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Cat Island: Japan's Best Attraction EVER?

Published 30 March 2016

Alexandra Gregg

There aren't many places where cats outnumber humans six to one – Japanese Aoshima Island is unique in that respect.

With 120 (and rising) feral felines, compared with just 22 elderly residents, it’s easy to see how this tiny fishing community has earned the nickname Nekojima, or Cat Island, and also why we reckon it’s Japan’s best attraction. Well, for cat lovers anyway.

The facts

With a land area of just 0.017 square miles, Aoshima is incredibly small, making the fact it’s overrun by an ever-growing population of moggies all the more amusing (and attractive to fellow feline fans). Proportionally, it has more cats per square mile than Mexico, Fiji, South Africa or the United States has people.

It hasn’t always been like that though. A handful of these clever hunters were originally introduced on the island to catch mice and rats, preventing them from plaguing local fishing boats. Since then, it’s been near-impossible to stop their burgeoning numbers; these mousers have now multiplied so much that they are virtually omnipresent. And, as only 10 cats have been neutered, it’s expected that more furry faces will continue to pop up on a regular basis. The rise is aided by the cats' laidback eating habits too – an Aoshima Island puss will never turn his nose up at rice ball or potato. Whiskers and Felix recipe gurus: take note.

Whether crowding at the harbour, strutting along wooden pathways or curled up in derelict homes, these untamed felines are everywhere you turn. This is the cat’s domain… and we love it.

The visit

Cat-loving tourists can visit the island, in the Ehime Prefecture in southern Japan, via a 30-minute ferry from the mainland. The boat runs twice daily, carting excitable day-trippers in their droves. Don’t expect a bustling tourist hub when you arrive though; there are no restaurants, cars, shops or street-food vendors here. There are plenty of whiskers, paws and tails though.

Celebrating all things cat

Aoshima is just one of many cat havens in Japan: other feline-filled regions include Sanagishima, Manabeshima, Iwaishima and Aijima. For a country that’s obsessed with Hello Kitty, it’s no surprise really.

There’s no shortage of feline tourism across the globe either: Amsterdam has De Poezenboot (The Cat Boat); London, Vancouver and San Diego all have cat cafés; and Kuching in Malaysia has a museum dedicated entirely to this household pet, boasting 2,000 different cat-themed artefacts. If all that’s not weird enough: Belgium has Kattenstoet, aka the Festival of Cats, which involves participants parading around, donning whiskers and pointy ears. Nothing can best the 45 six-toed cats at Ernest Hemingway's house in Key West though.

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