The cat, with its cuddly looks and standoffish attitude, is full of charisma. In Japan, islands and towns with an unusually large number of cats are often deemed as “cat spots”.
One of the more famous ones is Tashirojima Island. As expected of one of its other names, “Cat Island”, over a hundred cats live their carefree days on this island. With its legend of the Cat God, and a lodge in the shape of a cat, it’s a unique spot with a deep connection to cats, and it’s a charming island to pay a visit to.
What kind of place is Tashirojima?
Tashirojima Island is part of Ishinomaki City in Miyagi Prefecture. Just 45 minutes by ferry from Ishinomaki, Tashirojima Island is a tiny island, at just 3.14 square kilometers.
In contrast to the 60 odd residents of the island, there are over 100 cats living on it, leading to it being called “Cat Island”.
As the majority of the island’s residents are fishermen, their god of fishing, which takes the form of a cat, is well revered. Upon arriving on Tashirojima Island, you land on Nitodakō pier, and from there, you can leisurely explore the island and look for cats. As the island is near the city, it makes for a pleasant day trip.
What do cats have to do with Tashirojima Island?
As the cats on Tashirojima Island are highly revered by its residents, dogs, the natural enemies of cats, are strictly banned. There are two main reasons why cats are so important to the island.
The first reason is that in the past, the island cultivated silkworms, and cats were essential to protecting the cocoons from rats and mice.
The second reason is that many of the current islanders are fishermen, and from the cats’ behavior each day, it was possible to make a prediction of the weather and catch for the day.
With such a close connection and deep history entwined with that of the island’s residents, to this day, the island’s cats hold an important place in their lives.
The cats are free to come and go as they please anywhere on the island, be it the roads, grassy lawns, or any other place.
Depending on the weather and time of the day and their mood, the cats appear in various spots across the island. At the pier where you can catch the ferry, there is a free pamphlet available, the “Tashirojima Map”.
The map marks out spots where you can meet the cats, indicating the names of famous spots on the island and their distances from the pier, making it an essential item for exploring the island.
Be welcomed by cats at Nitodakō pier
One area with an especially large number of cats, even for Tashirojima Island, is Nitodakō pier, the entrance to the island. The large signboard which reads “Welcome to Tashirojima Island” is adorned with cat designs, and is an eyecatcher as you approach the island.
The first thing that catches your attention is the cats lazing about the ground between the boats on shore, and the cats being fed fish by the fishermen. As you head towards the island’s main road from the pier, you’ll start to meet even more cats. The cats on Tashirojima Island are used to being around people, and they approach new visitors with their interest piqued.
The Cat Shrine, where you can feel the bonds between cats and humans
About 1.7 kilometers North of Nitodakō pier, in the centre of the island, is the Cat Shrine, protected by a red fence. The fastest way to reach the shrine is by alighting at the pier closest to the front of Nitodakō pier, Ōdomari-minato Pier, and from there, it’s a 800 meter walk.
Long ago, this shrine was built to remember a cat which had died because of the carelessness of man, and laid to rest there out of pity. A small shrine was built, allowing for proper prayers to be given.
After the shrine was built, days of large catches continued with no accidents, and the residents of the island began to bring offerings to the “Cat God” at the shrine. Even to this day, the fishermen continue to make offerings at the shrine every year on the 15th of March.
At the shrine, there are an unusually large number of cat related goods, left by both islanders and tourists. Among these are hand-illustrated pictures of cats and messages written on stones. As you observe the calm expressions of the hand drawn cats, do keep in mind that the Cat God of the island rests there, so be sure to observe quiet and solemnity during your visit.
Shima-no-Eki: For souvenirs and a rest stop, drop by the island’s station
For a short rest, the rest point “Shima-no-Eki” is recommended for visitors to the island. In the café space, savory dishes such as onigiri and chūka-don are served, along with a side menu of cakes and desserts. Besides food from the café, you can freely eat any food that you brought along with you as well.
