Japanese Scenery (III): Aoshima
If you are a cat person, Aoshima is a place you can’t miss! It’s a small island in Japan known as cat island. Imagine that you are surrounded and greeted by dozens of cats after disembarking. Aoshima is heaven for cat persons!
There are eleven Neko no Shima (cat islands) in Japan, among which Aoshima is the most famous. Aoshima is a small island in Ehime Prefecture, about 1.6 km long. It was once a bustling fishing island, but now only a small remnant of the original inhabitants remain on Aoshima because of the depleting fishing industry and the population moving elsewhere. It is unknown just how many cats there were on the island at the beginning, but estimates point to cats having outnumbered humans on Aoshima by some ratio between 6:1 and 10:1. Nowadays, with an even more thriving cat population and the death of elderly residents, the ratio of cats to humans has increased significantly, to 36:1.
The cats were introduced to help fishermen control the rat population. They have stayed on the island and multiplied. There are now over a hundred cats roaming the island, making Aoshima a viral phenomenon on YouTube. Although the cats are feral, they are used to visitors. These fluffy little things will happily play with you and let you take pictures of them in exchange for food. There is a designated feeding area near the island's community center.
Japanese Cat Culture
The Japanese are obsessed with cats. Japan is the leading country in terms of cat ownership in the world. From clothing to cartoons, from food packaging to books, cats make up an important part of everyday life.
The first reason cats are so beloved in Japan is that the Japanese believe in their power to protect and bring good fortune. In the Nara period (710-794), Buddhist monks valued cats for their ability to keep rats away from shrines. As a result, cats became the guardian of temples and shrines. And there is no clearer example of a cat bringing good luck than the story of the beckoning cat: centuries ago, a feudal lord was standing under a tree when he noticed a cat beckoning to him with its paws. Out of curiosity, he approached the cat and therefore survived because the lightning struck the tree where he was standing. In Japanese stores and restaurants, the beckoning cat is a common sight, promising blessings and good luck to its owner and all who enter.
In literature, cats are not just props - some serve as the main narrators. For example, I am a Cat written by Soseki Natsume tells the critical attitude toward humans from the perspective of a witty domestic cat. The novel satirized Japanese middle and upper classes and inspired other writers to write stories with cats as the main characters.
Finally, the biggest reason why Japanese people love cats is their cuteness. In Japan, cats have almost become the definition of kawaii (cute). It’s barely possible to talk about kawaii without mentioning cats. Cats appear in pop cultures, such as Hello Kitty and Friends, Doraemon, and Jiji in Kiki's Delivery Service.
Things to Keep in Mind
Aoshima is not a tourist spot, so it is important to respect the tranquility of the island as well as private property. Some locals may enjoy interacting with tourists while others just want to live in peace. Therefore, please don't disturb their normal life.
Please also note that there are no hotels, stores, cafes, restaurants, or even vending machines in Aoshima. Make sure to take everything you need, such as water, food, sunscreen, and umbrellas, and take your trash with you.
As for the cats, the residents feed them daily, so bring only cat food and give them small amounts so they don't get sick. You can also bring cat toys to play with them. These cats are not purring domestic cats. Most are feral and untamed, and many may suffer from ringworm, so it's best to clean your hands with disinfectant wipes after playing with the cat.