The Cat Islands
By Amanda Scott
Love cats? Japan might be just the place for you. There are 11 Japanese islands nicknamed “Nikojema” or “Cat Island.” These islands, which are covered in cats, have become major tourist attractions.
If you are visiting Tokyo the closest Cat Island is Enoshima, Kanagawa Prefecture. The area beaches make this a top summer destination for surfers and sunbathers alike. If you are here during off-season times though, you are likely to see more cats than people.
Okishima is an island that lies in the middle of Japan’s largest freshwater lake. With just 350 residents, the number of bicycles and cats far outnumber the amount of cars on this Nikojema.
Sanagashima is one of the many Cat Islands located in the Inland Sea. Many of these islands are fishing settlements. Sanagashima is located off the coast of larger Shikoku.
Also off the coast of Shikoku is Japan’s least populated Cat Island, Aoshima. Only 15 people call this island home, but many, many cats do. Although you can visit the island make sure to pack supplies or eat before you journey out as there are no restaurants or stores located here.
While many of Japan’s Nikojema are fishing towns, Muzukijima is covered in citrus groves. This area produces the best oranges in Japan and perhaps a few orange cats as well.
Manabeshima is located far off the coast of Japan’s main island of Honshu. Since the island is relatively isolated, it has been able to maintain its natural beauty and is popular with both film crews and cats.
The last of the Inland Sea Cat Islands is Iwaishima. Visitors arriving here land at the historic port city of Yanai.
Along Japan’s opposite coastline, in the Sea of Japan, lies Aijima. It is the most accessible of the Cat Islands, as the bullet train stop just shy of port Kokura where visitors can catch a boat to the nearby island.
Aishima, located in the same prefecture, Fukuoka, as Aijima is a small heart-shaped island. The cats of Aishima are surely filled with love.
Genkaishima, the third and final Cat Island that is part of the Fukuoka Prefecture, is easily accessed via the port of Hakata, located in the city’s capital and largest city. The island’s cat population, which was once Japan’s largest, was hurt during a 2005 earthquake, but is said to now be on the rise.
Finally, the last on the list of Cat Islands is Kadarashima. Dogs are completely absent on the island, letting the felines rule the roost. Legend says that a dog earned the wrath of the god of
Kadarashima’s Yasakajinja Shrine, which drove all dogs away from the island.
On your next trip to Japan, make sure one or more of these eleven Nikojema are on your list of places to see.