At the shop, a wide variety of towels and other original goods featuring cat designs are available. Seafood and other marine produce from the island are also on sale, and make for excellent souvenirs. Artwork with cat motifs are also on display.
Azauchiyama 69-2, Uchiyama, Tashirohama, Ishinomaki Shi, Miyagi Ken, 〒986-0023, Japan
Open daily, 10:00am - 3:00pm (Hours may vary by season)
Manga Island: Staying in a cat-shaped lodge
One of the accommodations available on Tashirojima Island is “Manga Island”. The “Manga Lodge”, designed in the shape of a cat, was created by the manga artists Chiba Tetsuya and Satonaka Machiko.
There are five lodge choices available, from the striking red and white striped “Shima Lodge”, to the two-floor lodge featuring cat with a unique expression, “Shiro Lodge”.
The interior of each lodge features cat illustrations and drawings of other manga characters, which you can check out at the facility’s home page.
For those who would prefer to be in closer contact with the cats, the outdoors is recommended. While camping, cats will come to visit your tent and barbecue!
For both the lodge and campsite, reservations need to be made beforehand. While making your reservation, you can request for your baggage to be transported over before check-in, allowing for a handsfree and relaxing sightseeing journey.
24, Sikisima, Tashirohama, Ishinomaki Shi, Miyagi Ken, 〒986-0023
Telephone number: 0225-21-4141 (Manga Island Office), 0225-98-8285 (Ishinomaki Tourism Promotion Organization)
Hours: Wednesday to Sunday, late April to late October, check in 14:00, check out 11:00
Fees: 8,140 yen for small lodges, 9,160 yen for large lodges, 1,520 yen for tent sites * Number of tents is limited
Regular holiday: Tuesday
How do you get to Tashirojima Island?
As Tashirojima Island is a remote island off the shore of Ishinomaki City, you’ll have to use the scheduled ferry service from Ishinomaki Central Departure Point, which is a 15-minute walk from Ishinomaki Station. From Ishinomaki to Nitodakō pier, it costs 1230 yen for a one-way journey that takes 45 minutes.
There are only three ferries per day, and in the event of inclement weather, there may be no ferries at all, so be sure to check out their website before heading down. Do be sure to check details on the return ferry beforehand too.
1-14-5, Chuo, Ishinomaki Shi, Miyagi Ken, 〒986-0822
Price: 1230 yen one way between Ishinomaki and Nitoda Port
Regular holiday: No holidays (may be canceled depending on the season
For the sake of enjoying Tashirojima Island: House rules while sightseeing
In order to enjoy a fun time with the cats, there are several rules on the island.
First off, visitors to the island are not allowed to feed cats any treats or food, for their health.
Taking pictures on the road is a dangerous action which hinders traffic, and is a common cause of road accidents.
Cats sleeping should not be disturbed, and it is forbidden to enter residential areas.
Littering is also strictly prohibited, so be sure to bring your trash back with you.
Such rules are in place for the sake of the residents on the island as well, so be sure to follow them. For those who absolutely have to give cats treats, Nitodakō pier and “Shima-no-Eki” has areas, called “O-azakari box”, where cats are fed at regular timings. There’s a sign of a large can with a cat’s face drawn on it.
Another basic rule of the island is that the main mode of transport is by walking. Though you can rent bikes from Manga Island, the Cat Shrine and beach, among many other areas, don’t have proper pavement, so it would be better to dress in comfortable walking shoes and attire. As there are very limited vending machines and shops on the island, it would bring more peace of mind to prepare what you need at Ishinomaki before you depart.
Tashirojima Island is a refreshing spot inhabited by many carefree cats. While exploring the island, you can take pictures of gorgeous views and find cats, so why not refresh your body and soul here?
Tashirohama, Ishinomaki Shi, Miyagi Ken, 〒986-0023
0225-95-1111 (Ishinomaki City Tourism Division)
* Some photos were taken in 2013
Text by: Shoe Press Co., Ltd.