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The Japanese island where cats outnumber humans – and made it a tourist destination

Simon Calder’s Travel

On a small island off Japan’s northeastern coast, there is an unlikely guardian angel: cats.

The animals outnumber humans on the island of Tashirojima, and there is even a “Neko Jinja,” or Cat Shrine, to honour their presence.

Legend says the island used to be famous for sericulture and farmers would keep cats because they would chase away rats, protecting the silkworm cocoons from the rodents.

Over 100 cats inhabit Tashirojima
Over 100 cats inhabit Tashirojima (Copyright 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

Fishermen on the island have also traditionally believed that cats bring good luck, including large hauls of fish.

Another legend says fishermen used to watch the cats’ behavior for tips on the coming weather before heading to sea.

The islanders have long coexisted with the cats. One day, however, a fisherman accidentally injured a cat while working. Feeling sorry for the injury, the islanders built the shrine for cats.

Tashirojima is part of the city of Ishinomaki in Miyagi prefecture in the Tohoku region, which became well known after a tsunami devastated the area following a massive magnitude 9 earthquake on March 11, 2011.

Japan Island of Cats Photo Gallery
Japan Island of Cats Photo Gallery (Copyright 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

Over 100 cats inhabit Tashirojima, along with about 50 humans, according to the city’s website.

Along a paved road running about 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) between the island’s two ports, cats groom themselves and mingle with other cats.

There are a few cafes and inns, but no car rental shops, gas stations or public transportation. Tourists are expected to walk up and down the island’s hills while visiting.

Most of the cats are used to tourists, who can be seen petting the friendly animals throughout the island.

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