residents of the island raised silkworms for their textiles. Cats were valued because they chased away the mice that preyed on silkworms.

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Tashirojima was, and is, an island sustained by the fishing industry. The beloved silk-saving cats began to approach fishermen for food, and the workers' obliging response drew swarms of kitties to the shores. A mythology arose around the Tashirojima cats: The fishermen came to regard them as good luck and built a cat shrine in the middle of the island.

Though it was perilously close to the epicenter of the 2011 Tohoku earthquake—and therefore in the path of the ensuing tsunami—Tashirojima, its people, and its four-legged inhabitants survived the disaster. Buildings at the shore were damaged, but most houses, built on hillsides, remained intact.

An unnerving video on YouTube purports to show some of the island's cats behaving strangely right before the tsunami hit: 

Now known as Cat Island and on the obscure and quirky tourism trail, Tashirojima is taking advantage of its appeal to kitty-loving visitors. Cat-shaped cabins are available for overnight stays between April and November. No dogs allowed.

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Photo by Kazutaka Sawa/Creative Commons

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Photo by Kazutaka Sawa/Creative Commons

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Photo by Kakei.R/Creative Commons

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Photo by Kakei.R/Creative Commons

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Photo by Kazutaka Sawa/Creative Commons

Other places to visit if you're feeling feline:


View Tashirojima in a larger map

Ella Morton is a writer working on The Atlas Obscura, a book about global wonders, curiosities, and esoterica adapted from Atlas Obscura. Follow her on Twitter.

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