Updated: Sep 5, 2022
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The small island of Tashirojima is home to fewer than 100 residents, and most of them are elderly. In fact, more cats live on the island than people, giving it the appropriate nickname of Cat Island. The local cats are very well cared for, likely because they’re regarded for bringing wealth and good fortune to the island. Not only do residents feed the cats, but dogs aren’t allowed on the island at all, and a shrine called Neko-jinja honors a cat who was killed by falling rocks. Though Japan boasts another Cat Island, Aoshima, Tashirojima is the easiest to access and more welcoming to tourists. So if you ever find yourself in the area or are willing to go out of your way, you should pop in for some cuddles.
The Jump-off Point
The best way to reach Tashirojima is by taking a cruise from Ishinomaki to one if the island’s ports. To do so, you should board the Ajishima Line, which takes you to the Nitoda Port or the Odomari Port. Ishinomaki itself is located in Miyagi Prefecture. Besides visiting Cat Island, you should swing into the Ishinomori Manga Museum, which showcases the work of Shotaro Ishinomori. Most of the other sites have to do with nature, such as the Hiyoriyama Park filled with cherry blossoms, the Aji Island with sacred sites, and the Kinkasan Koganeyama Shrine.
Things to See on Tashirojima
It’s obvious you came to Tashirojima to pet the cats, as anyone would at a place called Cat Island. Though the island isn’t busting at the seams with activities, there are still a few notable things to do. Located near the Nitoda Port is Kamabutsu Shoten, the island’s only store. Oftentimes, cats like to gather on the store’s steps. If you’re looking for sustenance, you won’t find more than a beverage vending machine in Tashirojima, though a public restroom is available.
One of the most exciting things to see on the island is the cat shrine. Named Neko-jinja, the cat-size shrine is dedicated to a cat that was killed by a falling rock. This is a sentiment to how important cats are to locals; they even bring offerings to the shrine. As far as accommodations, you can actually stay indoors or outdoors at a manga-themed camping resort called Manga Island.
Where did the Cats Come From?
In the past, the residents of Tashirojima released their cats into the streets to help with a mouse population problem. The mice would attack silkworms, which locals raised to make silk for their textiles. In turn, the fishermen would feed them. The cats continue to be well-fed today, so it’s widely frowned upon for tourists to bring them food because it could cause weight and health issues.
As I mentioned earlier, Ishinomaki is the best city to stay in when day tripping to Tashirojima. Hotel Route Inn is quite simplistic and a bit outdated but it's affordable and suitable for a night in the city. Komatuskan Kofueti costs more but it has nice, Japanese-style rooms. Hotel Ubudo is a more luxury option with a spa and salon.
It's unfortunate that Tashirojima isn't readily accessible near main tourists spots such as Kyoto or Tokyo, but that doesn't mean a trip up north isn't warranted. If you're a lover of cats or a traveler that likes to stray off the beaten path, Cat Island and Ishinomaki might just be the perfect deviation from the norm.